For innovation, give scientists intellectual challenge, independence

Mar 30, 2011 By Chris Privett

(PhysOrg.com) -- Duke researchers measured innovative performance using the number of U.S. patent applications produced by employees.

Scientists and engineers who produce innovative work aren't in it just for the money, according to researchers from Duke University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Innovators' drive to create new ideas and inventions stems primarily from a desire for intellectual challenge and independence, say study co-authors Wesley M. Cohen, the Frederick C. Joerg professor of business administration at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, and Henry Sauermann, an assistant professor of at Georgia Tech.

"For innovators, the most important incentives may not be financial," Sauermann said.

The results come from an analysis of survey data, collected by the National Science Foundation, from more than 1,700 Ph.D. scientists and engineers who work in research and development at private firms.

The researchers measured innovative performance using the number of U.S. patent applications produced by employees. They linked this performance measure to employees' motives, including how much employees care about such factors as intellectual challenge, independence, salary, , opportunity for advancement, responsibility and contributing to society. Scientists and engineers who highly ranked intellectual challenge, independence and income had the most patent applications.

Sauermann and Cohen found a strong relationship between hours worked and innovative output, with the peak of productivity reached at about 60 hours per week. However, longer hours did not explain why people interested in challenge or independence were more productive.

"Although people might think the impact of motives on innovation is measured simply by the quantity of effort that is expended, that is not the case," Cohen said. "The effect has more to do with the character -- rather than the quantity -- of effort."

One possible explanation for this correlation: "A desire for intellectual challenge may lead scientists and engineers to choose more promising projects," said Sauermann, who conducted the research at Duke as part of his doctoral thesis. "Or it may make them more curious about things, more creative."

In contrast, people who said job security was important had fewer than their peers. The need for job security may lead people to pursue safer projects, or it could cause risk aversion that may squelch creativity, the researchers suggest.

Explore further: Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

More information: A report on the study appears in the December 2010 issue of the journal Management Science: mansci.journal.informs.org/cgi/reprint/56/12/2134?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&author1=wesley+cohen&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&sortspec=relevance&resourcetype=HWCIT

Related Stories

Sanctions won't stop China violating IP

Apr 19, 2006

Imposing trade sanctions is no solution to getting China to comply with intellectual-property rules. Rather, by encouraging Chinese companies to tie up with U.S. rivals on the one hand and getting them to produce goods that ...

Who's Creative in Genetics & Nanotechnology?

Jun 06, 2005

Survey Seeks Top Scientists for a Study of Research Innovation Who's doing the most innovative and important research in the fields of human genetics and nanotechnology? A team of U.S. and European researchers will be a ...

Common working conditions hurting both workers and employers

Jul 13, 2010

New research from North Carolina State University shows that an increase in professional business practices such as outsourcing, hiring temporary workers and focusing on project-based teams is having a detrimental effect ...

Biotechnology needs 21st century patent system: Expert

Mar 17, 2008

Biotechnology discoveries – like the method for creating synthetic life forms – are at risk of being unduly hindered or taken hostage by private corporations unless patent systems are brought into the 21st century, an ...

Recommended for you

Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

Apr 16, 2014

Science has often come to the rescue when it comes to the world's big problems, be it the Green Revolution that helped avoid mass starvation or the small pox vaccine that eradicated the disease. There is ...

Japan stem cell body splashes cash on luxury furniture

Apr 14, 2014

A publicly-funded research institute in Japan, already embattled after accusing one of its own stem cell scientists of faking data, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on designer Italian furniture, reportedly to use up ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Newlyweds, be careful what you wish for

A statistical analysis of the gift "fulfillments" at several hundred online wedding gift registries suggests that wedding guests are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to buying an appropriate gift for the ...

Can new understanding avert tragedy?

As a boy growing up in Syracuse, NY, Sol Hsiang ran an experiment for a school project testing whether plants grow better sprinkled with water vs orange juice. Today, 20 years later, he applies complex statistical ...

Roman dig 'transforms understanding' of ancient port

(Phys.org) —Researchers from the universities of Cambridge and Southampton have discovered a new section of the boundary wall of the ancient Roman port of Ostia, proving the city was much larger than previously ...

Crowd-sourcing Britain's Bronze Age

A new joint project by the British Museum and the UCL Institute of Archaeology is seeking online contributions from members of the public to enhance a major British Bronze Age archive and artefact collection.

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...