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Are innovators more prone to cheating?

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Are innovators more prone to cheating?

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Last month I wrote a couple of posts exploring the role of imitation in the innovation process.  They looked in particular at the critical role ‘remixing’ plays in innovation.  Remixing is essentially when you take an idea (original or not), and then modify it slightly.  It’s not what is traditionally regarded as innovative, yet forms the bulk of new ideas, as ideas that have worked in one field are adapted and applied in other ways.

So copying, for want of a better word, is often critical to innovation, yet the popular perception of such things is often very far from positive.  To many it might even be regarded as cheating.  Whilst such an accusation may bother some, it seems that innovators would simply shrug their shoulders and carry on regardless.

That’s the finding of a study published recently in the journal Psychological Science.  The study, conducted by Francesca Gino and Scott Wiltermuth, had volunteers completing three tasks.  The first test was one to detect the creativity of participants.  This was followed by a test with a cash reward available for successful completion.  The final test was another creativity task.

Now, the catch was that the middle task was one in which the participants could quite easily cheat, and it was even presented in such a way as to make each participant believe doing so would be undetectable.

The study found that not only did creative people tend to cheat more often, but indeed that the ability to cheat encouraged creative thoughts and behaviours.

This finding was confirmed in a second study whereby some participants were given a lot of opportunities to cheat, whereas others merely a few.  This was done to decouple the opportunity to cheat from the actual act of cheating itself.  It emerged that it was only those that followed through with cheating that were shown to be more creative.

The researchers hypothesised that the creative folks were in large part as creative as they were because they were less likely to abide by rules, be they formal ones or the kind of constraints that tell them how things should be done.

Suffice to say, few organisations would openly admit to wanting dishonest people working for them, but maybe if you want to be innovative that is the way ahead.

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