Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The creative genius sitting four cubicles away

There was a great little (4 minute long) story about creative ideas on NPR this morning. In a nutshell: people rate ideas as more creative when they come from far away sources, rather than nearby sources. An idea that came from halfway across the world is perceived as more creative than an idea that came from the guy sitting four cubicles away... even if it’s the exact same idea.

University of San Diego researchers ran an experiment that showed that where the idea comes from influences, in a significant way, the degree of creativity that people assign to the idea.

When things are nearby, they are more concrete, and we are more likely to think about the details. The detail-oriented mindset is more likely to shoot down a creative idea because, among other things, we focus more on the risks of the idea.

When considering ideas that are generated from a far away source, the ideas seem more abstract, and we are less focused on the details and the risks. The first question we ask is not “will this work?” We are more open to the creative possibilities.

In the story, they say that managers more often shoot down ideas from close subordinates rather than ideas that are generated from far away, less familiar sources.

What are the implications for nonprofit fundraising generally, and grant writing specifically? (My own bias is that grant writing, in order to be successful, must be a highly-creative pursuit!)

1. While this trend seems to be shifting, there still are many foundations that would rather fund the “new and exciting” idea, rather than supporting current programming that works. If a current grantee reapplies for support of a great program that is having measurable success, is that program seen as less creative or innovative as compared to the new idea from a new applicant that the foundation has not funded before (even if the new idea from the new applicant isn't all that creative)?

2. Do funders ask tougher, more detailed questions about an initiative that is more familiar to them, versus an initiative or field that is less familiar or less “close to home”?

3. The research highlighted here demonstrates that a more “abstract mindset” (versus a detail-oriented mindset) allows people to perceive ideas as more creative. As grant writers, how do we provide the high level of programmatic detail that funders want in grant proposals while still enabling the abstract mindset that allows potential funders to view the idea as creative or innovative?

And, finally – what is the difference between “creative” and “innovative”?

You can hear the NPR story HERE. What are your thoughts?

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