Social Proof: Rethinking Student Research

For many students, social media tends to undermine academic research rather than support it—after all, what student in the throes of paper writing hasn’t grasped for momentary solace in Facebook, Instagram, or the latest Studio C comedy sketch video?

But what if social media could actually help students write better papers?

Dr. Gideon Burton, an assistant professor in BYU’s English department, believes that students can harness the power of social media in exciting ways to gather what he calls “social proof.” He outlines the design thinking process of social proof as follows:

  1. Bounce ideas off friends and family: Go to the people who will listen no matter what. Get their feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Circulate “tweethis” on social media: With a little more refined idea, circulate a pithy statement, or “tweethis” on social media channels to vet the idea with a wider audience.
  3. Ask for feedback from experts: After incorporating feedback from two different channels, contact an expert in the field and see if the idea has real merit.

What have been the results of this new way to research? Do experts actually care enough to respond to undergraduate students’ undeveloped ideas? Watch the video and find out.


Establishing Communities of Innovation through the Innovative Normative Culture Model

By Casey Wright

Instructional Psychology and Technology

Talking to and reading about the research done by Rick West is what accelerated my interest in creativity and innovation. West (2009) wrote a lot of what a community of innovation looks like, but left the question open as to how to create or establish such a community. In other words, if it is possible to learn and develop the essentials of creativity within a group or organization (and it seems it is), what are the possible best practices for such a task? I would argue that Social Network Analysis (SNA) could be used to find key relationships between innovative/non-innovative teams, organizations or communities. Furthermore, by using the research behind Positive Normative Cultures (Positive Peer Culture Guide, nd), I am looking to create a model (Innovative Normative Culture) for designing, establishing, and cultivating innovative norms within Communities of Innovation (COI)s through theories of positive “peer pressure”. The purpose of this article is to briefly show how I plan to study and establish the Innovative Normative Culture model.

West (2009) discusses a theory by Bandura (1986) who describes what he calls reciprocal determinism. The figure below shows the three elements that Bandura identifies that determine who we are. Figure 1 Our values (person), our behavior (which does not always match up with our values), and our environment all influence who we are.



That being said, I feel Bandura did not leave space for intentional activities (e.g., what happens when we intentionally alter our environment by moving to a new state or country with new laws and cultures? Or what happens when we purposely alter our behavior in any given situation?). Of course this is not a new concept. A lot of research has been done in psychology, organizational behavior, and other fields either directly or indirectly adding to Bandura’s theory. As for how this relates to creativity, I feel that one area of Bandura’s model has not been studied as much through the lens of cultivating creativity—the person. Innovative Normative Culture would place focus on intentionally impacting an individual who will impact another individual, who will impact another, etc. By using the power of one’s social network, I believe organizations could change their norms to have more innovative behaviors.

Brendtro, Brokenleg and Van Bockern (2005) wrote of the “Circle of Courage” that “marks the critical indicators, [or] the vital signs for positive youth development” (p. 131). Although a physician has a thousand tools for diagnosis, they always begin with the vitals (Brendtro et al., 2005). I feel that COI identify the vitals needed for sustaining innovative organizations. This model I tag as Innovative Normative Culture (INC) is a way to focus on the vitals of innovation within a group that West (2009) and others have identified in order to establish a COI. We know some of those vitals, or for purposes of INC we will call them norms. Norms such as an organic, flat organization; a lot of prototyping; peer-evaluated/peer-accountable; diversified expertise; democratic leadership, etc. (West, 2009). These can be seen as the vitals needed for the overall innovative health of an organization or community. West (2009) goes on to describe how using different methods, perhaps we could identify key attributes and characteristics important to COIs and then let those “become guiding principles for designing COIs” (p. 329).

West (2009) asks the question, “Can we teach this?” This means, if innovation and creativity is so important in the world today, is it possible to be learned? It seems it can be learned, so another question we can ask is “How can we best teach an organization in order to learn innovation?” I suggest research in INC as a useful model in testing how we might teach or establish innovation within an organization.

I believe that using some of the Circle of Courage and positive peer pressure research, the Innovative Normative Culture could create and establish Communities of Innovation. In order to understand INC, I plan to learn and utilize Social Network Analysis to look at how groups form within organizations and how connections to other groups could be used to positively “pressure” non-innovative groups to overcome non-innovative norms to become more creative and innovative. “The goal of the [Innovative] Normative Culture [model in education, business or any organization would be] to create an environment where [all participants innovate] by helping their peers make [overall creative and innovative] choices” (Adapted from Positive Peer Culture Guide, nd, p. 1).

The Sociology of Innovation

The word ‘innovation’ usually conjures up images of high-tech labs and whizzing machines with brilliant scientists creating the visions on the future. However, innovation encompasses so much more than just the flashy inventions that come out in the end.

Eric Dahlin, a professor at Brigham Young University, spends his time studying the sociology of innovation.

“There are lots of great, amazing, exciting ideas people have that are new and would improve the world and our lives and our situations that aren’t accepted or adopted or used because they don’t fit well with existing organizational and institutional arrangements and cultural preference and practices,” said Dahlin.

On the other side, some ideas are accepted merely because of an historical accident or a chance meeting of the right people. These social interactions and the way they influence the innovative process are what Dahlin’s research and classes revolve around.

Recently Dahlin has worked with a group of engineering faculty and students to create an efficient cooking stove for people in South America. Dahlin studies things such as who will be using the stove, what the size of the families are, and what kinds of things will be cooked on the stove, which are things that will help the engineers build a more successful stove.

In addition to working with engineers on projects that will aid communities in developing countries, Dahlin is also studying patents and the patenting system in the United States. He is discovering that fewer and fewer individuals are creating patents, and that larger companies are increasingly dominating the patenting landscape. His current research focuses on whether this has a detrimental effect on the creativity of an individual versus a large corporation.

Dahlin has also been researching the pharmaceutical world and how new medicines are developed. He is focusing on whether innovation in the medical field comes from radically new ideas, or from simple changes made to preexisting ideas and methods.

As demonstrated by Dahlin’s extensive research, sociology is deeply intertwined with the innovative process, and Dahlin teaches a class every fall semester that studies the societal relationships found in the world and how they impact the creative process. The class begins by focusing on individual views of creativity and broadens its scope throughout the semester, studying the diffusion of creativity through groups, social networks, and organizations.

By understanding the familial, societal, and corporate relationships that define the world, innovation and creativity can be further developed. Roadblocks to progress can be identified and resolved, and improvements to society can be made. Dahlin’s teaching and research add to this well of important knowledge, and encourage others to contribute and collaborate in order to benefit the world.

1. Dahlin, Eric. 2014. “The Sociology of Innovation: Organizational, Environmental, and Relative Perspectives. Sociology Compass 8: 671-687.

2. Dahlin, Eric C. 2011. “There’s No ‘I’ in Innovation.” Contexts 4: 22-27.

Communities of Innovation

In our Video Abstract Series, we talk with BYU faculty members who have interesting projects, classes, or research focused on creativity, innovation, design thinking, or interdisciplinary collaboration.

In our first Video Abstract, we talk with Dr. Rick West, Assistant Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology.  In this video, Dr. West talks about the framework he developed for communities of innovation.  In this framework, Dr. West identifies both individual and organization level characteristics that help spur innovation within a community.  An update to his framework will be published later in this year in TechTrends.

To read Dr. West’s 2009 paper on Communities of Innovation, visit:

New Book: "The Innovator’s Method: Bringing the Lean Start-Up Into Your Organization"

So you’ve got a great idea–how do you know if it will work? 

 The Innovator’s Method: Bringing the Lean Start-Up Into Your Organization, recently published by Harvard Business Review Press, aims to answer that question.

From Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer, professors in the Marriott School of Management at BYU and coauthors of The Innovator’s DNA, comes the book that takes the next step in the innovation process: moving from generating new ideas to testing the validity of those ideas in the marketplace. The Innovator’s Method takes readers through the steps of coming up with an insight, understanding the customer’s problem, quickly finding a solution to that problem, making a business plan, generating revenue, and scaling the idea. Says Dyer, “I’ve had lots of people use The Innovator’s DNA behaviors of questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting to come up with great new ideas, but they often don’t know what to do with it when they come up with an idea. …The Innovator’s Method tells you how to test and validate your idea to know whether it will work in the marketplace.”

The ability to innovate is becoming more critical for businesses to be able to keep pace with ever-changing markets, but with innovation comes uncertainty and reluctance to try out new solutions because of that uncertainty. Developed through research on world-class innovators such as Google, Tesla, Amazon, and Regeneron (see about the research), this process helps take the risk out of innovation and offers an additional perspective on the role of a leader: high uncertainty problems require different management principles than low uncertainty problems. The Innovator’s Method shows that managers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and even politicians can conduct frugal experiments that will determine the usefulness of the idea before expending valuable time and resources on something that doesn’t work. The book is sure to be an indispensable resource for anyone who wants their organization to have (or keep) the innovative edge.

You can download a complimentary copy of the Introduction and Chapter One to The Innovator’s Method here.

Jeff Dyer, coauthor of The Innovator’s Method on how to test and validate your idea before it goes to market.

Jeff Dyer, on how The Innovator’s Method can help managers, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and politicians, innovate, experiment and validate new ideas.

Jeff Dyer with some key takeaways from his new bookThe Innovator’s Method, with Nathan Furr.

Jeff Dyer, coauthor of the new book The Innovator’s Method on the importance of innovation in leadership.

And see their spotlight from the BYU website front page.

Nail It Then Scale It

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Creating and Managing Breakthrough Innovation

Why do most new businesses fail, yet a few entrepreneurs have a habit of winning over and over again? The shocking discovery of years of research and trial is that most startups fail by doing the “right things,” but doing them out of order. In other words, human nature combined with our entrepreneurial drive puts us on autopilot to become part of the 70% to 90% of ventures that fail. ​ From Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs, the Nail It Then Scale It method is based on pattern recognition of the timeless principles and key practices used by successful entrepreneurs to repeatedly innovate. These processes and principles have now been distilled into a handbook to guide entrepreneurs and innovative product managers to victory. Stop following conventional wisdom and join the few entrepreneurs that can consistently take their innovative idea all the way to a successful company launch.

The Innovator's DNA

From Idea to Impact

You can be as innovative and impactful — if you can change your behaviors to improve your creative impact. In The Innovator’s DNA, authors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and bestselling author Clayton M. Christensen (The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Solution) build on what we know about disruptive innovation to show how individuals can develop the skills necessary to move progressively from idea to impact. ​ By identifying behaviors of the world’s best innovators — from leaders at Amazon and Apple to those at Google, Skype, and Virgin Group — the authors outline five discovery skills that distinguish innovative entrepreneurs and executives from ordinary managers: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking, and Experimenting. Once you master these competencies, the authors explain how you can generate ideas, collaborate with colleagues to implement them, and build innovation skills throughout your organization to sharpen its competitive edge.

Learning to Design Collaboratively

 Participation of Student Designers in a Community of Innovation

A look at the nature and characteristics of Communities of Innovation within a graduate student design community, by Rick West and Michael Hannafi.

previous pauseresume next