Summing up Harvard’s current research in innovation and creativity management


What do Neil H. Borden, who published The Concept of the Marketing Mix (1964), Philip Kotler, who co-authered Broadening the Concept of Marketing (1969), and Theodore Levitt, who wrote about The Globalization of Markets (1983) have in common? They all studied and/or teached at Harvard, the world’s most prestigious business school. Their works are milestones in modern marketing theory, and we thought that having a look at current research of Harvard Fellows would be insightful for everyone interested in marketing, innovation and value co-creation. Interestingly, a lot of recent Harvard research focuses on innovation. Last year, the Dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria, named innovation, globalization and business ethics, as crucial focuses of the school for the 21st century. Here’s a brief state of the art of Harvard’s top researchers in innovation and creativity.


Theresa Amabile, an eminent researcher in creativity, has just released a book called The Progress Principle, in which she shares insights about people’s motivations in working and contributing to projects. She found that people are often naturally motivated to be creative, often because they see it as a way to improve their creativity (progress) or their work. When it comes to innovation, however, clear objectives and measurable incentives are additionally important. This suggests that people need to be passionate and autonomous in how they achieve their goals, innovations will follow. The importance of choice regarding participation has also been highlighted by Karim R. Lakhani, who found that people perform better when they can choose how and with whom they to work, they call it Fit. Interestingly, « this effect is as strong as paying them for their work« , Lakhani and Boudreau notice, which indicates that setting up good collaboration conditions is at least as important as incentivizing with money!


Given the fact that Lakhani & Boudreau's last research has been performed on the crowdsourcing platform TopCoder, we see that "fit" is important in online environments.


It seems that competitions spur innovation, but it’s not only the case because of the advent of the internet and competitive (or collaborative) innovation platforms… Harvard researcher Josh Lerner showed that this was also true in the last century. By analyzing UK patent data from over 100 years, they found that prizes have not only encouraged activity, but also spurred innovation. They also found that prizes had a low impact, which suggests that prestige alone was sufficient for participants. Today, Lehrer says, similar patterns are found within creatives, computer programmers or bloggers. That’s why he thinks that « more work must be done to determine the best ways to develop prize competitions to maximize participation »


An ancient medal of the RASE (Image via


But Harvard’s research does not only focus on innovation competitions or the importance of prizes. Carliss Baldwin, who recently co-authored an article with lead user-specialist Eric Von Hippel, also explores spontaneous user innovation. According to her, you need both a passionate community and low costs to see the emergence of user innovation. in other words; the cheaper design, work, production and distribution costs are for passionate user, the more likely will innovation appear. She insists on the fact that « mainstream companies are just learning to incorporate users in a way that benefits everyone » and predicts that « companies will use many iterations to combine producer- and user-created elements […] in an effort to find the right balance« .

Baldwin studied the sport of rodeo kayaking, in which enthusiasts developped and used specialized material to perform stunts. Enjoy the video!


Another popular research direction is the investigation of cultural differences in creativity and innovation. Roy Chua‘s most recent research shows that when you have a multicultural social network, you are more likely to receive different ideas. While this seems rather intuitive, they also find that ideas are more creative when a question adresses a global context than a local context. Chua speculates that those with greater multicultural networks will win in terms of innovation that matter in the global marketplace, but he also underlines that « if you want to harness the power of creativity in a global multicultural context, you need to think about how to connect with people from other cultures« .

A step back: where does that leave us?

These findings indicate that finding ways to promote creativity is crucial for companies in order to facilitate innovation. Looking at the last publications of these authors gives us an idea of where research goes: understanding how different people (from different parts of the world) perceive creativity, and how these differences can be effectively leveraged to feed innovation. This is a passionating field of research, stay tuned on eYeka’s Co-Creation blog to grasp some information in forthcoming posts. Regarding academic research, we already blogged about:

More to come…

This post is inspired by a recent article on HBS’s Working Knowledge blog, in which Michael Blanding talks about current research at Harvard Business School.

About Yannig

Yannig was Marketing Manager at eYeka, responsible for PR, communication and research. Interested in marketing, innovation and design-related topics, he also loves to free his head by cycling, running, reading or drawing. Yannig, who holds an MSc from ESSCA School of Management and a PhD from University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, tweets under @YannigRoth and blogs at
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6 Responses to Summing up Harvard’s current research in innovation and creativity management

  1. ed bernacki says:

    Re “more work must be done to determine the best ways to develop prize competitions to maximize participation”

    I once heard a presentation from the academic authors of Ideas Are Free. They did a research project on 300 organizations that have some type of idea suggestion program.
    I believe they suggested that recognition and token rewards was more important than ‘reward’.
    The idea that money is a reward is simply not true in many cases.
    The problem is that too many executives think money is a motivator.
    ed bernacki

  2. Pingback: How we could reconcile “creativity” with “rationality” to spur innovation | eYeka Co-creation Blog

  3. Pingback: Creativity takes time, even in online co-creation contests | eYeka Co-creation Blog

  4. Good summary—useful—however notice each researcher is just following usual academic steps of research topic treatment, moving from lit review, to theory, to first pilot study, to first quantitative study. These guys string out the obvious over two decades. So sampling at any one point in their 2 decades produces minimal progress. In particular ALL of them listed above lack business commonsense from actually running themselves personal careers in business. As a result, Amabile’s conclusions tend to—–yawn—-bore. The results aimed for end up rather silly not to mention the results achieved (check out the HBR article on Corporate New Ventures at P&G and seek « results » from her changing 42+ environment variables to foster a « creativity-fostering » environment. Many researchers decades before her published results showing creators are PRECISELY thsoe people who 1) do not NEED creativity fostering environments 2) do not LIKE creativity fostering environments 3) and who take responsibility for finding their own fits by moving hither and yon as needed till they find a community that loves what they have come up with. Big corporations key paying to LOOK creative because they have to sell generation after generation of same old soaps, refrigerators, etc. They have to SELL dis-satisfaction with what they just sold us all–that generates LOTS of for show creativities and it sucks up careers of academics who are even a little bit naive—as ALL above have, by their published reults, shown themselves to be. I do not want to sound harsh about the people—I know and like them all personally–but here I am judging their RESULTS—ho ho hum. Too framed in naivite about business to be worth waiting, 2 strung out decades, for.

    • Richard Tabor Greene says:

      Recently quite a few scholars–though late to the party—as usual–have taken up tepidly the PLURAL DIVERSE REPETOIRE OF MODELS of things like creativity, innovation, design approach, educatedness that I pioneered and published 20 years ago. I applaud their drift though not their speed or results. The pioneering chief reference is my old A MODEL OF 41 MODELS OF CREATIVITY journal monograph widely available as free ODF on the web and heavily cited. An expansion of it with facing page Chinese translation is available as YOUR DOOR TO CREATIVITY, EXTENDED at Amazon. Com. (Only English pages now, Dual language version to be uploaded soon). Hope this highlights the DISMAL END of elitist self praising Harvard era models of tiny impact and « validated » stats–a dying illusion of academia distorted into pure status fights among male monkeys ( and male-ish ones too).

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