Weird Ideas That Work: How To Build a Creative Company
by Robert I. Sutton, Free Press, 240 pages, $14.00 Paperback, May 2007, ISBN 9780743227889.
You won't see many re-runs of Jack Covert Selects, but we feel Robert Sutton's paperback release of Weird Ideas that Work
deserves a fresh mention. Here's the original review from 2001, revised slightly after reading the paperback edition:
I am not an instant fan of books with clever titles because many times the title is the high point of the book. Not true here. Sutton writes with a real flare for his subject, and shows a real investment in creativity. He fills the book with stories of great feats of innovation. Some of these stories we've heard before, but many we haven't, involving companies we all know. The first chapter, "Why These Ideas Work, but Seem Weird," examines the way ideas are generated in organizations and how we can change our approach to creativity. Then the second chapter, "What is Creativity, Anyway?," proves that "weird" ideas do
in fact work. You'll likely read Chapter 2 many times because Sutton uses effective examples of innovative successes. Let me start with my favorite:
Sutton tells about Marks and Spencer's, a leading food store in England, whose problem was buttering bread (really!). They were expanding so rapidly and their prepared sandwiches were selling so well that a huge amount of employee time was taken up buttering the bread. What to do? One of the executives was visiting a bed sheet supplier and observed the silk-screening process used to apply the designs on the sheets. He discovered that same technology would be applicable to his bread buttering problem. All of Mark and Spencer's sandwiches are now buttered by silk-screen. Thinking out of the box: that is Sutton's message. Another good one? Back in the early nineties, many companies were developing super mini-computers for business folks. These inventions generally failed until Palm Computing's Jeff Hawkins realized that his "competition was paper, not computers." Rather than trying to imitate the personal computer, they discarded previous assumptions and began developing Palm Pilot, a widely successful product.
The following 12 chapters are on the author's own 11 weird ideas. As you would expect, these are provocative practices, such as: "Encourage People to Ignore and Defy Superiors and Peers (Weird Idea #4)" and "Reward Success and Failure, Punish Inaction (Weird Idea #6)." These ideas were drawn from Sutton's research in behavioral psychology to explain how innovation can be fostered. He shows how the best teams and companies use these behaviors and other counter-intuitive approaches to crank out new ideas, and he demonstrates that every company can reap sales and profits from this creativity. Then, as I often admire about the most successful books, he includes a chapter about how to implement these ideas in your organization.