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Want To Innovate? Dump Your Friends

Don’t blame me for this unusual advice. It comes from Martin Ruef, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

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Ruef surveyed Stanford alumni who started new businesses to find out what enhanced their ability to innovate. He studied 766 entrepreneurs from a target group of 1,786. His metrics for innovation ranged from the introduction of a new product or service to the exploitation of a new market niche.

His major conclusion: The most creative entrepreneurs spend less time than average networking with business colleagues who are friends and more time networking with a diverse group that includes acquaintances and strangers.

Says Ruef: “Contrary to common assumptions, the evidence suggests that in many cases strong social ties do not provide significant new information, so it helps not to be embedded in them.”

The upshot: Entrepreneurs who spend more time with a diverse network of people are three times more likely to innovate than entrepreneurs stuck within a uniform network.

Another discovery was that people tend to be more creative and innovative when they are new to an industry. “I found strong evidence to suggest that the longer entrepreneurs have been in the industry… the less innovative they are,” says Ruef. “Veterans just don’t come up with wacky or creative ideas that can really spark a new industry.”

The bottom line advice, according to Ruef:

  • Cut the cord to the familiar faces around the water cooler.
  • Mix it up.
  • Take a class with strangers, seek out ideas from people you don’t ordinarily talk to, do anything to get out and mingle more with folks from other professions.
  • Broaden your social horizons.

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