Are creative people more adept at justifying immoral behavior, and thereby more likely to transgress ethical boundaries? Or does unethical behavior require people to be more inventive, causing them to be more imaginative?
Whatever the relationship between creativity and immorality, a growing body of evidence suggests that the two are, in fact, linked. Over on Scientific American, Travis Riddle has written a great in-depth feature exploring what he calls "the dark side of creativity." We've included the introduction to the article here, but you'll definitely want to head over to SciAm for the whole piece.
In the mid 1990's, Apple Computers was a dying company. Microsoft's Windows operating system was overwhelmingly favored by consumers, and Apple's attempts to win back market share by improving the Macintosh operating system were unsuccessful. After several years of debilitating financial losses, the company chose to purchase a fledgling software company called NeXT. Along with purchasing the rights to NeXT's software, this move allowed Apple to regain the services of one of the company's founders, the late Steve Jobs. Under the guidance of Jobs, Apple returned to profitability and is now the largest technology company in the world, with the creativity of Steve Jobs receiving much of the credit.
However, despite the widespread positive image of Jobs as a creative genius, he also has a dark reputation for encouraging censorship, "losing sight of honesty and integrity", belittling employees, and engaging in other morally questionable actions. These harshly contrasting images of Jobs raise the question of why a CEO held in such near-universal positive regard could also be the same one accused of engaging in such contemptible behavior. The answer, it turns out, may have something to do with the aspect of Jobs which is so admired by so many.
In a recent paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at Harvard and Duke Universities demonstrate that creativity can lead people to behave unethically. In five studies, the authors show that creative individuals are more likely to be dishonest, and that individuals induced to think creatively were more likely to be dishonest. Importantly, they showed that this effect is not explained by any tendency for creative people to be more intelligent, but rather that creativity leads people to more easily come up with justifications for their unscrupulous actions.