Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

1 minute read


Study: Cheating Fuels Creativity

More evidence that dishonesty and creativity are bosom buds.

Study: Cheating Fuels Creativity

[Images: Ferris Bueller's Day Off via FanPop]

Being creative requires thinking outside the box. That's a hard thing to do when you play entirely by the rules, be they rules of society, the legal system, or even a corporate ethics handbook. For years, Harvard Business School's Francesca Gino has been studying ethical decision-making, often focusing on the connection between being creative and being dishonest. Her latest research finds yet more proof that the two often go hand in hand.

A little bit of cheating can lead to more creative thinking, according to her recent study in Psychological Science. In five different experiments, Gino and the University of Southern California's Scott Wiltermuth gave study participants (more than 700 in total) opportunities to fudge the numbers regarding their performance on different tasks such as playing a computer game featuring math and logic problems. The researchers also gave participants tests to measure their levels of creative thinking. They found that those subjects who cheated by inflating their performance scores on the first tasks showed higher levels of creative thinking in subsequent tests.

"Our research raises the possibility that one of the reasons why dishonesty seems so widespread in today's society is that by acting dishonestly we become more creative," Gino said in a press statement. She further speculates that "this creativity may allow us to come up with original justifications for our immoral behavior and make us likely to keep crossing ethical boundaries."

Not that the world needs more incentives for cheating, but the researchers have raised the possibility of a compelling productivity tip: When stuck in a creative rut, take a break, do the crossword, play a boardgame. And definitely cheat.