Creative, Rare, Entitled and Dishonest: How Commonality of Creativity in One’s Group Decreases an Individual’s Entitlement and Dishonesty

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Author Information : Lynne C. Vincent (Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University)
Maryam Kouchaki (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University)

Year of Publication : Academy of Management (2015)

Summary of Findings : When individuals with a creative identity believe that creativity is rare compared to common and valuable, they report higher psychological entitlement, which causes them to engage in more unethical behaviors.

Research Questions : 1. When and why does seeing yourself as a creative person lead you to be dishonest?

2. What is the content of the creative identity, and what behaviors does it cause?

3. Can the content of the creative identity be changed to alter the behavioral consequences of the identity?

What we know : Organizations are increasingly encouraging their employees to be creative due to creativity's potential for generating new and profitable products and services. Creativity has undeniable value. However, it also has an undeniable dark side that is generally ignored. We find that having a creative identity (just believing that you are a creative person) can trigger that dark side and cause individuals to be dishonest through a sense of entitlement.

Employee dishonesty is an incredibly costly problem for organizations. A typical organization loses approximately 5% of its revenue to fraud annually, resulting in a global loss of 2.9 trillion dollars (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 2010) with employees accounting for nine times the amount of theft than shoplifters (Trendwatch, 1998). Understanding the causes of employee dishonesty can increase organization's profitability.

Novel Findings : Previous research has demonstrated that creative thinkers can better rationalize dishonest behaviors. They create cognitively flexible justifications for dishonest behaviors and are able to bend the definition of what is morally acceptable. Our research shows that you don't have to be objectively creative or have any actual creative ability. Just thinking that you are a creative person can trigger a sense that you provide something of value and uniqueness. You provide something special that others cannot. When you believe that creativity is rare, you feel that you are entitled to more rewards. You are willing to lie and steal to claim what you feel that you deserve.

Implications for Practice : As creativity becomes increasingly important for organizations and organizations are encouraging employee creativity, it is important to understand the conditions under which having a creative identity can cause dishonest behaviors. Encouraging creativity is not as simple as asking employees to be creative. Our research suggests that practices that encourage creativity such as instilling a creative identity among its employees may also cultivate a sense of psychological entitlement. As such, we propose that managers who are interested in supporting employees’ creative identities should create conditions that support creative behaviors but also stress that creativity is not rare but actually common and accessible. For example, managers could introduce the concept of “everyday creativity” to stress that creativity is part of everyone’s lives and that everyone can be creative. Creativity is not an elusive, rare attribute that only a few people have but rather an ability that everyone has that can be cultivated. Rather than focusing on how creative an individual can be, which may trigger a sense of entitlement, managers can value creativity at group level and focus on everyone can be creative. This approach may be particularly useful for organizations that have certain departments that require more creativity than other departments.

Implications on Research: Very little research has examined the creative identity. We demonstrate that the creative identity has a dark side. We extend the nomological network of the creative identity. The current research demonstrated the importance of contextual conditions on the content and behavioral consequences of the creative role identity. However, more research is needed to examine how the definition and expectations of the creative role identity varies across different cultures. Future research could identify other attributes that trigger a sense of rarity such as social status or wealth.

Full Citations : Vincent, L.C. & Kouchaki, M. Creative, Rare, Entitled, and Dishonest: How Commonality of Creativity in One's Group Decreases an Individual's Entitlement and Dishonesty. In Press at Academy of Management Journal.

Abstract : We examine when and why creative role identity causes entitlement and unethical behaviors and how this relationship can be reduced. We found that the relationships among the creative identity, entitlement, and dishonesty are contingent on the perception of creativity being rare. Four experiments showed that individuals with a creative identity reported higher psychological entitlement and engaged in more unethical behaviors. Additionally, when participants believed that their creativity was rare compared to common, they were more likely to lie for money. Moreover, manipulation of rarity of creative identity, but not practical identity, increased psychological entitlement and unethical acts. We tested for the mediating effect of psychological entitlement on dishonesty using both measurement of mediation and experimental causal chain approaches. We further provide evidence from organizations. Responses from a sample of supervisor-subordinate dyads demonstrated that employees reporting strong creative identities who perceived creativity as rare in their work-group rather than common were rated as engaging in more unethical behaviors by their supervisors. This paper extends prior theory on negative moral consequences of creativity by shedding new light on assumption regarding the prevalence of creativity and the role psychological entitlement plays.

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Believing you’re a creative person can create feelings of entitlement when you believe that creativity is rare and valuable. That feeling of entitlement can be costly for you and your organization; it can cause you to be dishonest.

Lynne Vincent

Lynne Vincent

Vincent's research examines the moral and social implications of creativity. In contrast to the status quo view of creativity as inherently positive, she investigates the potential dark side and the unexpected consequences of creativity. Her research reveals that creativity and the perception of creativity influences decisions to engage in dishonest behaviors, how people handle negative experiences and even how people judge others. These processes affect how organizations encourage creativity, how organizations design jobs and how hiring decisions are made. Her research has appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General and Psychological Science.
Lynne Vincent
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