The right mix in a social network is more important than anything else for driving innovation

innovative by Stig Nygaard

Is Narcissism Good for Business?
[Via ScienceNOW]

Narcissists, new experiments show, are great at convincing others that their ideas are creative even though they’re just average. Still, groups with a handful of narcissists come up with better ideas than those with none, suggesting that self-love contributes to real-world success.


The narcissists – a term I think may be misused here – are more likely to draw from the disrupter or mediator side of a network. They deviate from the normal flow of things in a network.

I hate the term ‘innovators’ applied to the earliest adopters in a network. Anyone can be innovative. WHat we are looking for here are those that most rapidly adopt changes and then are the most able to convince the community to adopt them

These experiments showed that a passionate pitcher could get people to adopt their idea, even when the idea was rated average by reading about it. The personal interactions were needed to pitch even an average idea.

But what was really interesting in the work was that teams of only disruptors (called narcissists) or only doers (no narcissists) were very poor at coming up with great ideas and innovations.

There are 5 steps everyone goes through when presented with a new idea and when deciding whether to adopt it. A key one is evaluation. I would suspect that teams with only disruptors race through this step so fast – that is why they are the earliest to change – that they really do not arrive at much that is worthwhile. Every idea seems as good as any other.

On the other hand, doers usually get stuck at the evaluation stage, only slowly taking the leap to adoption.the slowness to adopt change. So a team of doers would not get much done because they could never decide, getting stuck at evaluation.

But a well mixed team, one with both disruptors and doers, was the best one. This makes absolute sense. Because the doers slowed down the disruptors, forcing them to explain and rationalize all those novel ideas. The doers are also forced to make a decision because of the pressure from the disruptors.

By mixing both types, the ideas get much better evaluation, making it more likely that the best ideas will be adopted by the group. Each type overcomes the blind spots of the other – preventing the disruptors from moving too many ideas too rapidly through evaluation, while forcing the doers to pick the best ideas to adopt.

I can hardly wait for this paper to come out. It demonstrates that the best communities has the right mix of traits and that a community that is overbalanced in any one sector will be very slow to create and adopt innovative ideas.