Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation

I borrowed a Book “Weird Ideas That Work” from Sutton, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford. As the title mentions, the book is about “weird ideas for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation”. This post is a summary taken from the executiveforum.net summary and reworked in ordered and bulleted lists.(NOTE: as the author cautions, believe each of them for twenty seconds or so, and then do the critical evaluation)

Weird Idea #1: Hire Slow Learners (Of the Organizational Code)

  • Innovation isn’t efficient, Sutton reminds us.
  • Two types tend to be slow to learn organizational codes: low self-monitors and people with high self esteem.
  • Low self-monitors are unable or unwilling to follow expectations
  • People with high self esteem do what they think is right, despite the expectations and warnings of others.
  • Good examples of people who seem intelligent but have had bad grades in school are innovators Thomas Edison and Charles Darwin.

Weird Idea #1½: Hire People Who Make You Uncomfortable, Even Dislike (variation of Weird Idea #1)

  • Research shows that people have more positive emotions about people who are similar to them in appearance, experience and knowledge
  • the hiring practices of most organizations use a “homosocial reproduction” process.
  • But a lack of varied staff can leave an organization lacking in new ideas.
  • We unconsciously have negative reactions to people with different knowledge and experiences.
  • If you are looking for someone to spark an innovative dynamic, look for people who make the organization’s indiers uncomfortable.
  • Sutton notes that layoffs can have the same effect as “homosocial reproduction” hiring practices. Many companies use layoffs to get rid of employees who are “different.”

Weird Idea #3: Use Job Interviews to Get Ideas, Not to Screen Candidates

  • Research shows that interviews are ineffective for finding the best employees. People hire not the best potential employees but those who are similar to them in appearance and experience.
  • If you must conduct interviews, use them for an innovative purpose and get new ideas from the people you interview (cf Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari Corporation)
  • Sutton notes that interviewers often suffer from the “blabber mouth” problem and dominate interviews. He encourages you to let the interviewee do the talking.
  • But: Studies show that when an interviewer does most of the talking, the candidate receives a higher rating than a candidate who does more talking.

Weird Idea #4: Encourage People to Ignore and Defy Superiors and Peers

  • Although peers can exert pressure to maintain routines, pressure most often comes from people with power to punish or expel. Although such people are essential for routine work, they can discourage or even stop innovation.
  • Management can take steps to foster innovation, sometimes by simply getting out of the way.
  • 3M encourages “unauthorized projects” with its “15% rule,” which directs employees to spend fifteen percent of their work time on such projects
  • Management can also praise “well-meaning deviants.” (cf medal for “extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering.”  given to an engineer, after the success of his works on an oscilloscope at Hewlett-Packard, despite the fact many managers told him to stop, including David Packard.

Weird Idea #5: Find Some Happy People and Get Them to Fight

  • Sutton admits that conflict is destructive to brainstorming and stifles creativity.
  • However, after new ideas are generated, fighting over them narrows the range of ideas to the good ones. Conflict is a vital step in the process of transforming an idea into a usable form (focused on different opinions,not a personal one, such as personality conflicts)
  • Happy people may be more productive and creative, but a creative workplace also contains a lot  of unhappiness and conflict. Look for unhappiness if you want to make a contribution.
  • Why happy people?
    • Positive people are more persistent and take more risks. Creativity involves a lot of failure, and an optimist will view a failure as temporary and not a personal defeat.
    • Additionally, unhappiness is contagious. Even a few unhappy people can spoil the positive mood of a group
    • But upbeat people can fail to see the risks associated with an idea.
    • Sutton suggests that these unfortunate individuals can be used to do the evaluation after an innovative team of upbeat people
  • Weird ideas from Bob Zajonc  to increase happiness in an organization
    • He found that when people said “ah” or “e” repeatedly, they were happier and had a cooler brain temperature than people who said “u” or “ü.”
    • Zajonc had people hold a pencil in their mouths while they watched cartoons found the cartoons funnier than did those who held the pencil sticking out from their lips, as if they were pouting.

Weird Idea #6: Reward Success and Failure, Punish Inaction<

  • Traditional management practices reward success and punish failure.
  • But there is no innovation without failure.
  • Dean Keith Simonton, who has researched creative genius, finds that the creative geniuses aren’t usually smarter. Rather, creative geniuses such as Einstein and Picasso are people who simply do more
  • In contrast, perfectionists have limited production and are not necessarily creative.
  • Creativity is in a sense a consequence of productivity, as successes come from lots of failures.
  • Accordingly, an innovative organization should encourage failures and punish inaction.
  • Because MTV was creating a new type of programming and a new type of audience, Ross considered every idea okay and fired people for not making mistakes.

Weird Idea #7: Decide to Do Something that Will Probably Fail, Then Convince Yourself and Everyone Else that Success Is Certain

  • Although expert opinions would seem to be useful in limiting failure in the innovation, Sutton states that research does not support that assumption. Expert opinionscan even hinder innovation.
  • Research shows that belief often creates reality, so it is vital to convince yourself that success is certain, even if others think you are crazy
  • It may seem strange to delude yourself. However, Sutton notes that executives at venture capital firms misremember their successes and quote greatly inflated success rates.

Weird Idea #8: Think of Some Ridiculous and  Impractical Things to Do, Then Plan to Do Them!

  • Planning to do something seemingly impractical challenges assumptions and increases variation. It can help you see a problem in a new way and break away from the past.
  • if people think your ideas are incredibly stupid, they won’t copy those ideas, and you will have a competitive advantage.

Weird Idea #9: Avoid, Distract, and Bore Customers, Critics, and Anyone Who Just  Wants to Talk about Money

  • One obstacle to innovation is what Bob Zajonc  calls the “social inhibition effect.”
  • 2 social bounds:
    • When we are around the same kind of people, we learn more slowly and revert to doing what we know best.
    • When we are with people who take on an evaluative role, they can drive out our creativity. Pressure to succeed encourages people to revert to former procedures, not to risk the inevitable failures that precede innovative success.
  • How can an innovator avoid unwanted attention and avoid being forced to disclose an unfinished project too soon?
    • Distraction approach: Find ways to entertain management and keep them interested, and at the same time hide the real project.
    • Boring approach: find ways to be boring or vague after what the people won’t pay attention to you.
  • But, be aware: Creativity needs interaction with other ideas.

Weird Idea #11: Forget the Past

  • First, assign people to jobs they don’t know how to do in expecting that they will ask questions and possibly reconsider old procedures and philosophies.


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