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Do You Really Value Creativity?

A framework for evaluating crazy-innovative ideas.



Our question in the headline is probably a nonstarter. Executives at most growing companies are going to answer “yes.” Yet some behavioral scientists believe that you are nonetheless inherently biased against truly creative ideas.

Speaking at a TEDx conference earlier this year, Oral Roberts University instructor David Burkus cites a study which shows that even people who say they value creativity will only embrace an outside-the-box idea when they believe it will pay off. And he recounts some of history’s initially rejected innovative ideas, from Disneyland to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, which later proved wildly successful.

Burkus supports his argument by taking aim at the oft-refrained saying, “If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” He notes that of the 400 new trap designs submitted to the U.S. Patent Office since the standard-bearing spring-loaded model was registered in 1899, only 20 have been developed into commercially viable products. “Despite a century of better mousetraps, we’ve yet to depart from a century-old standard.”

Perhaps this is because human beings, by nature, favor the status quo and fail to recognize great new ideas. Or maybe Burkus is wrong about “better” mousetraps; maybe it’s because sometimes the old idea is simply the best one.

With that in mind, here is a list of questions from LetsGrowLeaders.com designed to help you identify the good and the bad when entertaining “crazy” new ideas. Whether you’re pitching an idea or evaluating that pitch, make sure it answers the following:

• Why this?
• What is the bigger issue?
• Why is this approach best?
• Who is involved so far?
• Who should be?
• What resources are required?
• What are the potential side effects?

You may think to yourself, “These questions aren’t just for ‘crazy’ ideas; they can be applied to any idea.” Right you are! And that’s our point. These questions help level the playing field for outside-the-box thinkers by mitigating biases against creativity.

And on the HBR Blog Network, business researcher Michael Schrage provides three signs that it’s time to kill an innovative idea after you’ve given it the green light. Pull the plug, he says, if the process isn’t generating any pleasant surprises, any deeper insights, or any customer excitement.

Last updated: Dec 3, 2013

THE BUILD NETWORK STAFF curates provocative, actionable leadership advice for executive teams running sustained-growth companies.

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