Weird ideas

Dear colleagues,

Recently I read Weird Ideas that Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation, a book by Stanford professor Robert I. Sutton (New York: Free Press, 2002).

The weird ideas include "Hire people who make you uncomfortable", "Encourage people to ignore and defy superiors and peers" and "Reward success and failure, punish inaction". This is a book about promoting innovation. Most organisations don't seriously do this, which is why the ideas sound weird.

The author is primarily concerned with high-tech US firms, especially in Silicon Valley, so relevance to higher education is limited. There are some intriguing points, though.

For example, Sutton notes that most people think they can use job interviews to pick the best candidates. "Their confidence clashes with literally hundreds of studies, going back to before World War I, showing that there is rarely much agreement about who should be hired or who will perform best (and worst) when several interviewers talk to the same job candidate. These studies conclude that the typical 'selection interview' is a bad method for deciding which employees to hire.[1] A much better way to pick good employees is to just see if they can do the job, or at least crucial parts of the job - to give them 'job sample tests'." (p. 60)

Footnote 1 gives the following: "For reviews of the research on the reliability and validity of the selection interview, see Arvey, R. P., and J. E. Campion, 'The Employment Interview: A Summary and Review of Recent Research,' Personal Psychology 35 (1982): 281-322; Eder, R. W., and G. R. Ferris, The Employment Interview: Theory, Research and Practice (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1989); and Borman, W. C., M. A. Hanson, and J. W. Hedge, 'Personnel Selection,' Annual Review of Psychology 48 (997): 299-337. For the most part, authors who review this literature conclude that, as it is usually done, the selection interview is of little value in distinguishing between which employees will perform well or poorly, and even those few authors who argue that the typical interview is a useful selection tool concede that it is not an especially powerful one." (p. 212)

There's nothing like research to disturb taken-for-granted views.

Brian Martin
19 February 2003

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