People are notoriously optimistic in their self-evaluations. Whether researchers ask about driving, stock picking acumen, popularity, or a long list of other attributes, huge majorities overrate their abilities. Scientists even have a name for the phenomenon: "the Lake Wobegon Effect," after the fictional town where "all the children are above average."
In general, this suggests you should be cautious when it comes to your own self-appraisal of your abilities. But recently scientists found a fascinating exception. While most of us overestimate our skill at just about everything, we tend to underestimate our creativity.
You're weirder -- and more creative -- than you think.
Over the course of three studies, an international team of researchers asked volunteers both to generate ideas and to rate the creativity of those ideas. "We found that people systematically underestimate their originality -- a defining characteristic of creativity -- throughout the ideation process," two of the study's authors, Yael Sidi and Ella Miron-Spektor, reported on Insead Knowledge recently.
Why are we so bad at appreciating our own originality? The problem is that we tend to assume other people are more like us than they actually are, which leads us to believe that everyone will come up with the same ideas we do. But, as I've covered in this column before, science confirms we are actually (joyously) all weirdos, which gives us our own unique and valuable viewpoint on the world.
Learn to love your own creativity.
The good news here is that you are likely much more original than you think you are. The bad news is that you've probably been dismissing great ideas for years. How do you stop doing that? The authors say leaders can help their teams see and value their creativity with a little encouragement.
"As a manager, make it a point to invite your team members to share their ideas, which may otherwise never see the light of day because they assume their ideas are not innovative enough. By acknowledging their creativity, you can reduce their bias, at least to some extent," Sidi and Miron-Spektor advise.
If you're looking to boost your own creativity, simply appreciating your own uniqueness can help. Separate research shows those who feel like oddballs or outsiders tend to be more creative, so celebrating your quirks should both help you come up with more ideas and value them correctly.
Finally, though, the best intervention might just be awareness of this bias against your own ideas. They're better than you think they are (at least the later ones from a brainstorming session -- the researchers also observed our first ideas are usually the least original).
As the authors optimistically conclude, "For millions of people now struggling to make ends meet amid the Great Lockdown, knowing that they are probably more original than they think could be a much-needed shot in the arm."