Marte C.W. Solheim: Wolf-Pack Syndrome At Companies Hampers Innovation

In continuing our conversation with Marte C.W Solheim, Associate Professor at the University of Stavanger Business School, we now discuss one specific question.

What could be a few reasons companies are sceptical to hire immigra


“First, great question! And a tough one too…. Let me say, I believe this has a mixed answer which also differs across industries and locations. I also believe that this varies across groups”

But some reasons - according to Marte - could be scepticism over the following:

1: Security: It feels safer to hire someone that is perceived to be similar, for instance, you know and think highly of the company the applicant has worked for previously or the university the person has studied at.

This could make you feel more prone to hiring a person that “feels like a safe option” to you. This has implications for thinking about who is on the recruitment panel.

2: Informal recruitment channels rather than strictly formal ones.

Here Marte believes networks are important. In her experience, fostering networks in the local community, for example by engaging in football or other activities, including volunteer work, could prove important in terms of building networks and getting on the job market.

“The social ties in places affect the opportunities for getting a job in the first place or job-hopping for example, as these social ties permeate from places to organizations.”

“Also when people interact, they get to know one another, and newcomers to a new village/local community, for example, could experience a change from being ‘the new guy or girl’ to ‘being who they are’ in a broader, yet more specific sense: ‘Emily’, ‘Ahmed’, ‘Carolina’, and so on.”

Engaging in activities builds connections, trust, and allows for their connections to facilitate getting “into” these informal recruitment channels.

Good to remember that forming new networks takes time, and can be a frustrating process - but definitely worth it.

3: Fear of the unknown.

“This can include the uncertainty of how to best handle potential cultural differences, it can be the uncertainty of how you believe the candidate will “fit in” at the workplace which can lead to hiring someone one perceives to be similar to themselves. I also believe that safety and fear of the unknown has some overlap to what I coin - the ‘Wolf-pack syndrome.’”

The Wolf Pack Syndrome

“As time goes by, members of an organization may become increasingly homogenous, as similar experiences are shaped and retained. What could further spur this is that people prefer to engage in relationships with others that they perceive to be similar to themselves and many prefer to continue doing things in “the ways that it has always been done”. It feels safe, and it is easy”.

It’s no secret that we as people pursue such relationships because they’re comfortable and enable an easy flow of communication.

“The Wolf-Pack Syndrome occurs when a worker cannot approach a task differently from his or her pack of professional colleagues.”

Since innovation is a social process, this could have negative consequences for innovation.

“In line with Schumpeter, innovation are new combinations of already existing resources, based on a process of trial and error within firms that offer opportunities for organizations to learn”.

Marte continues, “As former Vice President of Human Resources at Apple Computers, Kevin Sullivan, tellingly remarked, “When you’re surrounded by sameness, you only get variations of the same”.

Marte believes, “A key possibility of increasing innovation at a workplace is diversity at different levels. This also includes people from different places or industrial backgrounds.”

“In a study, I carried out with Sverre J. Herstad on 2,942 Norwegian enterprises (Solheim and Herstad, 2017), we investigated how different types of diversity affect different types of innovation.”

“We determined whether employees had related or unrelated educational and industrial experience. Our results demonstrated a positive association between employees that had unrelated industrial backgrounds and the enterprise’s propensity to patent, i.e. applications for new innovations.

“We also found a positive association between people with related industrial experience and product and process innovations.”

“Therefore, the concept of diversity in the workforce becomes relevant as it affects the perception of the problem, shakes up routines, and ‘fills in the blanks’.”

Solheim states that when people differ in their knowledge and expertise, they might be able to identify a variety of problems and offer varying solutions that would best fit that situation.

“So, people who are more similar are expected to find problems and solutions in ways that are more similar.”

People differ from one another in many ways, such as the place in which they were born and raised, their educational or industrial experiences, gender, sexual orientation, languages spoken, beliefs, religions, norms, and traditions.

Based on some of these elements, people tend to classify each other as similar or dissimilar to themselves or to others.

Different ideas come from different experiences:

Picture your and your friend at a restaurant for lunch. You’re both of the same cultural backgrounds, having parents of the same cultural background as well.

You each order a plate of salmon and mash potatoes with some butter garlic sauce.

Now picture yourself having this meal with a friend from a different culture.

If you had to discuss variations of this dish with your friend, whose version would sound more unique?

To know more about Marte’s research on the connection between cultural diversity and innovation at a workplace, read our article here.

You can find more on Marte’s views on the wolf-pack syndrome here:

Fostering Innovation Through Workplace Diversity, Marte C.W. Solheim

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