Robert Sutton: How to Promote, Manage, and Sustain Innovation

Written

Robert Sutton: How to Promote, Manage, and Sustain Innovation

In his new book, a scholar offers "weird" ideas for managers to boost creativity and performance, each backed by research and real-world success.

In Robert Sutton's view of the corporate world, managers should reward success and failure, but punish inaction. That's Weird Idea #6 out of 11-½ in his latest management book, Weird Ideas That Work, to be published in November by The Free Press.

Provocative on purpose, Sutton, who is professor of organizational behavior (by courtesy) at Stanford GSB, has deliberately designed his book to shake readers out of their box, help them break out of the rut of their past, and see old problems in new ways.

While the ideas may sound counter-intuitive—even downright wrong—on first encounter, the concepts are actually well-grounded in research, says Sutton. Each of the ideas in the book is supported with success stories from the management trenches. Even Weird Idea #9: Avoid, Distract, and Bore Customers, Critics, and Anyone Who Just Wants to Talk About Money. (Hint: this tactic helps to shield incubating ideas from premature death.)

The idea for Sutton's book was born out of executive education courses he taught about harnessing creativity in today's businesses. To jolt his audience of seasoned executives out of their been-there-done-that mindset, he devised new ways to present research-based information and concepts. After all, says Sutton, who is a sought-after lecturer and consultant on corporate innovation, "creativity results from using old ideas in new ways, places, or combinations."

A business consultant, speaker, and author of more than 70 articles and chapters in scholarly and applied publications, Sutton draws from his extensive experience in the worlds of business and engineering. He is professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University's Engineering School, and also teaches at the Graduate School of Business. Sutton also codirects the Engineering School's Center for Work, Technology, and Organization, and is an active researcher in the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.

Since the original talk he gave to executive education participants on "Weird Ideas About Enhancing Organizational Innovation" Sutton has addressed several thousand executives around the world on this and other topics. However, he calls the "weird ideas" seminar his favorite because audiences react so strongly to the concepts and the way they are framed.

Sutton's last book was The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Firms Turn Knowledge Into Action, co-authored with fellow Stanford Business School professor Jeff Pfeffer (Harvard Business School Press, 2000).

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