The Creative Cliff Illusion

Eight different studies were conducted by Brian J. Lucas and Loran F. Nordgren to see whether people have a good understanding of their creativity time course. Similar to what prior literature has discovered, the study found that people’s creativity either remains the same or advances across an ideation session. In contrast to reality, however, people have a different perception of creativity regressing over the course of ideation process; this phenomenon is called the creative cliff illusion. The study proposed the reason being people mistakenly correlating creativity with their ability to coin ideas because the level of difficulty in producing novel ideas is a salient way of appraising one’s performance.


Creativity can be defined as the production of ideas that have values of newness and usefulness. New ideas are generated by consolidating and incorporating knowledge in working memory, a part of the cognitive system that can hold information for a short period of time. Multiple studies concluded that people tend not to generate their most creative ideas first, but instead more overt, commonplace ideas. As time goes on and the more you spend time mulling over the matter during the ideation process, the higher quality of creative ideas is produced while the fewer ideas are devised. This heightened difficulty in forming ideas is comprehensively experienced by idea generators who then associate reduced productivity with declined creativity. This misassociation provokes people to mispredict the potential outcome of their endeavor to be less creative than they actually are.


People’s beliefs about creativity are pertinent to shaping the ways and the extent of their investment in the ideation and creative processes. The study discovered that people’s unfavorable views and beliefs about declining creativity adversely alter task persistence and subsequent creative performance. In other words, we should recognize what beliefs can do and how they can manipulate us, and thus we should persevere across the ideation process. The study suggests that groups and organizations institutionalize rhetorics and elongate activities that require creativity such as brainstorming and idea quotas. These practices will circumvent individuals and organizations from overlooking their own creative ideas due to the creative cliff illusion which could confine what later stages that come after ideation such as an idea selection and implementation could bring to real life.



Works Cited

PNAS August 18, 2020 117 (33) 19830-19836; first published August 3, 2020; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2005620117

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