Home » Creativity » The Dark Side of Creativity

The Dark Side of Creativity

27 November 2015

From The Harvard Business Review:

Few psychological traits are as desirable as creativity — the ability to come up with ideas that are both novel and useful. Yet it is also true that creativity has been associated with a wide range of counterproductive, rarely discussed qualities. Being aware of these tendencies is important for anyone trying to better understand their own creativity, or that of other people.

First, research has established a link between creativity and negative moods. You don’t have to be depressed to be creative — and it’s important to note that crippling depression is more destructive than generative — but it is true that there is some empirical backing for the stereotype that artists tend to be depressive or suffer from mood swings. As Nietzsche once noted: “One must have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” On average, people who are very emotionally stable may be too happy to feel the need to create. After all, if the status quo is fine, why change it?

Second, the very thinking patterns that define the creative process and help lead to original thinking can have a maladaptive side. For example, creativity requires the inability to suppress irrelevant thoughts and inappropriate ideas. And creative thinkers also tend to have poorer impulse-control.

More recently, creativity has also been associated with dishonesty, presumably because it enables individuals to creatively distort reality. That is not to say that creative people are necessarily unethical. Rather, their lower tolerance for boredom and conventionality, and their more vivid imaginations, equip them with more sophisticated mental tools to both self-deceive and deceive others.

. . . .

Research has also found that creative individuals are often more narcissistic, and that narcissism can actually boost creative achievements. This makes intuitive sense. Narcissistic people are focused on themselves, and naturally spend more time focused on developing their own ideas and less time worrying about pleasing other people. However, it’s important to note that narcissists tend to think that they are more creative than they actually are, and most people are unable to evaluate creativity accurately — so it could also be that observers are just more easily deceived by individuals who seem more confident and enthusiastic about their own ideas. In line, research shows that even when narcissistic individuals are not more creative, they are better able to sell their ideas to others, creating, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy. (This is consistent with the finding that narcissism often correlates with leadership, including when leaders are visionary or entrepreneurial.)

Link to the rest at The Harvard Business Review


19 Comments to “The Dark Side of Creativity”

  1. Ostensibly, this seems to be a rationalization to limit free speech!

    Creativity is simply application of imagination, period.

  2. Almost walking into a tree because two characters from two novels you had not planned on writing (set in a world you thought you were finished with) show up while you are taking a stroll is another problem.

    At least Matthew Charles Malatesta (the Blackbird) had the grace to wait until I’d parked the car before informing me that I was going to write his story.

  3. You can not know or perceive light without recognizing darkness, the mountain can not be high without the valley. Laughter means nothing if there are no tear to gauge them against. Which is why many people don’t like reading ‘Mary Sue’ stories, full of nothing but sunshine and laughter — and nothing they break a sweat besting …

  4. Please not again. This crap is old. It’s my observation and opinion that creativity itself is not a cause of, or direct result of, “negative” personality traits, but that the expression of creativity is seen in a negative way. In other words, creativity is not valued by the business world or by society in general and most people suppress it in themselves in order to make a living and not stand out from their neighbors.

    • +1

    • Thank you! It’s always confounded me that some of the most avid consumers — of designer clothes and well-designed electronic goods, as well as books, film, and music — are the first people to freak out if they discover they know someone who creates things (and not in a good way). I think it comes down to that “threatening the status quo” thing.

      There’s also this idea that something is not worth doing unless you can make money at it — which of course eliminates all beginners and emerging artists.

      • “I think it comes down to that “threatening the status quo” thing.”

        Next time you see one of ‘those types’ just think of an over-the-hill hooker who’s mad at the younger competition that’s doing it for the fun of it and giving it away for free! (do try not to laugh in their face of course! 😛 )


        “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money.” Moliere “`

    • +1

    • +1

  5. This post is all about me. Me, me, me, me!! I’m special! 😛

    • Of course they are special — just like everyone else … 😛

      And we know how hard it is for Harvard Business to keep their classrooms full of narcissists — I mean hopeful new leaders! 😉

      • I was in a courtroom once when we had three expert witnesses representing different parties. All three were graduates of Harvard Business School. We stopped the proceedings for a class reunion. 😉

  6. On average, people who are very emotionally stable may be too happy to feel the need to create.

    No. Just no.

    I don’t create because I am unhappy. In fact, I subscribe to the dictum, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be,” (absent mental illness) and generally make up my mind to be happy. Why waste this marvelous existence dwelling on the shadows?

    I create because I love to create. It’s fun. It’s a thrill. It’s intensely satisfying.

  7. Welcome to the dark side.

    You’re in my world, now.

  8. On average, people who are very emotionally stable may be too happy to feel the need to create.

    That may be the stupidest thing I have ever read in HBR.

    • It pretty much is the stupidest thing ever.

      I certainly am not highly productive when I’m down. I don’t, in fact, know anyone who is.

      I can’t be a highly productive writer (which requires creativity) unless I’m happy and secure. The minute I start worrying about shite is the moment I lose the thread.

  9. Jeebus H. Mother Effing Baloney Sauce.

  10. The Dark Side of Creativity

    Harvard Business Review article? Pot. Kettle. Black.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.