Maryam Kouchaki of the Kellogg School and Lynne Vincent of Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management have conducted some fascinating experimental research addressing the relationship among creativity, entitlement, and unethical behavior. They conducted an interesting experiment in which they gave subjects a test to examine their creative potential. Some were told that they scored highly, and that many others did as well. Others were told that they stood out, scoring much higher than the typical participant. Then the subjects participated in a game in which dishonest behavior could yield higher payoffs. Here's what they found, according to Kellogg Insights:
The results show that when participants were told they were creative but that creativity is common, there was no adverse effect on behavior. It was when they were told that they were uniquely creative that bad behavior ensued. Participants who had been told that they were creative and that creativity is rare were more than twice as likely to lie to their partners in the game than those in the other two groups. That same group also had a much higher entitlement score on a post-game questionnaire, which asked participants to rate their level of agreement with statements like, “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others.”
Kouchaki offers the key takeaway from this line of research: She notes, “You want to encourage a culture of creativity, rather than a special treatment of creative people.” I would add one other important notion to her conclusion. It's not constructive to categorize employees (the creative, innovative folks vs. the "regular" people). That's a recipe for decreasing engagement and fostering resentment. Moreover, it's not the way to drive innovation. You don't want to bet on a flash of lightning from a select few. Instead, you want to leverage the collective intellect of the crowd. You absolutely want to create a culture where everyone feels responsible for coming up with better ways of working, improved products, enhanced systems and processes, etc.