on their peers’ ideas. “Creators have built up
this wisdom about others’ ideas that is rarely
used,” says Berg. Like wise, managers could
consider incorporating more idea generation
into their roles, which may help improve
their forecasting accuracy. “We found that
hybrids — managers who also have creator
duties — are more accurate than pure
managers,” explains Berg.
But shouldn’t people specialize and
focus their energies on one area and become
extremely competent at it? Specialization is
useful when a company needs to accomplish
a task in the most efficient and cost-effective
way, but for an organization seeking to
innovate, specialization isn’t always
the answer. “When it comes to creative
forecasting and staying open-minded to new
ideas, it may not be the best strategy to
completely separate out creators and
managers,” says Berg. “Moving away from
specialization is a trend in the business
world. More people are wearing more hats.
For creative forecasting, that’s probably
a good thing.” Δ
Justin Berg is an assistant
professor of organizational
behavior at Stanford GSB.
usually not the best at predicting the success
of a new idea, nor is the creator of the idea.
Instead, the best judges are peers of the
creator, who have spent time generating
their own ideas, but not the idea in question.
The research by Berg appeared in the
July 2016 edition of Administrative
Berg conducted a large study on creative
forecasting in the circus arts industry.
He teamed up with James Tanabe, a former
creative director for Cirque du Soleil, and
Lena Gutschank, a veteran circus artist. In
the circus industry, innovation is typically
divided into two separate roles: Creators
generate ideas for new acts, and managers
evaluate whether to include these acts in
future shows. So managers act as gatekeepers
between creators and the audience, which is
similar to how roles are structured in many
organizations and industries.
He and his team collected over 150 videos
of circus acts from creators around the world.
Next, they had 339 circus professionals
— including both creators and managers
— watch 10 videos and try to predict how
successful each video would be with
the audience. Specifically, participants
forecasted the extent to which the videos
would be liked, shared, and financially
supported by the audience. The accuracy of
these predictions was then tested using
a sample of over 13,000 audience members.
Berg found that creators were poor
forecasters of their own ideas: They
overestimated how well their videos would
do with the audience. However, creators
were more accurate judges of their peers’
videos than managers were. A key to
creators’ advantage over managers was
that creators were able to recognize value in
the more novel ideas, or the performances
that deviated from conventional circus art.
Managers tended to undervalue novel ideas
in favor of conventional performances.
While some novel ideas did poorly with the
audience, some of the most successful videos
were highly novel acts. Creators were better
than managers at predicting these novel hits.
What made the results especially
surprising is that most of the managers were
previously creators. “One might think that
if you’re a successful creator, you have good
taste, and when you get promoted to
a manager role, it stays with you,” Berg says.
“But this research suggests that the creator
role may promote good taste, while the
manager role may undermine it.”
Berg attributes creators’ greater accuracy
to a key distinction bet ween the roles:
Creators focus on idea generation, while
managers focus on idea evaluation. Berg
explains, “When we generate ideas, we
first engage in divergent thinking, which
involves searching for novel connections
or combinations that may be valuable.
After we generate possible ideas, we engage
in convergent thinking as we evaluate the
ideas based on our previous knowledge and
experience. Since managers evaluate ideas
after creators have generated them, they
skip divergent thinking and go straight to
convergent thinking.” In evaluating ideas,
“convergent thinking alone is dangerous
because you’re just relying on the past,” says
Berg. “What will succeed in the future may
not resemble what succeeded in the past.
Divergent thinking helps people stay
more open-minded about new ways ideas
As a follow up to the circus study, Berg
tested the effects of this key distinction
bet ween roles using a lab experiment. He
randomly assigned participants to roles:
Creators spent time generating new product
ideas, and managers spent time describing
criteria for evaluating new product ideas. All
participants were then asked to rank a set of
four product ideas based on how successful
they’d be with consumers. The products had
been pretested with consumers to determine
a correct ranking, and the best idea was also
highly novel. Consistent with the circus
study results, creators were significantly
more likely than managers to correctly rank
the best idea at the top.
Because creators as a group outperform
managers in forecasting the success of new
ideas, companies, particularly those in
creative industries, may want to rethink how
they define creator and manager roles.
An organization in which creators only
create and managers only manage may miss
out on the benefits of applying different
types of thinking to a task, says Berg. Instead
of allowing only managers to evaluate and
select ideas, companies could ask creators to
weigh in by, for instance, letting them vote