A recent article in the Economist, entitled “Mwahahaha…: creativity and cheating“, describes some research undertaken at Harvard and the University of Southern California. Participants were given tasks to test their honesty, and then different ones to assess their creativity. And it turns out that the more shifty people are also more creative. In a further stage of the research, participants were shown various signs, such as “no cycling”, and asked about their attitude to them. The shifty, creative lot were much less likely to obey such requirements. As the Economist concludes, “It is a long way from such acts of petty defiance to building a lair inside an extinct volcano and threatening Washington from it”, but in an age where creativity is so prized, what does this mean for compliance?
There is a story – probably apocryphal but maybe not – about a Cambridge academic who, when conducting admission interviews, would ignore the candidate and sit with his feet up on his desk reading the newspaper. After a few minutes of awkward silence, he would say from behind the paper, “Get my attention”. One applicant simply leaned forward and set fire to the newspaper. Now that’s creative, and very much the sort of reaction and behaviour that many firms – obviously those in the media and arts environment, but also nowadays even the more dowdy finance, legal and accountancy businesses – look for in new employees. They are put through their paces in whole-day interviews, working in teams alongside other applicants (how cruel is that?) to find ways to build a tower of soup or to make gold from base metal. They are subjected to endless lists of questions and scenarios designed to root out their innermost hopes and thoughts. And who is chosen at the end? Why, the ones who think outside the box – and then their employers are surprised when those selfsame employees refuse to play by the rules.