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Innovators Thrive on Honesty

March 2023

Group of BYU business students studying together

Jeff Dyer and Taeya Howell, BYU Marriott School of Business professors, were part of an international team that researched the negative impact on innovation when organizations prioritize psychological safety over intellectual honesty. The journal MIT Sloan Management Review recently published their findings.

“When people are candid in discussions, it can make people feel less safe. But a focus on social cohesion and making people feel safe can undermine honest, candid debate,” says Dyer. “The challenge for most leaders is to learn how to be more like Mr. Spock by promoting candid debate on the problems the team needs to solve in a hyperrational, unbiased way that defuses interpersonal conflict.”

The BYU Marriott team surveyed employees in more than 60 tech companies to better understand how team dynamics affect innovation. They identified four different team culture types: anxious, comfortable, distressed, and innovative. The researchers detailed how each of these team cultures influences innovation, then proposed four principles to foster intellectual honesty:

The study, “Why Innovation Depends on Intellectual Honesty,” also includes an innovation culture assessment that leaders can use to survey their teams’ levels of psychological safety and intellectual honesty. Nathan Furr, a professor at INSEAD in Paris, and Curtis Lefrandt, cofounder and CEO of Innovator’s DNA, also coauthored the paper.

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