Is it in the human nature to reject novel ideas and look for reasons why they won’t work? The following situation is not uncommon in the film industry: When the proposal to “Deadpool” from the Marvel series landed on the table of film industry managers, they rejected it simply because Deadpool was a very unconventional character. They only saw the risk, not the potential blockbuster it would become.
The conservative administrator
Justin Berg, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, looked at the question of who recognizes the truly good ideas in a “circus experiment”. He had various groups predict the future success of circus performances. It turned out that circus directors in particular made inaccurate predictions, especially when it came to novel performances. As managers, they were focused on avoiding risks rather than generating returns with good ideas.
In conclusion, one might think that the audience is more open to novelties and therefore, more reliable in its predictions. After all, it is the target group that will later decide on the success of the act. However, studies show that this is only the case if they watch a new series or film at home on their sofa as users, but not if they are invited as test subjects. In this scenario the test person automatically takes on the role of the manager and commits the same mistake: they focus too much on reasons why something won’t work and orient themselves too much on existing prototypes. The idea generators themselves are also not good predictors because they are too enthusiastic about their own idea.
The realistic artist
But there is one group that makes good predictions: peer groups. In the circus case, that means other circus artists. When other artists assess the work of their peers, their hit rate is twice as high as that of managers, executives and test subjects. Therefore, we should ask our colleagues from the same field for feedback more often, because they evaluate the potential of our idea the best. Since they do not invest any money or effort in our idea, they also have the necessary distance for an honest assessment.
The euphoric inventor
In a series of experiments with over a thousand adults, Berg tested their ability to predict the success of a wide variety of novel products. The test participants were divided into two groups. The first group was asked to think like managers for six minutes and come up with a list of three criteria for a successful new product. This group had a 51% hit rate. The second group’s rate was much higher, at 77%. The small but decisive difference was that for the six minutes before the experiment, instead of taking on the role of a manager, they took on the role of an inventor and were asked to come up with original ideas during that time. This strengthened their ability to see the real potential of something unconventional or novel.
The peer group involved
One might think that circus directors who were previously artists would be better at guessing, but unfortunately the data from Berg’s experiments proves otherwise. Pure circus artists – or professional colleagues – are the best predictors. That’s why I think that peer group knowledge is too rarely used in enterprises, especially in the creative industries. Therefore, my suggestion is to rethink role allocation and involve colleagues in creative processes e.g., with co-creation. It works particularly well in the creative industry (observable in spontaneous art such as improv theater, jam sessions). For example, we can use Design Thinking to ask what products we should work on. I think that this also has a positive side effect: empowerment, exchange among colleagues, and intrinsic motivation.
How did Deadpool make it to the big screen after all?
The teaser, which the execs rejected at the time, was leaked (allegedly by director Tim Miller himself) and the comic community was ecstatic. The resulting pressure caused the managers to rethink and produce the film. Currently, work is already underway on the third part.
Photo: Pexels License, Timo