Managers challenge their staff to "think outside the box" in
search of innovative solutions, but a professor of
organizational behavior at UC Davis wants to put a lid on
that kind of thinking.
The managers would do better to use strategies that bring
together lots of different "boxes" or sets of experiences and
encourage their staffs to discover how ideas from one realm
can be used creatively in others, says Andrew Hargadon of the
Graduate School of Management.
"People don't think outside of the box," says the assistant
professor. "They just think in boxes that others can't see."
Innovation is not about being wacky or coming up with a
brilliant idea out of the blue, Hargadon says. "It's about
capturing ideas from one domain and harnessing them for use
somewhere they've never been seen before."
Hargadon, who has worked as a design engineer for IDEO
Product Development and Apple, studies innovation and the
management of new product development.
In a paper to be published this spring in Organization
Science, he and Angelo Fanelli of the University of Bologna
use field studies of two design consulting firms -- IDEO of
Palo Alto and Design Continuum of Boston -- to demonstrate
First, they say that that knowledge simultaneously enables
and constrains innovation. While it provides the raw
materials for new ideas, it limits new ideas to only those
raw materials people have at hand.
And secondly, that it is experience across a variety of
fields -- and not depth within any one -- that fosters
innovation. The breadth creates opportunities for, and even
encourages people to combine their existing knowledge in new
Hargadon says the paper's findings offer practical advice for
businesses wanting to innovate:
* Provide a range of experiences for employees by working in
a variety of markets and with different technologies;
* Go on field trips, encourage job exchanges and hold playful
* Hire applicants who may be novices in your field but who
can bring their experiences from other industries and
settings to the team; and
* Display and play with artifacts of previous projects.
Additional Media Contact:
Andrew Hargadon, Graduate School of
Management, (530) 752-2277, email@example.com