Rather than simply roll up their sleeves and execute top-down strategy, employees must contribute imagination. But increasingly, managers are not the source of the idea. Cook told the story of an eye-opening analysis of innovations at Google: Its founders tracked the progress of ideas that they had backed versus ideas that had been executed in the ranks without support from above, and discovered a higher success rate in the latter category.
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Research by Israel Drori, a professor at the College of Management in Israel, and Benson Honig, a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, highlights the hazards of not distributing creative responsibilities across the organization. They observed an internet start-up offering a new, sophisticated form of computer graphics from its inception in until its collapse, seven years later. While the venture enjoyed initial success, it was ultimately unsustainable because it depended too much on the genius of its award-winning artist-founder—and took organizational creativity for granted.
And the fundamental structure of such networked organizations is not centralized and top-down.
Contributing to an interdependent network is its own reward. His analysis of six award-winning products from three quite different industries showed how product development teams used not only prototypes but also metaphors, analogies, and stories to coordinate their thinking. How to remedy that?
Wryly, he recalled seeing powerful people hold forth in meetings even though others in the room had much better ideas for solving problems. Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect , described his finding—based on interviews with people doing highly creative work in many fields—that innovation is more likely when people of different disciplines, backgrounds, and areas of expertise share their thinking. Even within the mind of an individual, diversity enhances creativity, according to a study by Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, a professor at the University of Michigan, his Michigan colleague Fiona Lee, and Chi-Ying Cheng of Columbia University.
Their research focuses on people who have multiple social identities, such as people who are both Asian and American, or who are both women and engineers. Social identities often have distinct knowledge associated with them, and to the extent an individual is comfortable integrating multiple identities, his or her knowledge sets can combine productively. One experiment asked Asian Americans to invent new forms of Asian American fusion cuisine, and the other asked female engineers to imagine new features for a cell phone for women.
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This research sparked a great deal of personal interest and has implications for management. If managers cause people to suppress parts of their identity, they limit a potentially valuable source of creativity. Managers can also enhance diversity by looking outside the organization for sources of creativity.
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Collaboration need not be bounded by the walls of the firm, as Rodriguez noted, pointing again to networked organizations such as Wikipedia. Many, in fact, see the recent phenomenon of open-source development as the future of innovation. For those who may worry that open-source innovation is still unproven and relevant only in software, Peter Meyer, an economist with the U. Bureau of Labor Statistics, put the matter in perspective. In the years before the commercial potential of aviation was recognized, the Wright brothers were just two of many enthusiasts who shared their discoveries and ideas freely and frequently in the manner of avid hobbyists.
The openness of the network, Meyer showed, greatly assisted the development of the airplane; the Wright brothers participated actively in it from through However, as the Wrights realized how important their breakthroughs were likely to be in creating viable commercial and military aircraft, they focused on securing patents and finding ways to make money from their inventions. Collaborators became potential competitors, and secrecy the new norm among them. The dual implications of this research are intriguing.tersconsmatfaphe.gq
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Open-source innovation, with its ability to tap the passion and ingenuity of tinkerers, offers enormous potential for creative output, and new industries with proprietary or secret technology can arise from it. But open-source processes may work only in certain kinds of endeavors or for limited windows of time.
Can creativity scale? She believes that creativity within an organization depends on vibrant, ongoing collaboration and free idea flow—which tend to dry up as a business adds people and projects. A former entrepreneur Scott was involved in three start-ups before joining Google , she hates the fact that more layers of management often lead to more bureaucracy—and the end of entrepreneurial spirit, risk taking, and learning from mistakes. At the same time, she recognizes that it is not reasonable to have organizations so flat that managers are saddled with dozens of direct reports.
Bob Sutton echoed the sentiment, citing research showing that when organizations focus on process improvements too much, it hampers innovation over the long term. Process management, Mark Fishman explained, is appropriate in some phases of creative work but not others.
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Efficient models make good sense for the middle and end stages of the innovation process, when the game has moved from discovery to control and reliability. Appreciate the different creative types among your people—and realize that some are better at certain phases than others.
And be very tolerant of the subversive. The consensus is that, eventually, an innovation reaches a point where it will be best served by people who know how to take it to market. Unfortunately, since the passion for an idea is highest among its originators, projects often lose steam at the handoff.
In entrepreneurial settings, idea originators are often forced to engage in commercial activity well beyond their comfort zones. Bob Litan, VP of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, which supports American entrepreneurship, noted how great a barrier that constitutes for many inventors. He described a program in which Kauffman links postdoctoral scientists to commercializers, rather than trying to teach inventors to spot market opportunities for their discoveries.
Nonetheless, many inventors do successfully grow their businesses think Google. These opposing models highlight the tension that always exists in the management of creatives: whether to round out their individual skill sets or allow them to run with their unique strengths and then balance them with complementary resources. Colloquium participants were of one mind on the subject of bureaucracy: It stifles creativity.
Clay Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School, offered a useful analogy for understanding why.
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He likened the life of an idea in a large corporate setting to that of a bill going before the U. The idea is reshaped at various points along the way to suit the agendas of the people whose support is required in order for it to be funded. Christensen advised managers to recognize what that process does to ideas and deliberately decide to contain it. Kim Scott added that the manager must act as a shepherd—an analogy also used by Christy Jones, founder of Extend Fertility.
Both believe that executives must protect those doing creative work from a hostile environment and clear paths for them around obstacles. In fact, Scott warned the managers in the room that, by creating the necessary new structures to support cross-unit collaboration, they might unwittingly create other forms of bureaucracy. Not surprisingly, some push-back occurred. It all sounds very nice, someone pointed out, but gardens do have weeds; managers must not only water and fertilize, but also kill off the stuff that holds no potential.
At what point and by whom should that determination be made? One school of thought says that the people closest to the idea are best equipped to make the call—but only if their personal commitment to its success, and the professional ramifications, can be severed. In a spirited discussion of how ideas should be winnowed, Johansson suggested that the filters must be diverse.
Unless the people sitting in judgment represent a variety of disciplines, functions, and viewpoints, they are unlikely to make wise decisions. Perhaps the best way to tap the wisdom of the broader market is to give it the power to turn thumbs up or thumbs down on new commercial possibilities. That approach resonated with the company founders present. That committee is death to creativity. Motivating people to perform at their peak is especially vital in creative work. An employee uninspired to wrap her mind around a problem is unlikely to come up with a novel solution. What spurs creativity, however, has long been a matter of debate.
A convincing analysis was put forward by Henry Sauermann, then a doctoral candidate at Duke University now at Georgia Tech , who presented new research done in collaboration with Duke professor Wesley Cohen. The surveys uncovered which workers were more intrinsically motivated—fired up, for example, by intellectual challenge or independence—and which were more extrinsically motivated, by such things as salary, benefits, and job security.
The researchers looked at patents filed by each respondent as a reasonable proxy for innovative output. Their finding was clear: Early-stage researchers who were more motivated by intellectual challenge tended to be more productive. Interestingly, this did not hold true among the group doing later-stage work. A stronger desire for independence was also associated with somewhat higher productivity.
The desire for intellectual challenge was, however, much more strongly linked to it. If the keys to creative output are indeed intellectual challenge and independence, management must find ways to provide them.