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Weird Ideas That Work: 11 and 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation

Weird Ideas That Work: 11 and 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation

The Free Press, New York, 2002

Creativity, new ideas, innovation — in any age they are keys to success, but in today’s whirlwind economy they are essential for survival itself. Yet, as Robert Sutton explains, the standard rules of business behavior and management are precisely the opposite of what it takes to build an innovative company. We are told to hire people who will fit in; to train them extensively; and to work to instill a corporate culture in every employee. In fact, in order to foster creativity, we should hire misfits, goad them to fight, and pay them to defy convention and undermine the prevailing culture. Weird Ideas That Work codifies these and other proven counterintuitive ideas to help you turn your workplace from staid and safe to wild and woolly — and creative. 

Stanford professor Robert Sutton is an authority on innovation and a popular speaker. In Weird Ideas That Work he draws on extensive research in behavioral psychology to explain how innovation can be fostered in hiring, managing, and motivating people; building teams; making decisions; and interacting with outsiders. Business practices like “hire people who make you uncomfortable,” “reward success and failure, but punish inaction,” and “decide to do something that will probably fail, and then convince yourself and everyone else that success is certain” strike many managers as strange or even downright wrong. Yet Weird Ideas That Work shows how some of the best teams and companies use these and other counterintuitive practices to crank out new ideas, and it demonstrates that every company can reap sales and profits from such creativity. 

Weird Ideas That Work is filled with examples of each of Sutton’s 11 1/2 practices, drawn from hi- and low-tech industries, manufacturing and services, information and products. More than just a set of bizarre suggestions, it represents a breakthrough in management thinking: Sutton shows that the practices we need to sustain performance are in constant tension with those that foster new ideas. The trick is to choose the right balance between conventional and “weird” — and now, thanks to Robert Sutton’s work, we have the tools we need to do so.

Selected Editorial Reviews
One of the best business books of the year.
Harvard Business Review
Who'd have thought fighting with each other would be good for employees? Or that ignoring superiors would be a wise business practice? Sutton, consultant and professor at the Stanford Engineering School, advocates taking a nontraditional approach to innovation and management in this quirky business manual. He advises taking unorthodox actions, suggesting managers should forget the past, especially successes; hire people who make them uncomfortable and hire slow learners. According to Sutton, these unconventional steps are particularly important when companies are dealing with unusual problems or stuck in a rut. Standard management policy may work for routine work matters, but weird ideas are far more effective when employees are trying to use innovative techniques. Sutton uses many real-life examples, like Tetley's pioneering round teabags, to show readers how his suggestions can work. But he observes that even companies such as IBM, Lucent and GE, which have been praised for their innovation, devote only a small percentage of their annual budgets to testing new products and services. Sutton's writing is clear and persuasive, and his book takes an insightful look at innovation.
Publishers Weekly
Sutton is a professor of management science and engineering in the Stanford Engineering School and a consultant for several well-known companies. His ideas for innovative change are counterintuitive and, he admits, first come across as weird. For instance, he recommends hiring people who don't fit in with the establishment or those you simply don't need, because they may be creative types who will come in handy. Other strange ideas include getting normally happy coworkers to argue, rewarding failures, starting impractical projects, and encouraging people to defy their superiors. He admits that his innovation practices aren't useful for doing repetitive work, such as running an assembly line, or critical tasks, such as flying an airplane, but they are just what is needed to shake up an organization and bring in new ideas. Sutton often has a tough time convincing CEOs to try his techniques, but he shows how famous geniuses have tried his ideas.
David Siegfried, Booklist
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