Right Under Our Noses?

One of the greatest challenges facing middle-manager academic chairs is moving a good idea forward.  Why can’t I get traction for my innovative and significant idea?  There are lots of reasons that good ideas flounder in higher ed–bureaucratic complexity, individual personalities, etc–but while listening to NPR last week I heard a reason that surprised me.

According to social science reporter Shankar Vedantam (who is great, btw!), “part of the reason we miss seeing creative ideas that are right under our nose is because the ideas are right under our nose.”  Some studies have demonstrated that it is easier to think abstractly, and more open-mindedly as a consequence, about an idea that comes from outside a company/office/institution.  Good ideas proposed by “insiders” prompt us to immediately think about whether or not they will work.  And since “most creative ideas are risky and the risks are obvious when you look at the details…when you think about it with this detail-oriented mindset, you’re more likely to shoot the idea down.”  In other words, the source of the idea may matter.

At my institution this insight would go a long way to explaining (though it’s certainly not the whole explanation) my administration’s fascination with bringing in outside consultants for problems that could be solved internally by the bright minds that are already here.  Now, there is always a benefit to an outsider’s perspective, and we can get mired in our institutional culture and miss the forest for the trees, but I sometimes wonder why we don’t do more with the smart people we already have.  And this may be part of the answer.

Hear the full story and/or read the full transcript here:


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