Jun 24 2008 1:30pm to Jun 24 2008 1:30pm

The Dynamics of Collaborative Innovation: Exploring the tension between knowledge novelty and reuse

Ned Gulley and Karim R. Lakhani

The success of open source software communities and Wikipedia have generated much interest in the mechanisms supporting collaborative innovation. These collaborative innovation systems are distinguished by their free revealing of knowledge and the ability of actors to reinterpret and repurpose existing knowledge created by others in making their own new creations.  However, there is a tension between the need of the collaborative system to have access to knowledge so that it can be used by others and the incentives of any individual to be recognized as a top performer in a collaborative system.  We study this tension in a unique setting involving a "wiki-like" collaborative programming contest involving over 100 contributors and over 3900 attempts at creating the "best" software solution to a programming problem over a one week period of activity. 

We find that the relationship between reuse of code by others (i.e. social value of a contribution) has an "inverse-U" relationship with code novelty; initially, new code helps in adoption  but too much novelty hinders reuse.  Conversely, the social value of a contribution exhibits a "U" relationship when considering the extent of borrowed code in that contribution.  Analysis of the individual performance in this setting reveals that the probability of being a top ranked contribution, at any point in time, increases as both novelty and reuse in the code increases, with reuse having twice as much an effect.  We also find that increasing complexity of a contribution has a negative effect on both social value and top performance.  We discuss the implications of these findings to the emerging literature on collaborative innovation.

About Ned

Ned Gulley works at The MathWorks, Inc. as part of the team that makes MATLAB. Ned joined the company in 1991 and has led the development of the Fuzzy Logic Toolbox and the MATLAB Interface team. Since 2001, he has been leading the MATLAB Central web community team. These days he's particularly interested in the overlap between technical and social computing. Prior to The MathWorks, Ned was an aerospace engineer working on flight control research and simulation at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Ned holds a BSE in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University and an MSE in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from Stanford University.

About Karim

Karim R. Lakhani is an assistant professor in the Technology and Operations Management Unit at the Harvard Business School. He specializes in the management of technological innovation and product development in firms and communities. His research is on distributed innovation systems and the movement of innovative activity to the edges of organizations and into communities. He has extensively studied the emergence of open source software communities and their unique innovation and product development strategies. He has also investigated how critical knowledge from outside of the organization can be found and put to use inside for innovation in the biotechnology, life sciences and industrial chemicals industries. He is co-editor of Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software (MIT Press, 2005) and co-founder of the MIT-based Open Source research community and web portal.

Karim has worked for General Electric Medical Systems, Canada, where he was a member of GE's Technical Leadership Program and had roles in radiological systems sales, marketing and new product introduction. He has also worked as a consultant for The Boston Consulting Group doing engagements with clients in technology and communications, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, financial services, and consumer goods sectors. He was a founding member of BCG’s Strategy Practice Leadership team.

Karim was awarded his Ph.D. in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006. He also holds an MS degree in Technology and Policy from MIT (1999), and a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and Management from McMaster University in Canada (1993). He was a recipient of the Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship and a four year doctoral fellowship from Canada's Social Science and Humanities Research Council. Prior to coming to HBS he served as a Lecturer in the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship group at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

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Last updated date

January 31, 2015