Executive Briefings

Hey, Leave Me Alone - I'm Innovating

To come up with the next iPad, Amazon or Facebook, the last thing potential innovators need is a group brainstorm session. What the pacesetters of the future really require, according to new Wharton research, is some time alone.

In a paper titled, "Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea (PDF)," Wharton operations and information management professors Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich argue that group dynamics are the enemy of businesses trying to develop one-of-a-kind new products, unique ways to save money or distinctive marketing strategies.

Terwiesch, Ulrich and co-author Karan Girotra, a professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD, found that a hybrid process -- in which people are given time to brainstorm on their own before discussing ideas with their peers -- resulted in more and better quality ideas than a purely team-oriented process. More importantly for companies striving for innovation, however, the trio says the absolute best idea in a hybrid process topped the Number One suggestion in a traditional model.

"Manufacturers prefer 10 machines with good output over one very good machine and nine really defective ones. You would rather have 10 good salesmen than nine poor salesmen and one superstar. In those areas, what matters is the total cumulative output, the total picture," Terwiesch points out. "When it comes to innovation, however, what really matters is not getting many good ideas, but getting one or two exceptional ideas. That's really what innovation is all about."

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To come up with the next iPad, Amazon or Facebook, the last thing potential innovators need is a group brainstorm session. What the pacesetters of the future really require, according to new Wharton research, is some time alone.

In a paper titled, "Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea (PDF)," Wharton operations and information management professors Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich argue that group dynamics are the enemy of businesses trying to develop one-of-a-kind new products, unique ways to save money or distinctive marketing strategies.

Terwiesch, Ulrich and co-author Karan Girotra, a professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD, found that a hybrid process -- in which people are given time to brainstorm on their own before discussing ideas with their peers -- resulted in more and better quality ideas than a purely team-oriented process. More importantly for companies striving for innovation, however, the trio says the absolute best idea in a hybrid process topped the Number One suggestion in a traditional model.

"Manufacturers prefer 10 machines with good output over one very good machine and nine really defective ones. You would rather have 10 good salesmen than nine poor salesmen and one superstar. In those areas, what matters is the total cumulative output, the total picture," Terwiesch points out. "When it comes to innovation, however, what really matters is not getting many good ideas, but getting one or two exceptional ideas. That's really what innovation is all about."

Read Full Article