The Ideas Graveyard: Why We Shouldn’t Bury Creative Ambition

The Ideas Graveyard: Why We Shouldn’t Bury Creative Ambition
3 minutes read. October 30th, 2019.

The Anti-Creativity Bias

Naturally, there are plenty of logistical and business-related decisions which lead to ideas being buried (think budgeting issues, changes in the market, and so on). But one of the more striking reasons as to why the ideas graveyard is so heavily populated lies in the fact that departure from the norm makes people feel uncomfortable. On the whole, people prefer tried-and-tested choices over more daring options, which results in a large percentage of ambitious ideas never seeing the light of day. This concept forms the basis of the theory that humans possess an anti-creativity bias.

It is suggested that people are subconsciously predisposed to reject creative ideas out of a fear of uncertainty, which prevents people from assessing creativity objectively and, in more extreme cases, leads some people to fail to recognise a creative idea altogether. Even those who believe that they are open-minded and embrace creativity can apparently suffer from the bias.

A study carried out by the Cornell University ILR School found that:

  • People opt for tried-and-tested, practical ideas over original, creative ones
  • Even when presented with evidence backing up the more creative option, people are not motivated to accept it
  • Practical terms such as ‘functional’, ‘constructive’ and ‘useful’ are preferred to more creative terms like ‘novel’, ‘inventive’ and ‘original’

Overcoming the Issue

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher – we live in a world in which people generally admire creativity and yet fail to factor its full potential into the decision-making process. This means that any ideas that dare to step outside of people’s comfort zone seldom make it past the brainstorming phase. The result? Well, aside from adding to the ever-increasing ideas graveyard, it leaves creative people more likely to refrain from showcasing their more ambitious ideas for fear of failure. Which means that… you guessed it – the ideas graveyard grows ever more populated.

Some may argue that the key to addressing the anti-creativity bias is to take creative ideas, tone them down and present them as safer, more familiar options. But to disguise your ideas is to stop them from existing in their true form – is that real progress?

The argument in this case is not so much that we need more creative ideas (though that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all), but rather that we need to start championing the most creative solutions as opposed to the safe options. It’s simple: the more fresh, original ideas that are consigned to failure, the less creative progress we will make.

‘A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.’ – John A. Shedd


All of this just goes to show why we should always keep one eye on the ideas graveyard. You never know when long-abandoned creativity could benefit from a repurposing – or even a complete zombified resurrection. With fresh challenges around every corner, the perceived safe haven of certainty should not be preferable to creativity and innovation. To paraphrase the above quote: An idea in the graveyard is dead. But that’s not what ideas are created for.

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The Ideas Graveyard: Why We Shouldn’t Bury Creative Ambition

Paul Hough

Creative Director

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