Thursday, December 12, 2013

Stifling Innovation: The Why vs. How Mindsets

Fast Company's Eric Jaffe reports on some terrific new research by University of San Diego Professor Jennifer Mueller.   The creativity scholar has examined how a person's mindset affects the way that they perceive and evaluate a new idea.  Her work helps explain why large companies often dismiss or reject innovative proposals.   

In one study, Mueller and her colleagues asked subjects to examine four ideas:  two that independent evaluators judged to be creative, and two that were judged to not be creative.  To begin, the researchers tried to establish a certain mindset in the subjects.  Half of the subjects were encouraged to adopt a "why" mindset, while the other half adopted a "how" mindset. A "why" mindset tends examine issues from a broader, conceptual perspective (why might this work?  why might this be a good idea?  why might we want to pursue this approach).  A "how" mindset tends to approach ideas much more narrowly (how could this work? how would we implement this idea?).  

After trying to put people in one or the other mindset, the researchers asked the subjects to evaluate the four ideas.  The scholars found no difference in the evaluation of the non-creative ideas by the subjects in two mindsets.  However, key differences emerged when it came to the ideas judged to be highly creative by independent evaluators.  The people in the "why" mindset found these ideas to be quite creative, much more so than those who had adopted the "how" mindset at the beginning. 

Ask yourself:  Which mindset do you adopt when evaluating bold ideas presented to you?  What mindset is typical of senior executives in your corporation?  Could the mindset that evaluators adopt explain why your firm fails to embrace innovation at times?


Unknown said...

I'm definitely in the 'why' camp. I love big picture, conceptual stuff and always find the 'how' way of looking at things uninspiring, boring and a little bit narrow. Truth is we need both to do anything well but learning to find a balance between them is always a challenge.

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