When is novelty more likely to elicit a favorable evaluation? Building on social psychology research, which shows that mental construals influence evaluation and decision-making, and recent work on entrepreneurial storytelling, we argue that the attractiveness of novel ideas and the willingness to support them vary with the mental processes audiences use to evaluate them. We conducted a series of experiments to study how different levels of mental construals shift the evaluation outcomes. Our findings show that evaluators appreciate incremental ideas more (i.e., find them more attractive and are more willing to invest in them) when they are framed in abstract “Why” terms. Yet, we found only marginal evidence that evaluators’ appreciation of highly novel ideas increases when they are framed in concrete “How” terms. We also found that when novelty is framed in “How” terms, evaluators prefer highly novel to incremental ideas, but when novelty is framed in “Why” terms this difference disappears – suggesting that an abstract framing decreases the evaluative gap between the two ideas. Taken together, these findings indicate that the effectiveness of the linguistic frame depends on the degree of novelty of the idea under evaluation. We further show how evaluators’ familiarity with idea evaluation moderates the effectiveness of the linguistic frame. Finally, we theorize on and test for the mediating role of perceived usefulness, and positive and negative affect. Focusing on the framing of novel ideas and marrying it with construal level theory contributes to research on innovation and entrepreneurship and, more generally, impression management. Specifically, we generate novel insights into how innovators can deploy linguistic strategies to shape audiences’ perceptions of their novel ideas.
Discussant: Ariane Berthoin Antal