Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Creativity, leadership and assholes

There were more assholes here than I have ever encountered in any single article.

Steve Jobs was a visionary, a brilliant innovator who reshaped entire industries by the force of his will, a genius at giving consumers not only what they wanted, but what they didn't yet know they wanted.

He was also a world-class asshole.

… middle managers and wannabe masters of the universe who are currently devouring the Steve Jobs biography and thinking to themselves: "See! Steve Jobs was an asshole and he was one of the most successful businessmen on the planet. Maybe if I become an even bigger asshole I'll be successful like Steve."

Running along similar lines MR summarizes some parallel research into teachers and assholes -- I mean teachers and creative students.

One of the most consistent findings in educational studies of creativity has been that teachers dislike personality traits associated with creativity. Research has indicated that teachers prefer traits that seem to run counter to creativity, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority (e.g., Bachtold, 1974; Cropley, 1992; Dettmer, 1981; Getzels & Jackson, 1962; Torrance, 1963). The reason for teachers’ preferences is quite clear creative people tend to have traits that some have referred to as obnoxious (Torrance, 1963). Torrance (1963) described creative people as not having the time to be courteous, as refusing to take no for an answer, and as being negativistic and critical of others. Other characteristics, although not deserving the label obnoxious, nonetheless may not be those most highly valued in the classroom.

….Research has suggested that traits associated with creativity may not only be neglected, but actively punished (Myers & Torrance, 1961; Stone, 1980). Stone (1980) found that second graders who scored highest on tests of creativity were also those identified by their peers as engaging in the most misbehavior (e.g., “getting in trouble the most”). Given that research and theory (e.g., Harrington, Block, & Block, 1987) suggest that a supportive environment is important to the fostering of creativity, it is quite possible that teachers are (perhaps unwittingly) extinguishing creative behaviors.

Substitute creative with assholes and voila!

All creative people may be assholes but not all assholes are creative. Just because some assholes are creative doesn’t mean we should allow assholes to become bigger assholes or to foster a culture of assholism.

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