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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

This is fun stuff. Olivier Toubia, a Ph.D. candidate at the Marketing Group (MIT) has an article on Idea Generation, Creativity, and Incentives.

He writes:

“Idea generation is critical … However, there has been relatively little formal research on the underlying incentives with which to encourage participants to focus their energies on relevant and novel ideas.

This paper examines whether carefully tailored idea generation incentives can improve creative output.”

Previous research suggests that incentives enhance performance when it relies on making simple, routine, unchanging responses but that the role of incentives is far less clear in situations that depend heavily on flexibility, conceptual and perceptual openness, or creativity. Interestingly, one of the conditions under which incentives will have a detrimental effect on performance is when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not immediately obvious (what does this mean for wicked-problems?).

Toubia used three conditions or types of incentives to trigger idea generation:

A “Flat” condition where participants got $10 for showing up,

An “Own” condition where participants got $3 for every idea they submitted, and

An “Impact” condition where each participant got $2 for each time an idea they submitted built on one of their previous ideas.

Table 2 is interesting and you should check it out, but the figure I leached below is a surprise. 20 hours?!?


Ideas really started to take off in the impact scenario but only after 20 hours of building the underlying foundation. There’s a lesson here for entrepreneurs because this represents individual effort. If you can’t spend this kind of time, how can you hope to come up with deep, novel, thought-provoking ideas?

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