Can Cheating Actually Help Fuel Creativity?

cheating_rectWe all know that being creative isn’t easy. It’s seems like it’s something you’re born with, a talent you can only nurture and not cultivate. And, we all know that being truly creative and even changing the world with a new idea means that sometimes you have to break the rules.

Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino has been studying ethical decision-making for years. She focuses on the connection between creativity and dishonesty, and her latest research presents more proof that the two often go together.

According to Gino’s recent study in Psychological Science, she shows that a little bit of cheating can lead to more creative thinking. In a series of five experiments, Gino and Scott Wiltermuth of the University of Southern California gave more than 700 participants the opportunity to fudge the numbers about their performance on different tasks such as playing a computer game consisting of math and logic problems. Gino and Wiltermuth also gave the participants tests to measure their creative thinking levels. The subjects that inflated their scores (cheated) on the first tasks showed higher levels of creative thinking in the subsequent tests.

“Our research raises the possibility that one of the reasons why dishonesty seems so widespread in today’s society is that by active dishonestly we become more creative,” Gino notes in the press release that corresponded with the study’s release. Base on her results, Gino thinks that “this creativity may allow is to come up with original justifications for our immoral behavior and make us likely to keep crossing ethical boundaries.”

Okay, yes. Cheating is bad. We all learned that in nursery school. But, the study does not suggest that we tell our kids to cheat on the SATs or that we cheat on our taxes. Instead, the study seems to suggest that creative people are creative because they don’t accept rules and boundaries and are trying to find ways around commonly accepted practices. Think about some of the best writers and artists – they have come from some pretty repressive places, including Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, and Fascist Italy. These artists found ways to cheat the repressive system and therefore created amazing works of art.

What can we learn from this study in the workplace? That giving team members the ability to change the rules fosters greater creativity. If you allow your team to think outside the box and, if necessary, “cheat” on an established rule, you might just end up with a solution to a problem that seemed unsolvable. With a little freedom, people can really rise to the occasion. If your goal is to foster creativity, then it might just be in your best interest to encourage your team to “cheat.”

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