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Would you hire a liar? Probably not. And while we’re not asking you to, research has emerged to suggest that a sprinkle of dishonesty could be the key to unlocking creativity.
Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino has been studying the relationship between creativity and dishonesty for years, and believes “the common saying that ‘rules are meant to be broken’ is at the root of both creative performance and dishonest behaviour”.
Working together with University of Southern California, Gino recently conducted a study among more than 700 students to study their performance on tasks such as playing computer games and answering mathematical problems.
The catch, of course, was that some of them were not only allowed, but encouraged, to cheat.
The students who were given a bit more leeway were found to report higher levels of creative thinking, with additional data suggesting “cheating may encourage subsequent creativity by priming participants to be less constrained by rules”.
“Our research raises the possibility that one of the reasons why dishonesty seems so widespread in today’s society is that by acting dishonestly we become more creative — and this creativity may allow us to come up with original justifications for our immoral behaviour and make us likely to keep crossing ethical boundaries,” Gino said in a press statement.
What does this mean for employers who are constantly struggling to find innovative and creative employees to give their companies a competitive advantage?
One way leaders can leverage on the findings of this study could be to be less restrictive with employees working on assignments or projects.
Stop viewing mistakes as failures, refrain from creating an office environment where employees are afraid to take a misstep, and make it known that staff have the flexibility to explore different ways of executing a solution.
By allowing employees to think outside the box, you’re not only giving them the opportunity to stretch their own development, but also explore alternative ways at turning challenges into opportunities.
So while we should definitely be careful about onboarding dishonest cheats, it may be worth it for leaders to look into bringing on employees who aren’t afraid to take a few calculated risks once in a while.
(Or you could just hire people above the age of 30.)