Studies conducted at the University of Illinois asked 100 participants to assess themselves against the rest of the group for a number of factors such as sense of humour, intelligence, “likeability” and self-awareness. Almost 80% of participants scored themselves above average for all factors and a staggering 40% scored themselves in the top 10% of the group. Statistically this is an impossible result; by definition 50% of participants must be lower than average. This provides a great demonstration of optimism bias in action.
In England and Wales, 42% of marriages will end in divorce (source: Office for National Statistics, Feb 2013) and yet on their wedding day every couple believes that their marriage will last the course. Optimism bias explains why we often think it’ll “never happen to me” though research shows that we’re consistently poor at assessing future prospects, particularly when they relate to us personally. Even when we know the odds, we judge our own chances as being better than average and on some occasions this phenomenon acts to our advantage; we apply for jobs beyond our current experience, we try new things that we know will stretch us and we take risks that can lead to great rewards. And sometimes it pays off; thinking positively really does work..!
But sometimes it works against us too, and this can certainly be the case when it comes to creativity. When a group of budding entrepreneurs were asked to assess the likelihood of their idea becoming a commercial success versus the ideas of others, a high proportion rated their own idea as being the most likely to succeed. In studies conducted by Christopher Sprigman at the University of Virginia, artists were asked to submit a painting to a competition and then, having viewed all the entries, to judge their personal chances of winning. On average, artists judged their own personal chances of success as 75%; in other words they thought there was a 75% chance that their artwork would be judged better than all the others.
So although it can be hard to admit (because let’s face it, we’re brilliant…), we need to accept that sometimes other people’s ideas are better than our own. Creativity is as much about building on the ideas of others as it is about having new ideas of your own; in practice creativity is a cumulative process which involves tweaking, adapting and combining other existing ideas.
So rather than assuming that your own idea is the most creative, be open to the ideas of others and start from the position that all ideas are equally brilliant (and that none are bad)… Examine each idea on its own merits and look for reasons that support rather than defeat it. Look for ways of combining two different ideas to create something even better and never forget that even the best idea can usually be improved on if reviewed with a truly open mind.