James March, Mie Augier, and Andrew Marshall published a paper on innovation recently in Organization Science. The article was titled, “The Flaring of Intellectual Outliers: An Organizational Interpretation of the Generation of Novelty in the RAND Corporation.” In the paper, the scholars try to explain the rise and fall of a culture of innovation at RAND. Stanford's Louise Lee summarized their findings:
RAND’s growth as an organization also led to a decline in its culture of innovation. From 1948 to 1962, RAND grew from 225 employees with a $3.5 million annual budget to 1,100 employees with a more than $20 million annual budget, according to the researchers. Growth has benefits, but RAND’s expansion beyond a face-to-face organization led individuals to stick safely with the people and thus the ideas they knew, instead of mingling freely. Big organizations also tend to hire people who conform to conventional methods and thinking instead of challenging them; meanwhile, the ambitious intellectual renegades leave, the researchers say. RAND’s growth also created layers of administrators and more bureaucratic processes such as meetings, committees, and other “red tape” that drowned out intellectual creativity, the researchers found.
Does that description apply to your organization? Are people playing it safe much more so today than in the past? Are they hiring people who conform rather than challenge? Are people not mingling enough with folks outside their technical domain or discipline?