Have you ever thought that you’d be more successful if only you were more creative? Most of us believe that being as creative as possible will yield the best results, but there’s actually lots of evidence to the contrary.
Studies have shown that proposals that show too much creativity often fail and that humans are drawn to what’s familiar to them. There are many ways we can use these insights to be more successful, and we’ll explore these below.
Ideas that are too novel aren’t successful
It’s not enough to simply come up with the most creative idea you can – you also need to make sure that it contains some familiarity. For example, when pitching a new business idea, try comparing it to existing services, saying, “It’s like McDonald’s, but healthy,” or, “It’s eBay for bikes.”
In 2014, researchers from Harvard and Northeastern University set out to find out how important novelty is when submitting funding proposals. Surely, the most creative proposals would be the most successful? Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case.
150 proposals were prepared, and each was rated according to how novel it was. The proposals were then evaluated by a team of scientists, who gave a score to each. The proposals that were the most novel and creative received the lowest scores overall. Up next were the safe, familiar proposals, which scored only slightly higher. The proposals which received the best scores were those considered ‘slightly new’ – not too novel, but also not completely familiar.
This study demonstrates how important it is to get the right balance between familiarity and newness. It’s not enough to simply come up with the most creative idea you can – you also need to make sure that it contains some familiarity. For example, when pitching a new business idea, try comparing it to existing services, saying, “It’s like McDonald’s, but healthy,” or, “It’s eBay for bikes.” This approach makes your proposal easier to understand and less threatening. If an idea is so new that it’s hard to understand and explain, it’s unlikely to be successful.
Humans crave familiarity, not creativity
By showing consumers the same advert over and over again, the chance of them liking it and buying the product shown is increased.
In the 1960s, a psychologist named Robert Zajonc conducted experiments which proved the human preference for familiarity. He showed his subjects a variety of images, shapes, and characters, and asked them to rate which they liked best.
The images which were familiar to the subjects consistently received the highest ratings, while images which they had not been shown before were rated poorly. This shows that we are naturally inclined to like what we know, regardless of whether or not it’s actually better.
This is described at the ‘mere-exposure effect’ and is often used in advertising. By showing consumers the same advert over and over again, the chance of them liking it and buying the product shown is increased. The same theory can be applied to many areas of life – music, art, cinema, and even people.
By bearing in mind that most humans crave familiarity, you can be more successful in many areas of life, including work, creative projects, and relationships. You could pitch a novel idea to a familiar problem at work, paint a familiar scene using new materials, or suggest trying a new variety of your partner’s favorite cuisine for dinner.
Read more: 8 Secrets to achieving Success & Happiness
A combination of surprising and familiar works best
Raymond Loewy, one of the most successful industrial designers of all time, knew all about getting the right balance between surprising and familiar. He developed a design principle called MAYA, which stands for ‘Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.’ and refers to the practice of creating designs that are as advanced as possible without being so new and unusual that they aren’t accepted by consumers.
The MAYA principle can be used to explain why high-tech products, like the recent Google Glasses, can fail. While consumers are used to devices like phones and tablets, making the leap to a wearable device could feel too unfamiliar and strange.
Next time you’re pushing yourself to be more creative, stop. Think instead about how you could put a creative twist on a familiar idea. You’ll see better results and won’t suffer the disappointment of your most creative endeavors being unsuccessful.
This piece was first published on Life Hack.