Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Stanford Business School Study Cautions Innovators to Beware the Ties that Bind Wow, who would've thought that press releases would contain so much actually useful information?? This one focuses on a study by Martin Ruef, a faculty member at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, into how to enhance individual creativity and innovation adoption (Actual title : "What leads people to establish organizations that employ radically new routines?"). His overall recommendation is nothing groundbreaking - "Broaden your social horizons, and you might come up with the next crazy idea that sparks an industry" - in other words, expose yourself to more outside influences to inspire more "dynamic moments" (see Imaginatik Research White Paper on Dynamic Knowledge Systems for more).

What is far more interesting however - is the difference that Ruef found in the effects of different depths of relationships. Using data from 766 entrepreneurs and Stanford Alumni, Ruef concluded that the most creative entrepreneurs spend less time than average networking with business colleagues who are friends and more time networking with a diverse group that includes acquaintances and strangers.

Reuf explains: "Weak ties -- of acquaintanceship, of colleagues who are not friends -- provide non-redundant information and contribute to innovation because they tend to serve as bridges between disconnected social groups," he says. "Weak ties allow for more experimentation in combining ideas from disparate sources and impose fewer demands for social conformity than do strong ties."

This is of particular interest when you take into account the amount of interest currently being focused on Communities of Practice as an Innovation enabler by the Knowledge Management industry - the crux of which is to strengthen ties between people with similar interests to the point where they become a regularly communicating community of professionals. Ruef's study would seem to suggest that there might not be as much benefit (in terms of innovational ability) in this activity as previously thought - and any benefit that might be had, will be short lived as the longer the relationship continues, the ties will strengthen.

Another interesting finding was that people tended to be more creative and innovative when they were new to an industry - a great argument for increasing idea capture events to as wide a net as possible. However he also points out that " Career tenure is not a bad thing necessarily, because extensive experience can contribute to more profitable business in other ways. "Veterans just don't come up with wacky or creative ideas that can really spark a new industry. " "

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