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Can political correctness spark innovation?

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When you mention political correctness it doesn’t leap out at you as something that may promote innovation or creativity.  It kind of implies conformity and doing things the right way.  It almost suggests that certain characters are what is desirable, and places an emphasis on identity based diversity rather than the more valuable thought based diversity.

A recent study suggests it may actually have some benefits as far as creativity is concerned however.  The study bases its conclusion on the behavioural norms that are created by political correctness provide a steady base from which people can then be creative.

“Creativity is essential to organizational innovation and growth. But our research departs from the prevailing theory of group creativity by showing that creativity in mixed-sex groups emerges, not by removing behavioral constraints, but by imposing them. Setting a norm that both clarifies expectations for appropriate behavior and makes salient the social sanctions that result from using sexist language unleashes creative expression by countering the uncertainty that arises in mixed-sex work groups,” the researchers say.

The paper goes on to suggest that the work provides a crucial counterpoint to the belief that a culture of political correctness eliminates both offensive behaviour but also the more left field ideas that may emerge.

The research set out to explore the differing incentives both men and women have for adhering to certain PC related standards.  It emerged that men were typically adhering to such standards because they didn’t want to either offend or overbear their female colleagues.

The report revealed that women tended to feel empowered by environments whereby such standards were clearly visible.  They would feel confident to express and share their ideas with colleagues.

About the research

The study saw participants split up into either mixed or same sex groups.  Each group was then asked to describe their thoughts on PC behaviour, before then attempting to undertake a creative task together.

A control group had to undergo the same task but without being primed to think of PC norms and behaviours.

The results revealed that instead of having their ideas stifled, the mixed sex groups actually performed more creatively when they had been primed to think in politically correct ways than their peers in the control group.

The PC group not only generated more ideas, but those ideas were also more creative and diverse than their peers in the control group.

What’s more, they also significantly outperformed their peers in the same sex groups, thus further reinforcing the value of thought diversity as opposed to homogeneity.

Maybe political correctness isn’t so bad after all.

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