How Creative Companies Die

While creativity is a valued trait in employees, that same creativity can have a negative side, causing once-innovative companies to lose their ability to be original.

A new study from the Wharton School of Business, Cornell University and the Indian School of Business, published in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, finds that creative employees are viewed as having less leadership potential.

So while rank and file employees might be generating tons of great ideas, they can’t move up the corporate ladder as easily as others.

The one exception, the study found, was when people were asked to choose leaders who were charismatic—in that case, participants rated creative people as having more leadership potential. But overall, creatives were not scored by participants as being likely to become effective leaders.

“By definition, people will say creativity is positive,” said Jennifer Mueller of Wharton said in a statement. “It is almost impossible to get people to say they don’t want creativity. But when someone actually voices a creative idea, there is a response of, ‘Wow — What is that?’ This issue really comes to life at the moment the idea is voiced. There is discomfort when people encounter creativity.”

Of course, not every eccentric is cut out for a corner office. But with 1,500 CEOs surveyed by IBM’s Institute for Business Value naming creativity the “single most important attribute for success in leading a large corporation,” it’s important not to overlook creative people just because they happen to challenge the status quo.