There appears to be general agreement among reward professionals that the compensation approaches and protocols which have dominated practice for the last few decades are ripe for reinvention. That disruptive change in the field is necessary and inevitable.
I also sense an assumption that we will be the change that we have been waiting for. That we will lead the revolution, just as soon as we get those year-end budgets and plan changes completed and find the time to get our innovation game on.
Not sure it will pan out that way.
A recent article in The Atlantic Why Experts Reject Creativity takes a close look at the bias we all have against new ways of thinking. Senior Editor Derek Thompson asserts that not only are our brains hard-wired to distrust creativity, but that the more knowledge and expertise we have on the subject, the more hostile we are to new approaches. And he highlights a number of research studies that support his claim.
In one study, 142 world class researchers from a leading medical school were randomly assigned to evaluate proposals for research funding. Sometimes the faculty were experts in the subject matter being considered, sometimes not. The experiment was triple blind, so that evaluators didn't know submitters, submitters did not know evaluators and evaluators did not talk to one another. What the researchers found: New ideas -- those that "remixed information in surprising ways" -- got the worst scores from everyone, but were particularly punished by experts in the subject matter.
Thompson goes on to demonstrate that, in reality, most of us dislike new ideas, regardless of what we say or believe about ourselves.
A 1999 study found that teachers who claim to enjoy creative children don't actually enjoy any of the characteristics associated with creativity, such as non-conformity. A famous 2010 study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that ordinary people often dismiss new ideas, because their uncertainty makes us think, and thinking too hard makes us feel uncomfortable. "People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal," the researchers wrote. People are subtly prejudiced against novelty, even when they claim to be open to new ways of thinking.
Which means that disruptive change, innovations that move the field of play and introduce new compensation management solutions, will quite likely originate outside our profession. It will come from business leaders and others with talent management smarts (but perhaps not the "credentials") -- particularly (but not exclusively) those in emerging and fast-growth organizations and industries -- who are willing to experiment, put new ideas to work and learn from their efforts.
It will happen out at the edges and beyond, outside the perimeter of "professional" reward practice. And so our mission, if we choose to accept it, will be to discover, devote attention to and learn from what is happening outside the core of our field. And then to bring those ideas in, adapting and piloting them in our own organizations.
A few years ago, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of key leaders at our own esteemed professional association. I shared the observation that all of the Association's focus and attention was centered on very large organizations, the Fortune 500 and their ilk. I was informed that this was the case because it is at these big employers that the leading edge of reward practice takes place.
To paraphrase the wisdom of Gordon MacKenzie, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace (and only the best book on business creativity every written!), we won't be able to truly push the boundaries of practice until we figure out how to escape the Hairball -- our entanglement with the policies, assumptions and practices of the past. Orbitting -- escaping the gravitational pull of the Hairball enough to observe and embrace original ideas and lessons -- will require that we read and interact outside the boundaries of our profession.
Irritating, inconvenient and messy, for sure. But that's what the road to discovery typically looks like.
That's what I think. You?
Ann Bares is the Founder and Editor of the Compensation Café, Author of Compensation Force, Managing Partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC, and a proud co-author (along with Cafe cohorts Margaret and Dan) of the newly published book Everything You Do in Compensation is Communication. Ann serves as President of the Twin Cities Compensation Network (the most awesome local reward network on the planet) and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Compensation & Benefits Review. She earned her M.B.A. at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, is a foodie and bookhound in her spare time. Follow her on Twitter at @annbares.
Creative Commons image "An Idea" by aloshbennet