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To unleash creativity, encourage casual acquaintances
Jill Perry-Smith

Jill Perry-Smith

Innovation and creativity are the buzzwords of business today. Leaders at major corporations are as concerned about preserving its creative spark as any growing startup is. And it’s little wonder. Many of today’s most admired and successful companies maintain their competitive advantage through constant innovation rather than a focus on the core.

It’s easy to take a look at companies like Google and Facebook and assume open layouts, designed to encourage chance collisions inside the organization, are part of their secret innovation sauce.

But, as it turns out, it’s not so much the chance collision that matters, it’s who you’re colliding with.

Acquaintances matter more than friends

Research by Goizueta professor Jill Perry-Smith shows that there’s more to unleashing creativity in the workplace than simply making it easier for colleagues to talk. Specifically, environments and cultures that encourage more interaction between casual acquaintances are more likely to see innovative thinking than those that don’t.

“The basic idea is that when we interact with people outside our core social set, we’re more likely to be interacting with people who think differently than we do,” she said, which tends to stimulate thinking in new ways. People with strong bonds — close friends, family, colleagues — have a tendency to think similarly, so it’s less likely that conversations in these groups will yield a spark of creativity.

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