How Well Can Leaders Assess Creative Ideas?

Topic(s): creativity, leadership, management
Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Reframing the decision-makers’ dilemma: Towards a social context model of creative idea recognition
Authors: J. Mueller, S. Melwani, J. Loewenstein, J.J. Deal
Reviewed by: Julian B. Allen

Decision-makers tend to hold the authority and power to allocate resources within organizations. One important task that comes along with this role is identifying creative ideas that can potentially improve work processes or even transform the industry as a whole. Yet, how do we know if these individuals make accurate predictions? Can decision-makers truly identify creative ideas?


Through two studies, researchers (Mueller, Melwani, Loewenstein, & Deal, 2018) explore whether those occupying decision-making roles can accurately judge ideas as being creative or not creative. The authors find that decision-makers tend to rate ideas as being creative only if the idea has a high-level of social support—in this case fully funded on Kickstarter and many likes on Facebook. In contrast, individuals who were not in a decision-making role rated the same idea as being creative regardless of its level of social approval.

The explanation for these results is simple: decision-makers tend to evaluate an idea through a different lens. In this study, individuals assigned to the decision-making role (as opposed to those not in a decision-making role), reported valuing economic concerns and consequences while evaluating the creativity of the idea. This focus on the economic worth of an idea, called economic mindset, led those in the decision-making role to devalue an idea if it had low levels of social approval. These results are of concern as low social approval is likely with most creative ideas, since they often do not conform to current expectations or molds.

You might argue that low social approval led decision-makers to view an idea as less useful, and as such consider it to be less creative. However, level of social approval was not found to impact decision-makers’ evaluation of the idea’s usefulness. Thus, decision-makers seem capable of considering an idea to be useful regardless of its level of social approval.

To make matters worse, in the second study, the authors find that the more time individuals spend in a decision-making role the more likely they are to rate an idea as less creative if it has low social approval. These results suggest a relationship between time spent in a decision-making role and the assessment of ideas through a persistent economic lens.


Across studies, these results demonstrate the bias of decision-makers in assessing creative ideas. Decision-makers appear to focus on the social approval of an idea to ensure that the idea is economically sound. These results are concerning, as decision-makers may miss a huge portion of creative ideas and fail to provide these ideas with the necessary resources to develop.

In order to reduce this bias and guarantee that all ideas are being assessed on their creative potential, the authors suggest having multiple employees involved in the idea-rating process. Employees across different levels of the organization could offer unique perspectives, potentially leading to more accurate and reliable assessments of creativity. Decision-makers can then use these composite ratings to make the final decision. The authors suggest that in this way, the creativity ratings will satisfy the accuracy and rationality concerns of the decision-maker’s economic lens and still provide a relatively impartial assessment of creativity.


Mueller, J., Melwani, S., Loewenstein, J., & Deal, J. J. (2018). Reframing the decision-makers’ dilemma: Towards a social context model of creative idea recognition. Academy of Management Journal61(1), 94-110.