According to new research, the echo chamber created when like-minded people self-segregate and embrace information and ideas that support their opinions and beliefs is not only solidifying polarized views in society, but also impeding creativity.
Global comms firm Ketchum engaged progressive business media brand Fast Company to survey creative professionals about unconscious bias, insularity and sources of creative inspiration. More than half (54 percent) of those surveyed admit creative professionals work in echo chambers. Of those who think there is an echo chamber, most blame conversations with peers that confirm and align with their beliefs and assumptions (91 percent) and news that confirms and aligns with their beliefs and assumptions (91 percent) as leading causes.
Fielded in advance of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the Creative Echo Chamber survey uncovered an important gap—while 71 percent of respondents say diversity of thought is valued by their organizations, 85 percent believe organizations must do more to encourage a diversity of ideas.
To break free of echo chambers, respondents say it is most important to interact with people who challenge their beliefs and assumptions (95 percent) and learn about cultures that challenge their beliefs and assumptions (94 percent). Interestingly, race and gender are on the bottom of the list of variables that impact how creative ideas are developed and chosen, with personal experience (87 percent) topping the list in shaping creative ideas, and work experience (70 percent) and personal experience (61 percent) mattering most in choosing ideas. By contrast, 25 percent say race and 26 percent say gender impact shaping ideas; only 11 percent say race and 15 percent say gender matters in choosing ideas.
“This survey is a wake-up call,” said Karen Strauss, partner and chief strategy and creativity officer at Ketchum, in a news release. “The effect social media has had on limiting interactions with people who disagree with us and filtering information so it confirms existing views extends to our creative process. These findings underscore the need to seek and embrace dissent to break free of conformity and groupthink.”
Achieving cultural diversity
Survey participants offered concrete suggestions for diversifying creative talent and opinions within organizations. Recommendations most often cited were to make diversity hiring goals more explicit; end nepotism, cronyism and referral-based hiring; hire for curiosity over experience; hire from outside the industry; recruit internationally; eliminate insider jargon from employment ads; and increase blind hiring practices.
“The outpouring of ideas for bringing cultural diversity into the workplace is good news for business,” said Robert Safian, editor of Fast Company, in the release. “The survey respondents see that working alongside people just like themselves limits creative potential, and to get outside our bubbles, we have to build teams from varying socioeconomic, educational and geographic backgrounds.”
Whose voices are being heard?
The survey set out to understand who holds sway within organizations in shaping and choosing the ideas that get implemented. Two-thirds (66 percent) of respondents said that creative professionals with 10 or more years of experience held more weight in choosing ideas than did those with less experience; only 20 percent said that junior creative talent has a lot of influence in choosing ideas. Yet, 73 percent of respondents say it is junior professionals who offer the braver ideas, reflecting another opportunity for challenging likeminded groupthink.
Perhaps more importantly, many creative professionals are not engaging the intended audience in the creation and development of ideas. Only 9 percent of creative professionals always tap their target audience while strategizing (and 48 percent never do), and only 9 percent always engage their target audience in the creative process.
“With crowdsourcing so easy, and multicultural opinions so accessible, this finding was possibly the most surprising,” said Strauss. “Because respondents did tell us they use research for shaping and choosing ideas, it’s curious that they are not addressing the echo chamber they say exists by bringing real consumers into the creative process.”
The role of age and gender in creative echo chambers
Only slight differences exist in how the generations perceive the existence of a creative echo chamber. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of Gen X-ers believe the creative echo chamber exists, while half of Millennials (54 percent) and Boomers (52 percent) agree. When asked what factors contribute to the shaping of ideas, each generation ranked personal experiences No. 1 (91 percent of Millennials, 83 percent of Gen X and 84 percent of Boomers). However, when it comes to selecting ideas, Millennials favor data (75 percent), Gen X-ers rely on customer feedback (76 percent) and Boomers cite work experience (68 percent).
Interestingly, the younger generations are more inclined to think diversity is valued within their organization—71 percent of Millennials and 74 percent of Gen X-ers believe diversity of thought is valued in their company, compared with 67 percent of Boomers. Younger creative professionals also are more inclined to think campaign ideas are shaped and determined by people with diverse backgrounds (70 percent of Millennials, 66 percent of Gen X-ers and 57 percent of Boomers). Very little difference was noted between men and women related to echo chamber perceptions. When asked who provides braver ideas—men or women—two-thirds of men (61 percent) say it’s men, and two-thirds of women (65 percent) say it’s women.
Ketchum engaged Fast Company to tap into its network of creative professionals. An online survey was administered to 500 respondents, all of whom are actively working in a creative field or department. Survey respondents were recruited through various methods including a live event where they were provided a web address, a curated newsletter list, and through industry-targeted banners on FastCompany.com and Fast Company social networks. Respondents were entered into a drawing as compensation for their time. The survey was conducted from May 16 to May 26, 2017. The margin of error is +/-4.38 percent at the 95 percent confidence level for the total sample.