Perspective—The Flaring of Intellectual Outliers: An Organizational Interpretation of the Generation of Novelty in the RAND Corporation

Perspective—The Flaring of Intellectual Outliers: An Organizational Interpretation of the Generation of Novelty in the RAND Corporation

By
Mie Augier, James G. March, Andrew W. Marshall
Organizational Science. July
2015, Vol. 26, Issue 4, Pages 1140-1161

Much of intellectual history is punctuated by the flaring of intellectual outliers, small groups of thinkers who briefly, but decisively, influence the development of ideas, technologies, policies, or worldviews. To understand the flaring of intellectual outliers, we use archival and interview data from the RAND Corporation after the Second World War. We focus on five factors important to the RAND experience: (1) a belief in fundamental research as a source of practical ideas, (2) a culture of optimistic urgency, (3) the solicitation of renegade ambition, (4) the recruitment of intellectual cronies, and (5) the facilitation of the combinatorics of variety. To understand the subsequent decline of intellectual outliers at RAND, we note that success yields a sense of competence, endurance in a competitive world, and the opportunity and inclination to grow. Self-confidence, endurance, and growth produce numerous positive consequences for an organization; but for the most part, they undermine variety. Outliers and the conditions that produce them are not favored by their environments. Engineering solutions to this problem involve extending time and space horizons, providing false information about the likelihoods of positive returns from exploration, buffering exploratory activities from the pressures of efficiency, and protecting exploration from analysis by connecting it to dictates of identities.