Creative Disobedience: How, When and Why to Break the Rules (from BIL 2014)

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Many people would agree that creativity is the number one key skill for success in this century. However, by definition, creativity requires breaking rules, and defying the status quo. Additionally, sometimes following the rules—and even the laws—can actually stall progress. How do we make a good decision about which rules and laws to break, and which ones to follow?


In order to maximize innovation, creative disobedience must be tolerated, encouraged, and even required, given the situation. Needless to say, doing this effectively is a tricky balance between disruption and maintaining forward progress on the overall goal. The most critical skill then, is understanding when to be creative—and to what degree—given the specific context.


In this talk, I will take you on a full tour of what creativity is, what it isn’t, and why breaking the rules is sometimes necessary for progress. I will also discuss recent research on attitudes about creativity. For example, companies consider creativity one of the most-desired traits in their current and future employees, yet it is rarely rewarded in practice. Why the discrepancy? How can this be changed? Finally, I will give you a short ‘How To’ guide on increasing the creativity in the workplace, where it is highly desired, but often most discouraged.

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Creative Disobedience: How, When and Why to Break the Rules (from BIL 2014)

  1. 1. Creative Disobedience How, When, and Why to Break the Rules Andrea Kuszewski BIL: March 1st, 2014 @AndreaKuszewski
  2. 2. Creative Disobedience
  3. 3. Creative Disobedience
  4. 4. Creative Disobedience
  5. 5. Creative Disobedience
  6. 6. ? Creative Disobedience Right? Wrong?
  7. 7. Creative Disobedience Good vs Evil
  8. 8. Creative Disobedience Good vs Evil Right vs Wrong
  9. 9. Creative Disobedience Good vs Evil Right vs Wrong Legal vs Illegal
  10. 10. Creative Disobedience What is Creativity?
  11. 11. Creative Disobedience
  12. 12. Creative Disobedience fail
  13. 13. Creative Disobedience Creative Cognition is: • Thinking with your ENTIRE brain! R + L • Switching back and forth between conventional and unconventional • Making remote associations • ‘Zooming in and zooming out’, from convergent to divergent • Constantly editing for usefulness
  14. 14. Creative Disobedience Creativity is: “An original, novel solution that is both useful and appropriate given the context, environment, and the task at hand.”
  15. 15. Creative Disobedience By definition, creativity involves breaking rules.
  16. 16. Creative Disobedience “Creativity: An Asset or a Burden in the Classroom?” Westby & Dawson (1995) • Asked teachers to identify personality characteristics associated with creativity
  17. 17. Creative Disobedience “Creativity: An Asset or a Burden in the Classroom?” Westby & Dawson (1995) • Asked teachers to identify personality characteristics associated with creativity • High creativity: determined, independent, individualistic
  18. 18. Creative Disobedience “Creativity: An Asset or a Burden in the Classroom?” Westby & Dawson (1995) • Asked teachers to identify personality characteristics associated with creativity • High creativity: determined, independent, individualistic • Low creativity: responsible, sincere, reliable, dependable, clear-thinking, tolerant, understanding, peaceable, good-natured, steady, practical, and logical
  19. 19. Creative Disobedience “Creativity: An Asset or a Burden in the Classroom?” Westby & Dawson (1995) • Asked teachers to identify personality characteristics associated with creativity • High creativity: determined, independent, individualistic • Low creativity: responsible, sincere, reliable, dependable, clear-thinking, tolerant, understanding, peaceable, good-natured, steady, practical, and logical
  20. 20. Creative Disobedience “Creativity: An Asset or a Burden in the Classroom?” Westby & Dawson (1995) • Asked teachers to identify personality characteristics associated with creativity • High creativity: determined, independent, individualistic • Low creativity: responsible, sincere, reliable, dependable, clear-thinking, tolerant, understanding, peaceable, good-natured, steady, practical, and logical Least favorite = Most creative
  21. 21. Creative Disobedience Even when people say they want creativity, often they reject it in practice.
  22. 22. Creative Disobedience “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” Meuller, et al (2011) • There is a bias against creativity, fueled by uncertainty
  23. 23. Creative Disobedience “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” Meuller, et al (2011) • There is a bias against creativity, fueled by uncertainty • “...effective creative problem solving includes both generating many novel options and subsequently reducing uncertainty by identifying the single best option from the set.” (Cropley, 2006)
  24. 24. Creative Disobedience “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” Meuller, et al (2011) • There is a bias against creativity, fueled by uncertainty • “...effective creative problem solving includes both generating many novel options and subsequently reducing uncertainty by identifying the single best option from the set.” (Cropley, 2006) • Identifying the optimal solution may prime an uncertainty reduction motive or intolerance for uncertainty, and thereby evoke the creativity bias
  25. 25. Creative Disobedience “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” Meuller, et al (2011) • There is a bias against creativity, fueled by uncertainty • “...effective creative problem solving includes both generating many novel options and subsequently reducing uncertainty by identifying the single best option from the set.” (Cropley, 2006) • Identifying the optimal solution may prime an uncertainty reduction motive or intolerance for uncertainty, and thereby evoke the creativity bias • People seek to avoid and diminish uncertainty: Kill the creative idea
  26. 26. Creative Disobedience “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” Meuller, et al (2011) • There is a bias against creativity, fueled by uncertainty • “...effective creative problem solving includes both generating many novel options and subsequently reducing uncertainty by identifying the single best option from the set.” (Cropley, 2006) • Identifying the optimal solution may prime an uncertainty reduction motive or intolerance for uncertainty, and thereby evoke the creativity bias • People seek to avoid and diminish uncertainty: Kill the creative idea • By requiring gate-keepers to identify the single “best” and most “accurate” idea, you are promoting that uncertainty, thereby creating an unacknowledged aversion to creativity.
  27. 27. Creative Disobedience “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” Meuller, et al (2011) • There is a bias against creativity, fueled by uncertainty • “...effective creative problem solving includes both generating many novel options and subsequently reducing uncertainty by identifying the single best option from the set.” (Cropley, 2006) • Identifying the optimal solution may prime an uncertainty reduction motive or intolerance for uncertainty, and thereby evoke the creativity bias • People seek to avoid and diminish uncertainty: Kill the creative idea • By requiring gate-keepers to identify the single “best” and most “accurate” idea, you are promoting that uncertainty, thereby creating an unacknowledged aversion to creativity. There is always more than one good solution to a problem, but the value varies depending on context
  28. 28. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  29. 29. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  30. 30. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  31. 31. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  32. 32. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation 4. Advanced forward incrementation Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  33. 33. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation 4. Advanced forward incrementation 5. Redirection Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  34. 34. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation 4. Advanced forward incrementation 5. Redirection 6. Reconstruction/redirection Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  35. 35. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation 4. Advanced forward incrementation 5. Redirection 6. Reconstruction/redirection 7. Reinitiation Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  36. 36. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation 4. Advanced forward incrementation 5. Redirection 6. Reconstruction/redirection 7. Reinitiation 8. Integration Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  37. 37. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation 4. Advanced forward incrementation Accept current paradigms and attempt to extend them 5. Redirection 6. Reconstruction/redirection 7. Reinitiation 8. Integration Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  38. 38. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation 4. Advanced forward incrementation Accept current paradigms and attempt to extend them 5. Redirection 6. Reconstruction/redirection 7. Reinitiation Reject current paradigms and attempt to replace them 8. Integration Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  39. 39. Creative Disobedience The 8 Types of Creative Contributions 1. Replication 2. Redefinition 3. Forward incrementation 4. Advanced forward incrementation Accept current paradigms and attempt to extend them 5. Redirection 6. Reconstruction/redirection 7. Reinitiation Reject current paradigms and attempt to replace them 8. Integration Merges disparate current paradigms Robert Sternberg, “Handbook of Creativity”, 1999
  40. 40. Creative Disobedience How to Teach and Encourage Creativity (and when not to)
  41. 41. Creative Disobedience Teaching creativity : The early years Psychology researcher Allison Gopnik: Creative behavior in young children
  42. 42. Creative Disobedience Teaching creativity : The early years Psychology researcher Allison Gopnik: Creative behavior in young children • When children were given a problem and told to figure out how something works, they were able to generate the most intelligent solutions through experimentation.
  43. 43. Creative Disobedience Teaching creativity : The early years Psychology researcher Allison Gopnik: Creative behavior in young children • When children were given a problem and told to figure out how something works, they were able to generate the most intelligent solutions through experimentation. • When they were shown a working sequence (one of many), they imitated that solution, and then stopped looking for a more intelligent solution.
  44. 44. Creative Disobedience Teaching creativity : The early years Psychology researcher Allison Gopnik: Creative behavior in young children • When children were given a problem and told to figure out how something works, they were able to generate the most intelligent solutions through experimentation. • When they were shown a working sequence (one of many), they imitated that solution, and then stopped looking for a more intelligent solution. Take-home points?
  45. 45. Creative Disobedience Teaching creativity : The early years Psychology researcher Allison Gopnik: Creative behavior in young children • When children were given a problem and told to figure out how something works, they were able to generate the most intelligent solutions through experimentation. • When they were shown a working sequence (one of many), they imitated that solution, and then stopped looking for a more intelligent solution. Take-home points? 1 Encouraging critical thinking and finding more than one correct solution to a given problem helps to develop creativity
  46. 46. Creative Disobedience Teaching creativity : The early years Psychology researcher Allison Gopnik: Creative behavior in young children • When children were given a problem and told to figure out how something works, they were able to generate the most intelligent solutions through experimentation. • When they were shown a working sequence (one of many), they imitated that solution, and then stopped looking for a more intelligent solution. Take-home points? 1 Encouraging critical thinking and finding more than one correct solution to a given problem helps to develop creativity 2 Encouraging one to ‘follow the outline’ prevents deep understanding of the problem, and decreases ability to creativly problem-solve
  47. 47. Creative Disobedience In the workplace: Training people to ask questions and think about problems before they receive a solution encourages and teaches creative thinking, to produce better innovators, problem solvers, & problem finders.
  48. 48. Creative Disobedience Does this method make the current step more efficient? Yes a how-to guide to Creative Disobedience No Good idea to do it. Does this method make progress toward the overall goal? More progress About the same Will others be required to learn this? Yes No Can this method scale up? Yes No Less progress Don’t do this. No Yes Does this method maintain the integrity of the fundamental pillars of the project?
  49. 49. Creative Disobedience How to encourage a creative work environment
  50. 50. Creative Disobedience How to encourage a creative work environment 1 Give them some space Deadlines are important, but hourly check-ups are not. Creativity involves linking concepts, which means holding several things in your working memory -- a balance that can be disrupted easily, so a buffer against distractions are essential.
  51. 51. Creative Disobedience How to encourage a creative work environment 1 Give them some space Deadlines are important, but hourly check-ups are not. Creativity involves linking concepts, which means holding several things in your working memory -- a balance that can be disrupted easily, so a buffer against distractions are essential. 2 Don’t micromanage Allow free time for employees to work on anything they want; intrinsic motivation (working on something just because it’s interesting) leads to creativity.
  52. 52. Creative Disobedience How to encourage a creative work environment 1 Give them some space Deadlines are important, but hourly check-ups are not. Creativity involves linking concepts, which means holding several things in your working memory -- a balance that can be disrupted easily, so a buffer against distractions are essential. 2 Don’t micromanage Allow free time for employees to work on anything they want; intrinsic motivation (working on something just because it’s interesting) leads to creativity. 3 Open your mind Getting stuck in a hyper-focused, linear thinking pattern can stall finding a creative solution. Take breaks when working, just to think about nothing.
  53. 53. Creative Disobedience How to encourage a creative work environment 1 Give them some space Deadlines are important, but hourly check-ups are not. Creativity involves linking concepts, which means holding several things in your working memory -- a balance that can be disrupted easily, so a buffer against distractions are essential. 2 Don’t micromanage Allow free time for employees to work on anything they want; intrinsic motivation (working on something just because it’s interesting) leads to creativity. 3 Open your mind Getting stuck in a hyper-focused, linear thinking pattern can stall finding a creative solution. Take breaks when working, just to think about nothing. 4 Tolerate creativity Reward creative thinking, not with financial incentives, which, alone, have been shown to decrease creativity, but by promoting the conditions that permit it. Tolerate the occasional failure and allow rules to be broken when there is a social benefit.
  54. 54. Creative Disobedience
  55. 55. Creative Disobedience
  56. 56. Creative Disobedience
  57. 57. Creative Disobedience
  58. 58. Creative Disobedience In this even more important effective “problemage of innovation,problem finder. It’s onethan being an at a probsolver, is being a thing to look lem and be able to generate a solution; it is another thing to be able to look at an ambiguous situation, and decide if there is a problem that needs to be solved. That’s a skill that isn’t really targeted by traditional teaching methods, and in fact, it is often discouraged. In order to teach problem finding, more creative methods must be utilized. Rule-breaking , to an extent, should be tolerated and encouraged, and yes—even taught. “ Andrea Kuszewski, “The Educational Value of Creative Disobedience”, Scientific American, 2011
  59. 59. Creative Disobedience Thank you! Andrea Kuszewski @AndreaKuszewski

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