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Weird Ideas that Work takes an unusual perspective. Professor Sutton is focusing on how companies can be more creative for tomorrow, while still being effective at delivering today's products and services. Think of this book as what to read after finishing The Innovator's Dilemma or The Innovator's Solution.
His perspective combines the concepts of evolutionary biology with behavioral psychology to provide key principles, 11 1/2 ideas for implementing those principles, and 9 guidelines for day-to-day management practices. The key points are supported by examples drawn from organizations that have experienced at least some periods of unusual effectiveness in creating new products and services. He chooses to call these ideas "weird" to get your attention, and to acknowledge that the ideas may not send too obviously correct to you the first few times you hear them.
The three key principles are:
"(1) increase variance in available knowledge,
(2) see old things in new ways, and
(3) break from the past."
The 11 1/2 "weird" ideas for implementing those principles are paraphrased below:
(1) Hire smart people who will avoid doing things the same way your company has always done things.
(1 1/2) Diversify your talent and knowledge base, especially with people who get under your skin.
(2) Hire people with skills you don't need yet, and put them in untraditional assignments.
(3) Use job interviews as a source of new ideas more than as a way to hire.
(4) Give room for people to focus on what interests them, and to develop their ideas in their own way.
(5) Help people learn how to be tougher in testing ideas, while being considerate of the people involved.
(6) Focus attention on new and smarter attempts whether they succeed or not.
(7) Use the power of self-confidence to encourage unconventional trials.
(8) Use "bad" ideas to help reveal good ones.
(9) Keep a balance between having too much and too little outside contact in your creative activities.
(10) Have people with little experience and new perspectives tackle key issues.
(11) Escape from the mental shackles of your organization's past successes.
Where most books on creativity focus on how the reader can make her- or himself more productive, this ones takes on what leaders and managers can do to establish an environment where more ideas will be generated and tested. There's no assumption that you can find ways to make few mistakes. In fact, you are encouraged to simply make more and different mistakes, and quit spending behind the ones that aren't working sooner.
Professor Sutton leaves you with a challenging thought. "What if these are ideas are true?" The only way you can find out is to try them.
I thought that the book's best advice was to fill the organization with "people who are passionate about solving problems." In my experience, it is hard to find people who are filled with "playfulness and curiosity" about the focus of a particular company. Once you have that situation, you need to "switch emotional gears between cynicism and belief." In reading this material, I was reminded of the section in Built to Last that encourages people to turn "or" choices into "and" situations.
Although this book will not be enough to guide your company into being more creatively productive, I think it is an important addition to the literature on corporate creativity. I thought that the book's main weakness is that it made little attempt to differentiate among the techniques that might be used to solve different classes of problems. For example, creating the concept for a new service is fundamentally different from finding a better way to provide an existing one. From my own research, I am also convinced that creating a new business model is a different type of task from any other that companies do. I also think that acquisitions and mergers can either help or hurt corporate creativity. This book did not do enough to address that special circumstance. Perhaps Professor Sutton will follow up this interesting book with a series that looks more narrowly at different classes of problems that respond well to more creativity.
How can your organization vastly increase its flow of new ideas, test them more rapidly and less expensively, and more certainly pick out the best ideas to implement? How much time are you spending on thinking about these important questions?
Be open for and prepared to search far and wide for new variations to test!
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