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Creativity's Underappreciated Component: Persistence

If at first you don't succeed, try and try and try again.
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Editor's Note: A version of this story first appeared on on August 12, 2015, with the headline "Creativity's Most Underappreciated Component: Persistence." This edited version was published in our January/February 2016 print issue.

(Photo: iStockPhoto)

(Photo: iStockPhoto)

If at first you don’t succeed ... don’t give up. That’s the implication of recent research suggesting that a defeatist attitude is a major reason so many fail to reach their creative potential. Northwestern University researchers report people consistently underestimate how many inventive ideas they can come up with if they continue to work on a problem, rather than giving up in the wake of mediocre initial results. In a series of experiments, they found evidence that the most creative solutions often arise after many others have been considered and discarded. So why do we abandon hope so easily? Creative thinking is hard, and when a task feels effortful, “people decrease their expectations about how well they will perform,” the researchers write. So ignore that impulse and keep plugging: You’re closer than you realize to accessing your inner innovator.

“People Underestimate the Value of Persistence for Creative Performance,” Brian J. Lucas and Loran F. Nordgren, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 109, No. 2, 2015.


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