What happens when someone runs with a creative idea initiated and formulated by someone else? What pitfalls arise when there is a transition from idea generator to idea executor? These are the questions examined by scholars Justin Berg and Alisa Yu in a fascinating new study. They studied the movie industry, examining approximately 5,700 films released over the past century. The scholars identified the person who generated, elaborated, and executed the idea. They evaluated Rotten Tomatoes scores as a measure of the creativity of the movies. What did Berg and Yu discover? Stanford Leadership Insights summarized their findings:
Films in which there was a “late handoff” — that is, a director received a screenplay written by someone else to make into a movie — tended to be less creative than films in which the same person drove the entire process or drove the process from screenwriting on (an “early handoff”). “The notion of handoffs has been studied very thoroughly in medicine, but not in the context of creative projects,” Berg says. Yet handoffs are quite common in creative work. Engineers often build based on others’ designs; many marketers execute others’ ideas for campaigns; employees are increasingly asked to implement ideas that were crowdsourced from customers. “With creative projects, it’s clear how much handoffs should matter, as you need to be deeply committed, you need to go the extra mile to get this new thing born into the world.”
Berg explained by many filmmakers "fumble" these creative handoffs, particularly if they occur late in the game. “If you’re working on something creative, you can certainly receive the project as a handoff, but it shouldn’t be too late in the process. Make sure you’re not handing over a mature idea for someone to implement, as you cut off the opportunity for them to develop psychological ownership and a coherent vision, which are key ingredients for turning creative ideas into creative final products.” Does that mean you should avoid handoffs altogether? Not necessarily. Sometimes, you need a different set of skills to bring an idea to fruition. However, you should get that implementor involved earlier in the process, so that they are part of the idea elaboration process. They need to understand the concept clearly and become part of shaping and enhancing it. As they come to "own" the idea, they are more likely to help shepherd it to completion successfully.