Heading Up? Keep Creative Ideas Under Wraps


In your gut, you always knew it. Now, it's confirmed. Those who want to reach the top either aren't all that creative, or they're shrewd enough to keep those innovative ideas to themselves. Three research studies by professors at Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Indian School of Business found that being identified as "creative" can deep six your plans for organizational leadership. For example, of a group of 346 creative problem solvers, few were promoted. That's what Anne Fisher reports in Fortune.

You've likely been aware of all this because you worked with those "creatives." Their reputation for being different and often difficult, as well unpredictable, is well deserved. That's just the way they are. Organizations put up with that type of behavior if they need the input of the creatives. If they don't feel that they need the innovation any more, then like Apple's Steve Jobs under John Sculley, they oust them. When Apple realized it did actually need a creative type among their top executives, it not only allowed Jobs back, but retained him as their head guy.

Apple's experience with Jobs, however, is unusual. The more usual course of events is for the board of directors and other powerful factions to appoint as leader the one who seems to be able to conform to the company's traditional norms, as well as work well with others, and be totally predictable.

Suppose you're creative? You have a couple of choices. First, you could join an organization such as an advertising agency that requires innovative employees. Just look at the kind of stuff Don Draper gets away with on 'Mad Men.' In a creative role, you will probably make good money, be respected for the results you achieve -- and never get to head the agency. Alternatively, you could keep your creativity under wraps and take on the persona and behavior of the "corporate drone."