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CEO Wanted. Creative People Need Not Apply

The business media (including BNET) devote a lot of space to the struggle for more innovation and creativity, with the NY Times magazine featuring a lengthy article on corporate America's hunger for innovative ideas last weekend. But according to new research out of Cornell University, when it comes to young professionals looking to rise through the ranks of their organization, being perceived as an ideas guy has its downsides.

The series of three studies was carried out by Jack Goncalo, a professor at Cornell's ILR School and the results will be published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. After crunching data, Goncalo's headline conclusion is that "creative people are getting filtered out on their way to the top." Why might this be so?

Our three studies show that when people voice creative ideas, they are viewed by others as having less leadership potential.... The reason is that deeply held expectations of "creative people" and "effective leaders" often clash. Creative people are viewed as risky and unpredictable, while leaders are expected to reduce uncertainty and uphold the norms of the group. Although people claim they want creativity, when given the opportunity, they actually preserve the status quo by sticking with unoriginal thinkers, data suggest.

The result is a mismatch between what companies say they are hiring leaders for and the type of people who they actually get to fill these positions. "Promoted for their unspoken promises to preserve the status quo, leaders are often expected to change the status quo when they arrive at the top," concludes the research.

What do you think, does a reputation for innovative thinking actually hold people back from the top positions?

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(Image courtesy of Flickr user Peter Kaminski, CC 2.0)
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