How to Build a Culture of Originality
Good thought provoking article
Fresh, innovative thinking is essential for business growth, and most people—not just a few gifted “visionaries”—are capable of it. So says the Wharton School’s Adam Grant, whose research shows that you can develop this skill in your organization by creating a culture of nonconformity.
Start by giving employees license to let their imaginations run wild: A large quantity of diverse ideas will ultimately yield the highest-quality ones. To help people dream up a multitude of new products, strategies, or solutions, encourage them to adopt the mindset of a competitor, for example, and have them generate ideas privately (group brainstorming tends to conform to the majority’s taste).
- Think like the enemy. Research suggests that organizations often get stuck in a rut because they’re playing defense, trying to stave off the competition. To encourage people to think differently and generate more ideas, put them on offense.
- Solicit ideas from individuals, not groups. According to decades of research, you get more and better ideas if people are working alone in separate rooms than if they’re brainstorming in a group. When people generate ideas together, many of the best ones never get shared. Some members dominate the conversation, others hold back to avoid looking foolish, and the whole group tends to conform to the majority’s taste.
Once lots of ideas are in, get feedback on which one to pursue from the right people: other innovators with a track record of spotting winners. You might even stage a contest to find the best ideas, and have peer judges and other subject-matter experts vet the submissions and suggest improvements.
- Bring back the suggestion box. It’s a practice that dates back to the early 1700s, when a Japanese shogun put a box at the entrance to his castle. He rewarded good ideas—but punished criticisms with decapitation. Today suggestion boxes are often ridiculed.
Sustaining a culture of originality is as important as building it. So focus, too, on balancing cultural cohesion (which can improve decision making) with creative dissent (which prevents a strong culture from becoming a cult). Long-term, it’s the combination of the two that brings great ideas to the table.
- We used to blame conformity on strong cultures, believing they were so cultish and chummy that members couldn’t consider diverse views and make wise decisions. But that’s not true. Studies of decision making in top management teams show that cohesive groups aren’t more likely than others to seek consensus, dismiss divergent opinions, and fall victim to groupthink. In fact, members of strong cultures often make better decisions, because they communicate well with one another and are secure enough in their roles to feel comfortable challenging one another.