Daniel Pink posted a link on Twitter about a study performed by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University which revealed people have a misperception about when they are most creative. Most people feel they are most creative at the beginning of a brainstorming session but in fact they tend to produce the highest quality ideas after spending a fair bit of time working on the task.
…participants incorrectly judged their later ideas as less creative—because, the researchers reasoned, those ideas were harder to access. Yet, as in the first study, the opposite was true: ideas that took longer to excavate were more likely to be truly innovative.
In another study, Nordgren and Lucas put the creative-cliff illusion to the test in a real-world setting. They recruited students and alumni of The Second City’s training program to participate in a New Yorker–style cartoon-caption contest …The online competition was judged by three professional comedians, who rated the 91 submissions for novelty and funniness (a proxy for creativity).
Those who believed good ideas come early submitted fewer jokes overall, the researchers found—and fewer of the jokes they submitted were rated as highly creative by the judges. In other words, the more people believed their funniness would fade over the 15-minute task, the less productive and funny they actually were.
People who did a lot of creative work were less apt to think that the best ideas came early because they perceived their creative level remained consistent throughout. However, that perception is only slightly better than the belief that creativity peaks early.
But participants with lots of creative experience didn’t make the same mistake. They predicted that creativity would remain relatively constant—a belief that is still overly pessimistic, but closer to correct than most other participants’ predictions. Experience helped them see the power of continuing to chip away at the problem.
“It’s really people who are in the trenches doing creative work that learn this lesson,” Nordgren says.
The researchers provide some important advice–don’t let your creative sessions be bound by your meeting schedule. (my emphasis)
“If you’re struggling, keep going,” he says. This and his earlier research on creativity reveal that “our intuitions about how this process works are wrong, and that our best ideas are there. They just require more digging.”
This may mean resisting the temptation to select an idea just because a meeting is ending—a temptation rooted in the false belief that future ideas will be worse. Instead, “maybe you say, ‘I think there are still some better ideas we haven’t explored. Let’s all commit individually to putting another hour into this and come back next week.’”