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Stephen Dubner: There’s an irony in trying to get people to do their best work — but particularly to try new things and to innovate — in that very often the kind of characteristics that are common to someone who will have a good new idea have no overlap with the characteristics that are common to someone who’s really good at presenting in meetings. So it’s kind of like the difference between like sales and R&D, right? So the people that are in your sales or marketing division in a company are very different kinds of person than the people you have in R&D or something else like that.
The problem is if you do the traditional route of trying to encourage innovation by having meetings and, let’s say, let’s brainstorm and talk about what you think a good idea might be, the problem is that the people who might be very best at innovating are often the people who are very worst at presenting in a meeting like that or selling their ideas. One piece of evidence in that argument is the fact that so many true innovators don’t work in groups. You have to fail a lot when you innovate. And failure in a public setting can really hurt your self-esteem and your self-confidence. So you need to create an environment where people really can be empowered to fail.