Tempting Innovation, Tainted Innovation

by Drew Boyd

Tempting Innovation, Tainted InnovationAn idea stands a better chance of surviving if it is not attributed to the individual who conceived it. Otherwise, the idea carries with it all the baggage and perception of its owner, good or bad. During idea evaluation, people struggle separating their feelings about the creator from the idea itself. If they like the person, they like their idea… and vice versa.

What this means in practice is that you don’t want to give credit for good ideas. In facilitated ideation sessions, you need to get ideas out of people’s heads in a way that no one will know who it came from. This is contrary to the popular notion that organizations need to reward people for their ideas to stimulate innovation. Rather than reward their ideas, it might be better to reward their participation in innovation as Stefan Lindegaard points out.

This insight comes from the work of Tanya Menon at the University of Chicago. She describes the paradox of an external idea being viewed as “tempting” while the exact same idea, coming from an internal source, is considered “tainted.”

“In a business era that celebrates anything creative, novel, or that demonstrates leadership, “borrowing” or “copying” knowledge from internal colleagues is often not a career-enhancing strategy. Employees may rightly fear that acknowledging the superiority of an internal rival’s ideas would display deference and undermine their own status.

By contrast, the act of incorporating ideas from outside firms is not seen as merely copying, but rather as vigilance, benchmarking, and stealing the thunder of a competitor. An external threat inflames fears about group survival, but does not elicit direct and personal threats to one’s competence or organizational status. As a result, learning from an outside competitor can be much less psychologically painful than learning from a colleague who is a direct rival for promotions and other rewards.”

How do you strip away the credit for an idea when it is conceived? First, have people ideate in small teams of two or three. When an idea is offered, make sure these sub-teams share their ideas with the larger group without mentioning who actually created it. It’s harder to overlay subjective feelings on an idea when it eminates from two or three people. Credit for the idea gets diluted.

Second, have teams share their ideas in digital form. Set up a group wiki site or other collaboration tool such as Google Docs where teams can enter their ideas in real time. Make sure the idea collection software does not track who entered it. Use team numbers instead of people’s names.

Finally, have all ideas evaluated by a completely separate team than the one that generated the ideas. Use an objective, weighted decision model to assess the the value of ideas. Use scoring criteria that are relevant to the issue the team is facing. Assign a weighting to these criteria based on the importance of that criteria. Be sure to test the model not only on past successful ventures, but also on past unsuccessful ventures.

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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at www.innovationinpractice.com and at http://twitter.com/drewboyd