Is your creative department riddled with con artists?
A view from Jeremy Lee

Is your creative department riddled with con artists?

There's nothing an agency needs more than a lying, cheating creative director. That seemed to be the implication from a research report published last week that attempted to link dishonesty and creativity, and found that cheats are more likely to come up with creative thinking.

The research – in a journal for the Association for Psychological Science in the US and called "Evil Genius? How dishonesty can lead to greater creativity" – attracted some media attention over here.

Maybe this was unsurprising as it made for a compelling headline that geniuses were also by necessity evil. It’s also a far cry from the popular perception of them as artists (of which tortured souls are optional). But the good news is that the extent of the dishonesty of a creative department is unlikely to become a prerequisite on RFIs or a boast on agencies’ credentials documents.

While not wishing to rubbish the findings or dispute the methodology of the report’s authors – Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School and Scott Wiltermuth of the USC Marshall School of Business – I’m not entirely convinced that it necessarily applies to the advertising industry. In fact, if you look at the most infamous cheats and liars from this parish (of which there have been mercifully few), they mostly have come from account management. Their drive has normally been venal and based in narrow self-interest and greed rather than the production of something original and interesting. Equally, the best agencies have always seemed to have the most honourable and civilised creatives.

The most infamous cheats and liars from this parish mostly have come from account management

The research claims that people who lie feel less bound by convention, which makes for an interesting corollary when you next meet one of the industry’s best creatives. You might feel that you need to keep an eye on your wallet.

However, the researchers’ link between the inflation of a performance in a quiz and succeeding in a pretty basic verbal reasoning test seems a little bit tenuous to make the giant leap that the most creative people are also the biggest liars.

In truth, the process of coming up with something that is truly creative – which Dr Teresa M Amabile (also of Harvard Business School) suitably defines as "ideas that are both novel [ie. original, unexpected] and appropriate [ie. useful, adaptive to task constraints]" – is rather more complex than this.

When inspiration strikes, it can come from the most unlikely of places and in the most unlikely times. That’s why there’s something rather magical about it – the "magic not logic" that even the corporate behemoth Unilever acknowledges and seeks with pleasing success from the advertising industry.