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Andy Boynton

innovation. leadership. strategy.

Idea Hunter Confidential: Andrew Hargadon

June 01, 2011

Andrew Hargadon is one of the world’s leading scholars about innovation. In his early professional career, he worked with IDEO, before becoming a top flight academic. He authored a terrific book on innovation, How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, that is a must read for firms wanting to manage innovation in a world class way.

His Harvard Business Review article with Bob Sutton, Building an Innovation Factory, is one of the best ever written on innovation. If you want to know about innovation, pay attention to Andrew Hargadon –and a good place to start is understanding his idea hunting behavior. In this blog he shoots straight and provides concise, great insights into how he manages his world of ideas.

Boynton: In terms of advancing your goals and objectives in life (e..g, your company, research agenda, other projects, etc), where do you search for great ideas (websites, people, conferences, mags, etc.)? And can you describe how frequently you hunt in those places?

Hargadon: I’m constantly looking for great ideas. Mostly in the background-trying to find those places that “curate” ideas so that I can trust the source and rapidly scan through what they’ve put together. That’s when I’m in heavy skim mode-as much trying to get the gestalt as any particular facts. This works best for the more cultural and technical stuff that doesn’t require much sensemaking. Good articles I store somewhere for later (large piles in my study). Electronically, I’m enjoying Flipboard on my iPad, which enables me to pick my sources and scan easily, saving off to evernote whatever looks good.

I also read histories-they provide rich detail that I wouldn’t get any other way. That tends to become fodder for theories.

Boynton: When you find great ideas, be they from a conversation or something you scan, what do you do with them? Do you store them? How? Do you put them into play and show them to people? How do you handle interesting ideas once you find them?

Hargadon: As I said, large piles. And also electronically, in evernote. I send around 5-6 things a day to other people to read, give me comments…

Boynton: Can you think of a few big ideas you’ve found hunting and what they led to? How’d you find those big ideas? How’d you take them and turn them into something important to you?

Hargadon: First off, my big ideas are pebbles compared to others. A lot of the ideas I’ve gotten excited about came from seeing how something happened-or was described-in one field and realizing it didn’t jibe with how people are describing similar events in other fields. Bringing in those different explanations is a lot easier than coming up with them in the first place…