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Do you need to be headstrong to be innovative?


I wrote recently about the importance of good political and emotional awareness when it comes to being innovative.  It was based on new research revealing that our innovative ideas often succeed (or not) based not so much on the ideas themselves as on their timing.

In other words, you need to be aware enough to pick the right battles to fight, and the right time to air your ideas.  Do so at the wrong time and you tend to be branded a trouble maker rather than a change maker.

All of which makes a second paper particularly interesting.  It has its roots in the notion that to be innovative you have to be something of a jerk.  It looked at well known examples such as Steve Jobs, who was famously rather difficult as a person, but who managed to force his ideas through by virtue of the strength of his personality.

Are such headstrong personalities naturally more innovative though?  Do such personalities help when it comes to getting ideas implemented?

The study saw participants first undertake a personality test, before then coming together in teams of three to come up with a marketing campaign for a fictional product.

This initial study found that the myth that headstrong people come up with more ideas is just that, a myth.  Such a personality does however seem to help when it comes to getting those ideas accepted by your team.

A second experiment then explored how ideas spread.  The researchers placed participants into an online chat environment to test how being surrounded by creative and supportive peers might encourage people to share ideas.

The results from this experiment highlight the importance of context when it comes to giving our ideas the best chance to succeed.  For instance, if the environment is challenging and hostile to new ideas, then being headstrong can help to push those ideas through.

If the environment is much more supportive to new ideas however, you being headstrong tends to make your peers dislike you instead.

“It seems that being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas, but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others,” the researchers say.

“Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical,” they conclude. “In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”

So, just as with the first study, it would appear that knowing your environment is crucial if you want to get your ideas heard and accepted.

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