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The weird rules of creativity

Hire people you don't like, then promote them when they defy you. Wholeheartedly commit to risky projects. Get your happiest workers arguing. And keep your innovators away from customers.

Recipes for disaster? No, fuel for innovation.
Traditional management practices apply when you need to make money now from tried-and-true products and services--but they don't foster creativity.

To innovate, companies must ignore longstanding management wisdom and adopt downright weird ways. Unnerving, yes, but consider the payoffs: broadened knowledge, fresh perspectives on old problems, and the freedom to break from the past.

To encourage creativity, take these counterintuitive approaches to hiring, managing, and risk-taking:

Recruit people who aren't blinded by preconceptions, including:
  • mavericks and misfits who drive bosses and coworkers crazy because they reject popular opinion and bull-headedly champion their own ideas

  • When new hires at a toy company pointed out current products' flaws, their behaviour made senior executives "hate them." But the complainers kept generating great new-toy ideas

The lesson? Intentionally hire unlikable, creative people
  • people with seemingly irrelevant skills

Design Continuum hires engineers who have moonlighted as sculptors, carpenters, graffiti artists, and rock musicians. Their offbeat backgrounds provide a broad palette of product-design ideas to try in new ways.
  • novices who don't know how things are "supposed to be"; e.g., Dyson Appliances, maker of the hottest-selling vacuum cleaner in the U.K., employs new university graduates
    experts in some unrelated area

  • Ballard Power Systems hired chemistry professor Keith Prater to develop batteries, though he lacked related experience. Prater proceeded to generate breakthroughs in fuel-cell technology that may replace internal combustion

Encourage people to defy superiors and peers.
When HP executives advised Chuck House to abandon a monitor he was developing, he went on vacation--and showed potential customers a prototype. Ultimately, House's monitor generated $35 million in revenue. Founder David Packard gave him a medal for "extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty."

Keep creative types away from customers, critics--and anyone focused only on money. Sequestered in basement offices, Data General's "MicroKids" designed a minicomputer better and faster than if they had worked under critics' and bosses' eyes.

Get happy people fighting about ideas; they'll surface weak spots in each other's thinking.

Reward successes and failures. You can't generate a few good ideas without also generating numerous bad ones. Demote, transfer, or fire people who talk and plan but don't act.

Risky projects' odds of succeeding increase with wholehearted commitment. Therefore, back projects that have the most dedicated, persuasive heretics on board. You can't eliminate risk entirely, but you can ensure new ideas aren't biased by knowledge of past successes.

At software firm Reactivity's brainstorming meetings, employees jot technologies on one stack of index cards and industries on another--then randomly pair them. Both useless and promising new-product and applications ideas emerge.

Reference: Robert I Sutton HBS Publishing. Courtesy of the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica
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