Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Two New 'Harvard Business Review' Articles About Creativity ...

[May 2007 - Harvard Business Review]

Picking Winners: A Conversation with MacArthur Fellows Program Director Daniel J. Socolow
What can business leaders learn from the organization that confers the storied "genius grants"? For one thing, that exceptional creativity is very hard to find. If you're looking for a way to pack your staff with outstanding talent, you're probably on the wrong track. ... In the business world, "creativity" has become the latest buzzword. How to attract, nurture, and direct the extraordinarily talented people who will come up with the next Lipitor, Sony Walkman, or iPod is an enduring topic among businesspeople. As the director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, Daniel J. Socolow has considerable experience with the process of rooting out creativity. In this conversation with HBR senior editor Diane Coutu, he describes how recipients of the "genius grant"--half a million dollars with no strings attached--are chosen. As significant as the money is, the recognition that comes with a fellowship may be more so. MacArthur grants provide powerful validation of the fellows' work, Socolow says, and that validation opens doors for people, whatever the field. Although the program keeps a lookout for entrepreneurs who are on the brink of major new advances, he believes that the market does a good job of rewarding the best ideas in the business. Replicating the MacArthur model in a company would entail giving some employees unlimited time and lots of money to follow their own inclinations--not very feasible in most contexts. Nevertheless, the program has learned a lesson that may be valuable for business: The kind of creativity that leads to important breakthroughs is extremely hard to find. And, says Socolow, exceptionally creative people aren't always the obvious suspects, who may simply be good at promoting themselves: "Listen to others and look in the least likely places ... Extend your networks and try to get information from as many people as possible, just as we do." More

Inner Work Life: Understanding the Subtext of Business Performance
New research shows how business performance is driven by workers' state of mind--and how managers, if they're not careful, can drive both down. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer's new stream of research, based on more than 12,000 diary entries logged by knowledge workers over three years, reveals the dramatic impact of employees' inner work lives—their perceptions, emotions, and motivation levels—on several dimensions of performance. ... Anyone in management knows that employees have their good days and their bad days--and that, for the most part, the reasons for their ups and downs are unknown. Most managers simply shrug their shoulders at this fact of work life. But does it matter, in terms of performance, if people have more good days than bad days? Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer's new stream of research, based on more than 12,000 diary entries logged by knowledge workers over three years, reveals the dramatic impact of employees' inner work lives--their perceptions, emotions, and motivation levels--on several dimensions of performance. People perform better when their workday experiences include more positive emotions, stronger intrinsic motivation (passion for the work), and more favorable perceptions of their work, their team, their leaders, and their organization. What the authors also found was that managers' behavior dramatically affects the tenor of employees' inner work lives. So what makes a difference to inner work life? When the authors compared the study participants' best days to their worst days, they found that the single most important differentiator was their sense of being able to make progress in their work. The authors also observed interpersonal events working in tandem with progress events. Praise without real work progress, or at least solid efforts toward progress, had little positive impact on people's inner work lives and could even arouse cynicism. On the other hand, good work progress without any recognition--or, worse, with criticism about trivial issues--could engender anger and sadness. Far and away, the best boosts to inner work life were episodes in which people knew they had done good work and their managers appropriately recognized that work. More

New Book from Harvard Business School: Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas

[8 May 2007 - Harvard Business Online] Since ancient times, people have believed that breakthrough ideas come from the brains of geniuses with awesome rational powers. In recent years, however, the paradigm has begun to shift toward the notion that the source of creativity lies "out there," in the network of connections between people and ideas. In this provocative book, Richard Ogle crystallizes the nature of this shift, and boldly outlines "a new science of ideas." The key resides in what he calls "idea-spaces," a set of nodes in a network of people (and their ideas) that cohere and take on a distinctive set of characteristics leading to the generation of breakthrough ideas. These spaces are governed by nine laws--illuminated in individual chapters with fascinating stories of dramatic breakthroughs in science, business, and art. "Smart World" will change forever the way we think about creativity and innovation. More

Monday, May 07, 2007

Q&A: Rediscovering Schumpeter: The Power of Capitalism

[7 May 2007 - Harvard Business School Working Knowledge] Economist Joseph Schumpeter was perhaps the most powerful thinker ever on innovation, entrepreneurship, and capitalism. He was also one of the most unusual personalities of the 20th century, as Harvard Business School professor emeritus Thomas K. McCraw shows in a new biography. Read our interview and book excerpt. More