These days, innovation and creativity are in high demand in the work world, making them something that a lot of people would like to have.
The reality is that some people are more creative and innovative than others, which begs the question: why? As the voluminous list of books and articles on the topic testifies, many factors influence human creativity and innovativeness.
But the one that intrigues me the most is genetics. Some people are innately predisposed to be more creative and innovative than others. In fact, as much 55 percent of the difference between people on standard tests of creative temperament is accounted for by our genes. In one study conducted by University of Minnesota psychologist Tom Bouchard and his colleagues, half of a sample of identical twins raised in separate households, often many miles away from one another, had the same scores on measures of creative temperament, while fraternal twins raised together only had the same scores 12 percent of the time.
Some researchers have found that specific aspects of the personality trait of openness to experience that are most closely related to creativity are partially innate. Specifically, different studies have shown that between 34 and 40 percent of the difference between people in vividness of imagination and between 49 and 52 percent of the difference in our intellectual curiosity and openness to new ideas are explained by our genes.
Your genes affect both artistic creativity – the creativity of painters, sculptors, dancers, and other artists – and scientific creativity – the creativity of engineers, biologists, chemists, and other scientists. In his research, Dean Simonton reports that between 22 and 36 percent of the difference between people in these different types of creativity is genetic.
Of course, the environment in which you work also affects your creativity. Companies that don’t reward innovativeness tend to get less of it from their employees. Bureaucratic and hierarchical organizational structures also tend to stifle innovative thinking. But it turns out that the effect of your work environment on your creativity itself is partially genetic. Research by Laura Keller and her colleagues show that genes influence the importance people place on having a creative work environment, leading some people to choose more supportive environments than others.
Molecular geneticists have recently identified specific genes that are associated with being creative. While these results have not been extensively replicated and the effect of each gene is small, the findings are nonetheless intriguing. Michael Reuter and his colleagues found that certain versions of the DRD2 gene, which provides instructions for the production of a brain chemical called dopamine is associated with verbal creativity, while certain versions of the TPH1 gene, which provides instructions for the production of an enzyme that affects the pace of synthesis of serotonin is associated with numerical creativity. Together these two genes account for 9 percent of the difference between people in creativity.
Of course, these two genes are very unlikely to be the only genes that affect our originality. Many different genes probably influence how innovative we are, and that those genes probably work together in complex ways. So we are a long way from having any clear cut answers about how our genes affect our creativity and innovativeness in the workplace. Nevertheless, these findings suggest the benefit of thinking about how innate differences influence how creative and innovative we are.
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Excerpted from Born Entrepreneurs, Born Leaders: How Your Genes Affect Your Work Life”, by Scott A. Shane, ©2010 Oxford University Press.
Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of nine books, including Fool’s Gold: The Truth Behind Angel Investing in America; Illusions of Entrepreneurship: and The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By.