Creativity in the Workplace is Risky Business

The popular trend of managers and group leaders encouraging their employees to “be creative” during brainstorming sessions can be pretty risky, according to the findings of a new study.  The reason? Apparently, far too many employees lack the social filter or the ability to accurately gauge social cues and end up revealing personal things that are deleterious not only for themselves, but for future teamwork as well.

The things that cannot be unheard

The reason these personal disclosures occur at all is that the creative process, by its very nature, is one in which (1) people are encouraged to be free and let their guard down, and (2) parts of the personality/personal preferences are revealed organically (when prompted to be creative, people share ideas that reflect their unique point of view and personal preferences /source).  While this act of setting aside one’s social/work persona in order to be open, expressive and release creative problem-solving ideas may be in the best interest of tackling the project at hand, some of the personal things employees may reveal about themselves in the process can be unsettling, distressing, or even downright disturbing for their coworkers (or their bosses) to learn.  And having new revelations about your teammates that cause you to not like them anymore can of course be deleterious for effectively working together as a team.

“Based on those ideas, you may feel like you know this person, but you also might not necessarily like them. When people are being creative, they are sharing the kind of information that may rub people the wrong way.”

-Professor Jack Goncalo, School of Business Administration, Gies College of Business

The Takeaway

1-As demonstrated repeatedly by the results of five experiments in the study, the very process of generating creative ideas prompts self-disclosure.

“When people are being creative, they’re not just solving problems. They’re actually revealing something deeply personal. The ideas that we share when we’re brainstorming and generating ideas — they’re not just abstract, cold solutions to a problem. They’re derived from our own unique idiosyncratic perspective. You’re reaching down into yourself to share something that reflects your point of view, and that makes sharing those ideas risky, personal and consequential.”

2-Within the workplace environment, there are consequences to being creative and self-disclosing.  Not only may coworkers and bosses dislike your personal perceptions and beliefs, but the rejection of your creative ideas (and therefore your personal beliefs and tendencies) can offer up an additional sting–and one that may take awhile to get past for some people.

“When you say you don’t like my idea, you’re actually rejecting someone’s perspective or point of view, which is dangerously close to rejecting that person — which is risky, to say the least, when you’re in a workplace.”


For managers and group/team leaders it is important to set guidelines for what should be discussed during the creative brainstorming.  While it is impossible to predict every unexpected thing that can come out of someone’s mouth, there can definitely be guidelines reminding people this is still a professional setting and not a group encounter session.

For employees, the best approach is to leave your business filter on.  Creative brainstorming sessions should trigger the same filters needed during company picnics and happy hour gatherings.  If you have difficulty deciding what is and is not in your best interest to reveal to the group, then hark back to your initial interview.  If it was too risky to reveal when you were trying to land the job, then consider the risk too high to reveal during a creative brainstorming session at that job.

In the final analysis, it is best to refine your filters so that you can express creative ideas while still reading the room.  Be first and foremost a creative professional.  And save those great slogans about pubic grooming and dog poop for your friends.


Journal Reference:  Jack A Goncalo, Joshua H Katz. Your Soul Spills Out: The Creative Act Feels Self-Disclosing. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2019.



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