Conversational Peers and Idea Generation: Evidence from a Field Experiment

by Sharique Hasan and Rembrand Koning

Overview — To develop a theory of innovator capability, this study extends existing research linking personality and creativity to take into account the social nature of idea generation. Using data from an experiment embedded in a bootcamp for aspiring entrepreneurs, results show that better ideas are generated by “open” innovators exposed to extroverted peers. Extroverts provide more raw information that innovators high in openness are best able to recombine into novel ideas.

Author Abstract

High-quality ideas and the individuals who generate them are critical to the success of organizations. In this article, we take a micro-network perspective on idea generation and incorporate personality theory into a multi-level model of information acquisition and idea generation. We posit that innovator and peer personality are critical factors conditioning who will generate high-quality ideas, and that our proposed mechanisms have implications at both individual and team levels. Using data from a randomized field experiment embedded in a startup boot camp for early stage entrepreneurs, our findings show that innovators who are more open to experience do generate better ideas, but only when they converse with extroverted peers. Further, we find that teams populated with such openness-extroversion dyads perform substantially better—having both a higher pool of novel information and better recombinative capability with the team. We discuss implications for future research on the individual and social determinants of innovation.

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