Weird Ideas That Work

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<p>Weird Ideas That WorkRobert I SuttonPublisher: The Free Press, 2002</p> <p>Some ideas look weird but they workCompanies where people want to do things in proven ways should drive out variation. When innovation is the goal, however, organizations need variation in what people do, think about, and produce. People need to constantly find and produce new ideas. Variance in people, knowledge, activities, and organizational structures is crucial to creativity and innovation. Doing routine work with proven methods is the right thing to do most of the time. It is wise to manage much of the time as if the future will be a perfect imitation of the past. The problem is that the world does change, new technologies are developed, competitors come up with superior products and services, and consumer preferences change. These are the times and places when innovation is crucial. Many companies have made a lot of money by creating new and better futures. So, although it usually entails a high failure rate and a lot of resources, every company or at least part of it needs to keep trying to discard old ways and replace them with better new ways. These are some of the main points made by Robert Sutton in his interesting book, Weird ideas that work. The Weird Ideas 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. Hire slow learners. Hire people who make you uncomfortable, even those you dislike. Hire people you dont need. Use job interviews to get ideas, not to screen candidates Encourage people to ignore and defy superiors and peers. Find some happy people and get them to fight. Reward success and failure, punish inaction. Decide to do something that will probably fail, then convince yourself and everyone else that success is certain. Think of some ridiculous or impractical things to do, then plan to do them. Avoid, distract and bore customers, critics and everyone who just wants to talk about money. Dont try to learn anything from people who say they have solved the problems you face. Forget the past, especially your companys success.</p> <p>2</p> <p>Understanding creativityCreativity is often portrayed as something that cannot be defined, described, or copied. Yet it is actually far less mysterious. Creativity results from using old ideas in new ways, places, or combinations. Creativity is not only about inventing. A great new technology is worthless useless someone buys it. Ideas rarely sell themselves. People need to be sold a new idea. The first way to convince people we have done something creative is to show them an old idea they dont know about. The second way to spur activity is to find new uses for old materials, objects, products, services, or concepts. The process of finding new uses for old things is not always intentional. Accidental discoveries sometimes enable firms to serve unexpected customers. Creativity also means inventing entirely new ideas, products, and services. Most things that appear to be entirely new are not conjured up out of thin air. Rather, they are new blends of old objects, ideas, or actions.</p> <p>Hiring peopleMost companies screen job candidates to bring in people much like company insiders. They want people who look likely to learn how to do things the right way quickly, and who see things much like everyone else in the company. These criteria make sense if a company wants people who will repeat its tried-and-true ways of thinking and acting. But innovation needs newcomers who have new ideas and see things differently than insiders, and especially, who wont get brainwashed into thinking just like everyone else. Sutton advocates hiring slow learners. Such people are especially insensitive to subtle, and even not so subtle, hints from others about how to act. Their feelings and actions are controlled by inner attitudes, dispositions, and values, rather than to be molded and shaped to fit the situation. Even when they do figure out what others expect, even when they do get it, they will have trouble producing the right response in sincere and convincing ways. For better and for worse, they are relatively unfettered by social norms. Some of the most creative people are loners. They prefer to spend time away from coworkers, alone with their own thoughts and ideas. They may be difficult to talk to, even to find, and may not like working on teams. But they do increase the range of ideas in a company, and are recognized and appreciated in every innovative company. Slow learners are likely to have high self-esteem. Much research shows that people with high self-esteem are less susceptible to influence by external and, particular, social cues. Such people have the confidence to do what they think is right, no matter what others ask them, tell them, or expect them to do. This means, among other things, that such people will reject what others think and do, and hold steadfast against it, when they think it is wrong. Most companies automatically search for fast learners, gregarious people with social graces, who are willing and able to bend to the wishes of others. Most companies look for</p> <p>3 fast learners who will do things as they have always been done. That is how to make money right now. But a company can benefit from slow learners if it wants to explore new ways of doing things, if it wants to break from the past so it can keep making money later. Even in parts of the company that do mostly routine work, hiring a few slow learners can be a worthwhile investment in the future. Hiring people who make us uncomfortable, even those we dont like, is another way to find a few useful misfits who will ignore and reject the organizational code. And if we start hiring newcomers who make insiders squirm, chances are that some will be slow learners. If we find a candidate who seems competent and has skills we need but has different beliefs, knowledge, and skills than most insiders, negative emotional reactions or evaluations, these are reasons in favour of hiring the person. It will help bring in some new ideas. Creative firms prefer to hire people with interesting backgrounds but who actually dont know how to do the job they will be given. They know that smart people can always learn new skills. Given how fast technical skills become obsolete these days, finding people who can learn new skills fast has become critical for all companies.</p> <p>Defying superiors and peersIf a company wants to encourage innovation, it is important to routinely encourage people to defy authorities and established procedures. Organizations are hierarchical, with a few bosses and many subordinates. If people only talk about and do what their bosses expect, ask and order them to do, relatively few ideas will be discussed and tried. The variance in the gene pool is reduced. People who do what they think is right, not what they are told can drive their bosses crazy and can get their bosses and companies in deep trouble. But they also force companies to try promising ideas even though some boss or powerful group has rejected them. These deviant, insubordinate, and stubborn people take enormous delight in proving their superiors wrong. They sometimes come up with wonderful new ideas. Innovation increases when managers allow employees to act without getting permission first. Innovation also happens when senior managers do not bother to stop people who are doing unauthorized work, or even to check into what they are doing. Leading innovation can mean doing less rather than more. Hire some smart people, encourage them to ignore and defy you under certain circumstances, get out of the way, and see what happens.</p> <p>Punishing inactionTo encourage innovation, companies need to reward people for taking intelligent action, not just for talking about the virtues of failure, experimentation, or risk taking. It might not even be enough to give equal rewards for success and intelligent failures. The excessive emphasis on success means that people who succeed may still get more kudos than they deserve from peers and outsiders, and those who fail may get more blame than</p> <p>4 they deserve. To offset this bias, Sutton argues that failure should be rewarded even more than success, and inaction must be punished.</p> <p>Decide to do something that will probably fail, then convince yourself and everyone else that success is certainThere is one simple, proven, and powerful thing we can do to increase the odds that a risky project will succeed. That is the power of positive thinking. To increase the chances of success, we must convince ourselves that, with determination and persistence, the idea is destined to be a triumph. Leaders who want innovation face a nasty dilemma. They can tell people whom they have selected to work on a risky project that it will probably fail, which will help ensure failure and lead to negative consequences for both the company and the person. Or they can deceive people who work on these projects (and themselves) into believing that success is nearly certain, which reduces the (albeit still high) odds of failure. Sutton admits it is not good to lie but he emphasises that deception is sometimes more ethical than telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but truth.</p> <p>Do ridiculous or impractical thingsSutton mentions that getting stupid is a smart thing to do if we want to build an innovative company. Thinking up ridiculous things helps us to explore our assumptions about the world and examine more options. Regardless of exactly how it is accomplished, the aim is to get people to list those products, services, business models, or business practices they believe are destructive, misguided, dumb or impractical. By listing ideas that people believe are wrong or misguided, and then reversing them, people follow a different cognitive path than usual to reveal beliefs, theories, and evidence about what the company ought to do. Research by psychologists suggests two sound reasons for generating allegedly dumb and impractical ideas. To jolt people into questioning the existing dogma and to generate counterintuitive ideas. People with dumb, impractical ideas should be encouraged and not pulled down.</p> <p>Avoid, Distract, and Bore Customers, Critics, and Anyone who just want to talk about moneyResearch shows that when others are present, we are better at doing old things and worse at doing new things. We perform familiar actions faster and better, and learn new responses more slowly and perform them less well. In people, the sights and sounds of others can trigger a kind of tunnel vision, where their heightened energy is devoted to what they already do best because they fear failure and want to impress others. People are especially hesitant to try new things in front of critics and bosses, because they want to protect their reputations. The desire to make a good impression causes people to cling to tried-and-true ways, which are more likely to succeed than new and unproven ways.</p> <p>5 If we want to shield a promising idea from being nipped in the bud or shaped into a colourless imitation of the original, we need to be wary of exposing innovative work to three kinds of people: The wrong customers, managers, and money mongers. A nosy boss can hamper innovation just by constantly interrupting people or teams to ask for progress reports. This problem is magnified when work is subjected to minute inquiry by leaders who have lot of power, but who know little or nothing about the technology, product or market. Overbearing managers who overestimate their knowledge can waste the precious time of employees, reject or ruin good ideas, and leave a destructive stench of cynicism in their path. For managers, a useful guiding principle is First, do to harm. If we do not have a deep understanding of something, we must stay out of the way and trust that more knowledgeable employees will make fewer mistakes than us. One hallmark of wisdom is having the humility to respect others who have greater knowledge, instead of arrogantly assuming that we are right just because we have more power. There is no innovation without money. Projects that lack resources suffer because they dont have the time, people, and material required to gather diverse ideas, to try them in new combinations, reach a lot of dead ends, and refine and perfect good ideas. People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself and not by external pressures. Too much emphasis on money, especially on short-term financial performance, can kill innovation. To make innovation happen, skilled managers need to protect and sometimes insulate innovators from outsiders. An effective strategy for dealing with unwanted attention is to tell people to go away, that we do not have the time, interest, or energy to deal with them. If it is difficult to keep outsiders away, another strategy is to delude yourself a bit, to pretend that they arent watching us or talking about us. This strategy helps us avoid attention, criticism, or advice that can distract our team from more important tasks, or worse yet, upset everyone if they find that what is said about them in inaccurate, unfair, or even downright mean. A related strategy is to avoid outsiders. It is easy to ignore people if we never see them. Avoiding people is more polite and less likely to annoy potential intruders than telling them to go away. Clarity in organizational communication is overrated. Ambiguity is a useful compromise between total silence, which is interpreted as a sign that there is something to hide, and complete clarity, which can lead people who disagree with the decision or who are rendered powerless by it to feel excluded. Clear and specific information about what will be done next also creates obstacles to flexibility and change, as it suggests a rigid course of action. Companies, teams, and people are often subjected to attention because people find them intriguing. Leaders can dim the spotlight by becoming less interesting to others. If done effectively, others will pay less attention to a boring leader or company, and then devote less energy to monitoring performance, asking about minute details, and making one</p> <p>6 (perhaps misguided) suggestion after another. So while the virtues of engaging communication are widely recognized as crucial managerial skills, there are times when being dull is the best thing for the company or team.</p> <p>Dont try to learn anything from people who say they have solved the problems you faceIn the creative process, ignorance is bliss, especially in the early stages. People who dont know how things are supposed to be arent blinded by existing beliefs. They can see things that others have failed to notice, and imagine new ideas and perspectives that would never occur to people who develop deep, but narrow, expertise in an area. Ignorant people dont know what they are supposed to see, so they can see old things in new ways that so-called experts have rejected, or never th...</p>