Having a narcissistic coworker—or worse, a narcissistic boss can be one of the most stressful and frustrating experiences in the modern-day workplace. In the past, narcissists’ egos have been fueled by research that claimed that those who are self-obsessed were actually more creative.
Luckily, a recent study out of Cornell University has found the opposite—narcissists are not, in fact more creative. Researchers cleverly had over two hundred students fill out a narcissism questionnaire to gauge each participants level of narcissism. This involved answering questions like, “How much do you enjoy being the center of attention?”
They then instructed participants to pair up and ‘pitch’ movie ideas to one another and then evaluate the concepts. Here is where it gets interesting: When the evaluators knew how narcissistic someone was, they gave higher scores in creativity. However, when independent evaluators graded the pitches on paper, the narcissistic pitches were not seen as more creative. Moral of the story:
Narcissists are not necessarily more creative, their charisma is what convinces people that their ideas are better.
This speaks to the importance of confidence in the workplace—especially in sales, marketing and pitching. How can we use this study in our lives?
1. Don’t be fooled by narcissists
Identify the egoists in your environment and be hyper aware of their ideas. Do not let their charisma and confidence in pitching trick you into thinking that they have an above average idea.
2. Get it in writing
If possible get ideas in writing to help review them objectively. Set-up a process of sending ideas through email before or after meetings to give coworkers space to evaluate ideas on paper.
3. Leverage your egoists!
If you have someone with great confidence and charisma—even if they are a little self-centered, use them when you need to pitch ideas, get sales or sell products. Make sure they speak to large groups and lead presentations; their confidence will be infectious.
4. Two narcissists might be better than one (but not three)
Researchers actually followed up their first study with a very interesting experiment. They broke 292 participants into groups and had them come up with creative ways for a company to improve its performance. Amazingly, the groups with two narcissists actually came up with better ideas than a group with none or one. Why? When two egomaniacs are in a group their competitiveness ignites more creativity. However, when more than two egoists were in a group the competitiveness undermined the group’s efficiency.
In conclusion, a small dose of narcissism can give you confidence, but don’t let the overly confident trick you into thinking they are more creative, intelligent or interesting than you!
Goncalo, J. A., Flynn, F. J., & Kim, S. H. (2010). From a mirage to an oasis: Narcissism, perceived creativity, and creative performance. Retrieved [insert date] from Cornell University, ILR School site: