Research from Johns Hopkins University suggests that having our ideas rejected tends to boost our creativity output. Sharon Kim and her colleagues found that when most of us experience rejection, it can actually enhance our creativity, depending on how we respond to it. The paper, titled “Outside Advantage: Can Social Rejection Fuel Creative Thought?” was recently accepted for publication by the Journal of Experimental Psychology. It also received a best-paper award at the Academy of Management (AOM) conference held this month in Boston.
From the study:
In the first experiment, participants were given a series of personality questions and told they would be considered for participation in several group exercises in the future. When the participants returned to the laboratory a week later, some of them were asked to complete a few tasks before joining their group (inclusion), others were told that none of the groups had chosen them and they would need to complete their tasks independently (rejection). When they calculated the results, the researchers found that “rejected” participants significantly outperformed those that were included in a group. Consider the difference between those who respond to rejection by sulking versus those who respond by rolling up their sleeves and thinking “I’ll show them.”
The results were conclusive: rejection breeds creativity, especially for those who consider themselves highly independent. In final a follow-up study, the researchers found the same trend using a different measurement of creativity.
For practitioners, how can this phenomena work to your advantage? When managing individuals or teams, the time will come when you have to say ‘no’. In that moment immediately after rejecting a person’s viewpoint, you want to let it sink. Don’t try to minimize the impact by rationalizing the decision or by other means of making the person feel better. But the key is to assign the rejected person right away to a new and important task. Put them on a project where they can prove themselves and “get even.” You want to let their creative juices flow.
"While it is never a comfortable experience, the feelings of rejection can actually help us access our more creative selves. Free from the expectations of group norms, we can push the limits of novelty. Moreover, we can enhance that ability by changing the way we respond to rejection. Instead of dwelling too much on the pain of being turned down or turned aside, consider the freedom you now have to explore new possibilities and less mainstream options."