A few weeks ago, Mathieu Dhondt
alerted to me an interesting paper on customer research: “The Cost of New Ideas: Idea Generators Become Less Satisfied.” The paper claimed that asking people for ideas on things a business could do better reduced
their satisfaction with the business.
I had to get a copy. I don’t have journal access
, so I emailed the author, Joshua H. Katz, and he kindly sent me a copy. (Most academics will do this.)
The paper tested idea generation among three different groups: consumers (local restaurant selection), employees, and users (in a very meta turn, rating Amazon Mechanical Turk, where the study took place).
The idea of the study was to see the effect of coming up with new ideas and whether it made someone like that original thing less than if they had just been asked how much they liked it.
In the initial control groups, people were asked to, say, list 10 different local restaurants, and then respond to questions like “Typically, I am happy with my experience at restaurants” on a on a five-point scale from “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied.”
The experimental groups, meanwhile, were asked to come up with 10 new ideas. In the restaurant case, they needed to come up with 10 ideas for new restaurants in their city, and then answer the same satisfaction questions.
The result? The groups that were asked to generate new ideas—across restaurants, employers, and products—were significantly less satisfied than the groups that simply listed available options.
The results held up in subsequent experiments with negative questions (“Restaurants these days leave a lot to be desired”) and by mixing categories (people were asked to generate restaurant ideas and then rate their satisfaction with Mechanical Turk, and their satisfaction with Mechanical Turk did not decrease like it did for people who had to generate ideas for Mechanical Turk).
Whether it’s because coming up with new ideas makes the current situation seem sub-optimal or because you feel demoralized that your ideas will never become reality, this study makes a compelling case not to ask people for suggestions.