Scandinavian Working Papers in Business Administration

SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Business Administration,
Stockholm School of Economics

No 2003:12: Good and not-so-good ideas in research. A tutorial in idea assessment and generation

Lennart Sjöberg ()
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Lennart Sjöberg: Center for Risk Research, Postal: Stockholm School of Economics, P.O. Box 6501, SE-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: This starting point of this paper is the difficulty for many graduate students to ever finish a Ph. D. and the graduate student’s need for good research ideas. According to Swedish data, only 20 percent of those who start as graduate students in the social sciences ever finish. One crucial problem is probably the lack of ideas and awareness of how to foster creativity. What are good ideas? Ideas are assessed all the time, by journal editors and referees, by research councils and thesis supervisors. Yet, there is little reflection on the question of what constitutes good ideas, and bad. Philosophy of science is briefly discussed in the paper, with examples from behaviorism and social constructivism, and it is argued that it provides no good basis for generating and assessing good ideas. The paper then proceeds by discussing examples of good, and not-so-good ideas. The notion of good bad ideas is introduced and an example is given. The paper then discusses several questions. Which characteristics of research ideas make them good, and which make them less good? How does one go about creating good ideas? What sort of research environment is most likely to stimulate the growth of good ideas? What are the processes which kill creativity in research? Creativity requires an open mind and strong interest. It takes time, sometimes much time, before good ideas arrive. Yet, success in a research career requires publications, and a brief section discusses how to plan one’s publications and have them accepted by journal editors. Finally, Swedish experience with an attempt to reform graduate education is discussed. It is pointed out that administrators’ inclinations to favor concrete policy measures such as financing do not necessarily lead to the desired consequences of increasing completion rate and decreasing study time. Another approach must be applied: the fostering of creativity.

Keywords: graduate education; creativity; assessment of research ideas

31 pages, First version: June 1, 2003. Revised: December 13, 2003.

Note: Citation: Sjöberg, L. (2003). Good and not-so-good ideas in psychological research. A tutorial in idea assessment and generation. VEST: Journal for Science and Technology Studies, 16, 33-68.

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