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murder, creative entrepreneurship, and fragmented fields

Ok, so the murder teaser only refers to the fact that I am writing from the jury room of a murder trial. Of course, now that I have your attention, I can’t disclose any details lest I bring down the fury of “Deputy Love” (yes, that’s his real name). However, this does push one to think about group process…

My latest indulgence is a study (with Jill Perry-Smith) that digs deep into the micro context of how entrepreneurial teams develop creative business ideas. It seems obvious that creativity requires a process of variance generation and one of winnowing down the alternatives to those that are both novel and viable (e.g., a Darwinian process). However, this reflects is a fairly new strand of work in the literature. Previously, the brainstorming folks studied variance generation (# of ideas) as the outcome variable and separately the creativity researchers studied the creativity of the idea that was ultimately selected. Naturally, the two communities largely ignore one another…

It turns out (in our study) that groups that generate lots of variance differ greatly from those that select creative alternatives. Generation requires a playful/excited mood where selection of novel solutions requires a calm/peaceful mood. In contrast, a dense group (tightly knit/strong social ties) results in fewer ideas generated but the alternative selected will tend to be more novel.

Thus, entrepreneurial teams may either fail to generate enough alternatives or they may leave their most creative solutions on the table. Many entrepreneurial teams have a hard time managing the transition between generating and selecting. In some cases, it may require changing the composition of the group. In others, a simple group process intervention may have the desired effect.

From a strategy and organization standpoint, my interest is that this may help us understand why serial entrepreneurship is fairly rare and why repeat entrepreneurial success (akin to a dynamic capability) may be hard to imitate. This would seem to open the black box of isolating mechanisms just a bit without using amorphous terms like “causal ambiguity.” Neither the entrepreneurship nor the strategy literature seem to dig very deep on these issues.

My journey raises a question that I would pose to you. How far into the macro can we dig and still retain some degree of cohesiveness in the field of organization studies. Fragmentation is clearly a barrier to advancing organization science but crossing boundaries is no party with reviewers…

Written by RussCoff

July 14, 2008 at 6:31 pm

Posted in uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Great area of research. There is a bit of overlap in micro and macro interests in the Hargadon and Sutton (ASQ) piece, but you are right — largely the macro and micro folks ignore each other. The findings on the micro side are interesting, interaction lessens creative processes (which is in part what H&S above are reacting to) and nominal groups perform better — in idea generation, in selection I think there is a group effect (see Diehl, Strobe).

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    tf

    July 14, 2008 at 6:49 pm

  2. What a coincidence. I went in for jury service today. Had they excused one more juror, I would have been on the case. For two weeks!

    You said, “a dense group (tightly knit/strong social ties) results in fewer ideas generated but the alternative selected will tend to be more novel.” Any explanation?

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    mikemcbride

    July 15, 2008 at 4:15 am

  3. Teppo, note that by focusing on IDEO and brainstorming, H&S are oriented toward variance generation as the key to success.

    Mike, we found that less dense groups (weaker internal ties) are likely to be more diverse and less prone to convergent thinking (so fewer alternatives generated). However, on the selection side dense groups are more prone toward group shift (adopting riskier solutions than the individuals would have adopted — sort of a free riding on responsibility problem). This can be dysfunctional if the solutions adopted are not viable but they will tend to be relatively novel.

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    russcoff

    July 15, 2008 at 12:40 pm


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