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Weird Ideas That Work

How to Build a Creative Company

By Robert I. Sutton
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  • Contains 10 key ideas
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Weird Ideas That Work by Robert I. Sutton

Weird Ideas That Work examines how innovations come about in companies and how they can be fostered. The book also shows how creative tasks require a very different work ethic to performing routine tasks. The author cites various examples from the business world and the work of famous geniuses to explain his ideas.

Key idea 1 of 10

Companies must recognize the differences between routine and innovative work.

Routine work and innovative work are both important to a company’s success. Recognizing the differences between the two, and understanding where each is useful, is invaluable.

Nobody can predict when a successful innovation will occur, but the likelihood of it happening certainly doesn't need to be left to chance. Certain circumstances can be established that increase the probability of generating useful innovations, whether we’re talking about inventing a more efficient engine or creating a great work of art.

Innovations are most likely to emerge when people are always busy experimenting, whether they are generating new ideas or building upon existing ones. The philosophy here is to create as much diversity as possible, and to stay open to experimenting with even the most far-fetched of combinations. Even though this may result in a lot of “garbage” (unusable material and failed experiments), every now and then a true innovation is born that justifies the means. A creative team trying to design a faster race-car engine might produce a lot of garbage, but this isn’t collateral damage: it’s a natural part of the process.

Routine tasks, in contrast to innovative tasks, have an entirely different function: their purpose is to put existing ideas to good use. The aim is to create successful products that are easily reproducible by following the exact same procedure to make them (e.g., a Volkswagen or Big Mac). Precision, not trial-and-error, is the name of the game: experimentation is unwelcome, and the less garbage produced the better.

The point of routine work is to ensure a company’s short-term turnover: it’s what fills the coffers today. However, when a company has its sights set on long-term success, routine work isn’t enough to make that happen. Ideas that are marketable today may already be old news by tomorrow. The market changes; the competition never sleeps. When someone else comes up with a great new engine, your fine-tuned processes for building the current status-quo engine will be rendered obsolete in no time.

Hence, in order to find the future sources of income, it is important to make space for innovations.

Companies must recognize the differences between routine and innovative work.

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