USD Business Professor Explains Millennial Creativity Problems

Millennial Creativity

According to a recent study by IBM, the number one employee trait most desired by 1,500 executives is creativity. Unfortunately, the same survey revealed that more than 50 percent of executives struggle with recognizing and embracing creative solutions. According to Jennifer Mueller, an Associate Professor of Management at the University of San Diego School of Business Administration, the struggle with creativity isn’t a new or isolated problem.

Mueller found that the battle with creativity begins with education. In the classroom, creativity is a skill that’s mainly associated with the arts, which means that its role is downplayed in math, science, business and sports. Worse yet, Mueller found that many teachers label creative students as “disruptive” and they treat “out-of-the-box” thinking as a problem instead of a strength.

“So, it should be no surprise that independent studies with thousands of participants, in the U.S. and elsewhere, have confirmed that millennials are less motivated to elaborate on creative ideas, and more anxious about embracing them, than prior generations,” explained Mueller. “Recent data shows that millennials are also less likely to start new businesses—a trend that has contributed to the lowest number of U.S. startups since the 1970s.”

And Mueller found that business isn’t the only field struggling with creativity, it’s also a problem in science. A study of manuscripts submitted to prominent medical journals found that breakthrough papers were typically rejected early. While another study found that highly novel proposals were often ranked lower when evaluated for scientific grants.

“Clearly, we are not nearly as receptive to creativity as we like to think we are,” said Mueller. “And the reason has everything to do with our overwhelmed, overworked way of life.”

According to Mueller, it’s our complex life, where we’re constantly inundated with new information every second—thanks to technological advances—that makes us crave simplicity. The problem is that simplicity and “correct” choices don’t tend to match creativity.

But there is good news. Though millennials have less motivation to elaborate on creative ideas, they are able to generate creative ideas. And the number of students declaring entrepreneurship majors in the U.S. is increasing, so there’s still a potential for innovation. The key, Mueller said, is “to unleash our creative potential, it is not enough to merely generate ideas—we also have to get out of our own way and learn to make creativity count.”

Learn more about Mueller’s insight into creativity by checking out her book Creative Change: Why We Resist It … How We Can Embrace It.

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