Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:
There is not much agreement about what makes an idea innovative, and what makes an innovative idea valuable.
For example, discussions on whether the internet is a better invention than the wheel are more likely to reveal personal preferences than logical argumentation. Likewise, experts disagree on the type and level of innovation that is most beneficial for organizations. Some studies suggest that radical innovation (which does sound sexy) confers sustainable competitive advantages, but others show that “mild” innovation – think iPhone 5 rather than the original iPhone – is generally more effective, not least because it reduces market uncertainty. There is also inconclusive evidence on whether we should pay attention to consumers’ views, with some studies showing that a customer focus is detrimental for innovation because it equates to playing catch-up, but others arguing for it. Even Henry Ford’s famous quote on the subject – “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” – has been disputed.
We are also notoriously bad at evaluating the merit of our own ideas. Most people fall trap of an illusory superiority that causes them to overestimate their creative talent, just as in other domains of competence (e.g., 90% of drivers claim to be above average — a mathematical improbability). It is therefore clear that we cannot rely on people’s self-evaluation to determine whether their ideas are creative or not.