Warning: Success Hampers Creativity


New research claims that successful inventors become less creative over time.

R&D managers interested in increasing the creative output of their departments should be aware that successful inventors could become less creative over time, warn the authors.

In their study, they find that inventors who have experienced success in their efforts to patent their inventions continue to generate new patents but, over time these patents tend to be less divergent from their previous work. This finding implies that allocating more resources to the most prolific inventors may increase the productivity of their department, but it may diminish the extent to which their creative output reflects the exploration of new areas of research.

The negative effects of success on creativity can be managed, say Professors Audia and Goncalo, by encouraging inventors to collaborate with one another and by making "exploration" an explicit and desirable organizational goal.

My friend Kris Kimel who runs the IdeaFestival put the conference together for to solve exactly this kind of problem. New ideas can come from anywhere, and it's important to occasionally "play around" and explore other areas of knowledge. In a world that changes rapidly, myopic innovation doesn't get you much.

  • One of our best innovators, the great Thomas Edison, was a prime example of this. Check out his reaction to AC versus DC for electrifying America. Florescent lighting s another example. And he went further that just being less innovative. He became an obstacle to innovation.

  • I don’t think this is an issue with just your R&D people. Many of our employees as they age, or after they have spent many years doing the same thing become less creative. They innovate less, they do things differently less.. they get in a rut. We as individuals to the same thing. We find comfort in doing things the same way.. call it habit, rut, whatever. Unless we have something or someone that pulls us out of the rut or forces us to do something another way we won’t do it. Is it a natural human condition? Is it a modern phenomenon? A sign that we are just tired? Personally I fear being stale and stagnent. That is why I read, write blogs, write comments, drive different ways, try new sports. At 55 I don’t want to be a comfortable old geezer. LOL.. any hope for me?

  • Rob

    Some day I’m going to write a post about neuroscience and the future of business, but with the stuff you are doing, you are already ahead of the game. That stuff is great for your brain.

  • I read this post and thought of Arthur C. Clarke’s advice that if an old scientist tells you that something can be done he is almost certainly right, but that if he tells you something cannot be done, he is almost certainly wrong.

    As Michael pointed out there is a natural, human tendency, to get comfortable with what we’ve been doing. It doesn’t have to be that way.

    It wasn’t for my father, a pastor, who kept learning and trying new things until he died at 88. The last sermon he preached was called “Keep Moving” on the importance of testing limits and growing.

    My mother-in-law has spent her whole life learning new things and growing and continues to do so.

    I’m hoping I can live up to those good examples.

    One more thought. Sometimes you really have to work at making change. When Linus Pauling won the Nobel Prize, someone asked what you do next. His answer: “Change fields.”

  • May be it becomes a major problem for the inventor to get out of his previous ideas and search for a new one. Creativity is a very tough thing. A new idea is not created overnight. Also the inventor may get intimidated by new ideas. Who knows, so many things can happen. Human brain is very complex.