How we judge a creative idea is affected by how we perceive its inventor. Without realizing it, we may overvalue or undervalue a new concept and make poor choices in the product development process as a result.
Researchers Izabela Lebuda and Maciej Karwowski1 studied how gender of the inventor and the uniqueness of the inventor’s name affect one’s perception of the invention itself. They divided 119 participants into five groups to evaluate creative products in four domains (poetry, science, music, and art). Each group evaluated the same, identical products, but the products were signed by different fictional names – a unique male name, a common male name, a unique female name, and a common female name. The fifth group evaluated the products with no names (control group).
The highest creativity score was earned by a painting signed with a unique female name, while the lowest went to that same painting with a common female name. For the science-related products, works signed by any male name scored much higher than the same products signed by women. In fact, the science product signed by a common female name scored even lower than the anonymous control group. In the area of music, any piece signed by a unique male name was rated highest. Poems, on the other hand, got the best scores when signed by a unique female name and the lowest from a common male name.
For practitioners, this systematic bias caused by gender and other factors can lead us astray. For example, science is still perceived as male-dominated, and we may have a tendency to downgrade new science concepts generated by women. In other domains, literary and artistic, we may put too much of a premium on works generated by women with unique names.
To avoid this bias, consider the following advice:
- When creating new concepts, use a facilitated approach that puts
people into groups of two or three. Make sure participants don’t give credit for an idea to a particular person. When an idea emerges from a group (as opposed to one individual), our minds have a difficult time attaching attributes of
any one person to that idea.
- Have teams share their ideas outside of the workshop room. Set up a collaboration tool such as Google Docs where teams can enter
their ideas in real time. Make sure the idea collection software does
not track who entered it. Use team numbers instead of people’s names.
- Finally, have all ideas evaluated by a different team than the
one that generated them. Use a weighted decision
model to assess the ideas. Use scoring criteria that are
relevant to the issue the team is facing. Assign a weighting to these
criteria based on the importance of that criteria. Be sure to test the
model not only on past successful ventures, but also on past
1Izabela Lebuda and Maciej Karwowski, “Tell Me Your Name and I’ll Tell You How Creative Your Work Is: Author’s Name and Gender as Factors Influencing Assessment of Products’ Creativity in Four Different Domains,” Creativity Research Journal, Vol. 25, Iss. 1, (2013), 137-142.