04 September 2015

Creativity: The Dark Side

by R.T. Lawton

Webster's Universal Encyclopedic Dictionary (2002)
     creativity: the ability to create
     creative: 1~ marked by the power or ability to create
     create:  4~ to produce through imaginative skill

For a writer, creativity is a good trait to have. It helps him write a short story, a novel, a poem. With imagination and the ability to create, almost any author has the potential to become published. Blessed with enough creativity, a writer can distinguish himself from the pack and climb to the top of the pyramid. He or she can become a best-selling author.

But with criminals, there is an additional definition from that same dictionary which they find useful for their purposes.
     creative: 3~ managed so as to get around legal or conventional limits

For some criminals, it is this third definition that makes them into successful law breakers, while others get so caught up in their supposed genius ideas that they fail to realize some of the flaws in their thinking and thus end up spending time in a grey-bar hotel. A poster boy for this latter group is the person mentioned by Eve Fisher a couple of months back in her blog about prison conditions. Eve referred to a prisoner who stated that whenever he walked into a room, he knew he was the smartest guy in the room. Eve's comment in reply was that the bar wasn't set very high.

Based on the above two paragraphs, it appears that the good trait of creativity also has a dark side. To look into this situation, various researchers set up studies to evaluate the subject of creativity. While examining the relationship between creativity and personality, researchers Silvia, Haufman, Palmon and Wiggert found that those with lower levels of honesty and humility reported more creative accomplishments and also reported engaging in more creative activities. Who knew? At this point, more research was called for.

one sample of Visual Perception Task
Researchers Gino and Ariely then tested to see if creativity increases dishonesty. Turns out it did. They constructed and ran five different tests. Using a visual perception task, the study participants were asked to count the dots contained on both sides of a line which divided a square into two equal triangles. The number of dots could vary in different samples.

Participants were told they would earn a certain amount of money for choosing the left side triangle as having the most dots, but would earn ten times the amount for choosing the right side triangle as having the most dots. Clearly, the left side triangle had the most dots in fifty of the one hundred samples. In the other fifty samples, some of the dots were clustered closer to the line in order to make the count more ambiguous as to which side contained the most dots. In the ambiguous samples, the participants could more easily "misconceive" the number of dots contained in the right side triangle and thus earn more money. And, those participants who had been tested earlier and found to have more creativity were also found to have a higher level of "misconceiving" the number of dots on the right side.

The result of Gino and Ariely's second study showed that creativity is a better predictor of dishonesty than was intelligence. Thus, I guess, just because you're smart doesn't mean you are also creative, and conversely just because you're lower on the IQ scale doesn't mean you don't have a creative ability.

Their third study showed that people who enter a creative mindset were motivated to think outside the box and this is what led to increased levels of dishonesty. Their fourth study went a step further and showed that the creative mindset led to a justification for their cheating which led to their increased levels of dishonesty. Their fifth study went out into the real world with surveys to employees across seventeen departments. In those departments requiring more creativity in their jobs, the participants disclosed they were more apt to respond to proposed scenarios in an unethical way in order to benefit themselves.

Bottom line: It looks like creativity tends to help people work out original ideas to get around rules by letting them interpret information in a way to benefit themselves while rationalizing their actions. Sounds like most of the characters in my stories, not to mention the criminals I met while working the streets.

Anyway, getting back to authors, I'm going to assume all you writers out there are those creative people on the honest side. As for myself, well, several years ago Rob Lopresti did me a computer software favor and I promised to buy him a beer. Now, here we are three Bouchercons down the road and I still haven't bought him that beer. I could justify my lack of action by saying that I heard Rob doesn't drink, and somewhere in the back of my mind I do think I heard him say something to that effect, but then maybe I'm merely being creatively dishonest. Therefore, to slip into a more creatively CYA mindset, I will now go on record as offering to buy Rob the beverage of his choice at the Raleigh Bouchercon. This offer does not include Dom Perignon. I can't really slide that one past my tax accountant, seeing as how he seems to get a little funny at tax time when he looks at my expense receipts.

So remember my motto: Given enough time, I can explain anything. They just need to give me enough time.

2 comments:

janice law said...

A good post- but don't discount the variable effects of boredom, either. An other great spur to creativity - and probably crime, too

Eve Fisher said...

From the late, great James Thurber's "Anodynes for Anxieties":

"If you are indulging in gloomy fears which folow each other round and round until the brain reels, there are two possible procedures:

"First, quit circling. It doesn't matter where you cease whirling, as long as you stop.

"Second, if you cannot find a constant, think of something as different from the fact at which you stopped as you possibly can. Imagine what would happen if you mixed that contrast into your situation. If nothing results to clarify your worry, try another set of opposites and continue the process until you do get a helpful answer. If you persist, you will soon solve any ordinary problem."

I first read this remarkable piece of advice two months ago and I vaguely realized then that in it, somewhere, was a strangely familiar formula, not, to be sure, a formula that would ever help me solve anything, but a formula for something or other. And one day I hit on it. It is the formula by which the Marx brothers construct their dialogue. Let us take their justly famous scene in which Groucho says to Chico, "It is my belief that the missing picture is hidden in the house next door." Here Groucho has ceased whirling, or circling, and has stopped at a fact, that fact being his belief that the picture is hidden in the house next door. Now Chico, in accordance with Mr. Seabury's instructions, thinks of something as different from that fact as he possibly can. He says, "There isn't any house next door." Thereupon Groucho "mixes that contrast into his situation." He says, "Then we'll build one!" Mr. Seabury says, "If you persist you will soon solve any ordinary problem." He underestimates the power of his formula. If you persist, you will soon solve anything at all, no matter how impossible. That way, of course, lies madness, but I would be the last person to say that madness is not a solution.
- See more at: http://downwithtyranny.blogspot.com/2010/12/thurber-tonight-let-your-mind-alone.html#sthash.XCehCxfS.dpuf