We all know the type: more than happy to tell us about the brilliance of their latest idea, shameless self-promoters, and beyond their creative output, the only subject they’re more passionate about is themselves.
When we think about the most visible creatives, we tend to think of volatile – or at least prickly – types, dictatorial when they’re at the helm of a project (or even when they’re not), frustratingly outspoken, and maddeningly right. That’s just the cost of dealing with genius, right? Kanye West is such an electric figure because of his lack of inhibition and ability to be Ye. Or Steve Jobs – it had to have been his in-your-face leadership style that ushered Apple to the forefront of the tech sector? Picasso might have been a monster to the women in his life, but he left a legacy of great art.
But does it necessarily follow that creative jerk you know is more prone to narcissism? Or is it possible that narcissists, so impressed with their own skill and ability, seek out creative outlets? That’s the finding of a recent British study, published in Thinking Skills and Creativity.
A University College of London study conducted by psychologist Adrian Furnham took an inventory of the creative activities of 207 participants over the course of the year and compared that against a “condensed” version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.
Furnham’s team found that participants who could be described as narcissists self-identified as more creative and also engaged in more creative activities. Pacific Mag is quick to point out that despite these findings, a 2010 Stanford study suggests that narcissists are no more creative than the rest of us.
Here’s something to chew on from the Stanford study, though: these self-involved types might not be more creative than the rest of us, but they seem to fake it just well enough to convince the rest of us to do our jobs better.
“Narcissists may not be creative, but their high levels of self- confidence may nevertheless influence the way others evaluate their ideas,” according to the study, and in group settings, your typical blowhard might be irritating, but they’re also less likely to allow the decision-making process to go on for too long – what the study says, “reduces production blocking and thereby increase the group’s creative output.”
At the same time, narcissists might be perceived as getting the job done quicker, but in reality, all of that ruthless decision-making is actually bad in cases where people, you know, need to actually communicate. In a 2011 study, researches found that “The narcissistic leaders had a very negative effect on [participants'] performance. They inhibited the communication because of self-centeredness and authoritarianism.”
The impression I have is that some narcissists are indeed incredibly creative, but that we reward their creativity, ultimately fueling their ego. I also love this thought from Bob Sutton who’s ambivalent about the role of the narcissist as the lever that sometimes gets things did:
“In other words, the live pitches led people to make an attribution error, to confuse stereotypical features of creative people with creative ideas. (This explains, by the way, why creative people who come in bodies that can’t pitch need someone on their team to sell their ideas: Steve Wozniak would not have succeeded without Steve Jobs’ pizazz.)”
Don’t be a jerk should be the motto here. But the question remains, should we continue to put up with inconsiderate behavior when there’s a chance that it might help get things accomplished?