Sabotage and self-promotion: How strategic behaviors undermine idea selection

60 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2019 Last revised: 23 Apr 2021

See all articles by Christoph Riedl

Christoph Riedl

Northeastern University - D’Amore-McKim School of Business

Tom Grad

Copenhagen Business School - Department of Strategy and Innovation

Christopher Lettl

Vienna University of Economics and Business

Date Written: February 11, 2020

Abstract

Generating and selecting ideas are fundamental tasks for most organizations. Thus designing and managing these processes and the associated challenges is vital. We study how idea generators employ two forms of strategic behavior---sabotage and self-promotion---to gain personal advantages during idea evaluation. Based on predictions from a theoretical model we empirically investigate the patterns of how individuals of heterogeneous ability engage in different strategic behaviors and how this affects the organization's ability to select the best ideas. Using field data on 38 million peer evaluations of more than 150,000 ideas across 75,000 individuals, we find that the use of strategic behaviors differs significantly depending on the ability of idea generators. While self-promotion is used heavily by all individuals, sabotage is committed by high-ability individuals who target other high-ability individuals. We investigate the important role of incentives and costs for the emergence of strategic behaviors and rule out alternative explanations using three natural experiments. Looking at the aggregate outcomes of these micro-patterns we find evidence that strategic behavior systematically threatens the ability of organizations to detect the most promising ideas. Our findings have broad implications for the literature on organizing innovation processes and especially the design of incentives as we uncover important spillovers via the usually hidden aspect of strategic behaviors.

Keywords: idea generation and selection, strategic behavior, self-promotion, sabotage, rank-order tournament, natural experiments

JEL Classification: J22, J3, J24, D82

Suggested Citation

Riedl, Christoph and Grad, Tom and Lettl, Christopher, Sabotage and self-promotion: How strategic behaviors undermine idea selection (February 11, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3387056 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3387056

Christoph Riedl (Contact Author)

Northeastern University - D’Amore-McKim School of Business ( email )

360 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.christophriedl.net

Tom Grad

Copenhagen Business School - Department of Strategy and Innovation ( email )

Kilenvej 14A
Frederiksberg, Copenhagen 2000
Denmark

Christopher Lettl

Vienna University of Economics and Business ( email )

Welthandelsplatz 1
Vienna, 1020
Austria

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