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Creating Employee Networks That Deliver Open Innovation



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Creating Employee
Networks That Deliver
Open Innovation
FALL 2011 VOL.53 NO.1
Eoin Whelan, Salvatore Parise, Jasper de Valk and
Rick Aalbers
Please note that gray areas reflect artwork that has been
intentionally removed. The substantive content of the ar-
ticle appears as originally published.
COMPANIES SUCH AS Procter & Gamble, Cisco Systems, Genzyme, General Electric and
Intel are often credited with having attained market leadership through open innovation strategies.
That is, by tapping into and exploiting technological knowledge that resided beyond their own re-
search and development structures, these companies outmaneuvered rivals that relied largely on
in-house approaches to innovation. But while other organizations try to follow the example set by
these trailblazers, our research shows that many are failing because they neglect to ensure that the
outside ideas reach the people best equipped to exploit them. (See About the Research, p. 38.)
There is a way to change this path for the better. By understanding the roles of two types of in-
novation brokers — “idea scouts” and “idea connectors — in the open innovation process, and by
Creating Employee
Networks That Deliver
Open Innovation
A small number of “idea scouts and “idea connectors” are dispro-
portionately influential in producing successful open innovation
outcomes. Smart companies make sure they are linked.
What kinds
of capabilities
facilitate a
success at
Combing the
outside world
for potentially
useful ideas is
necessary but
not sufficient.
Management must
ensure that the
new ideas reach
the people best able
to exploit them.
The skills of “idea
scouts” and “idea
connectors” are
Marissa Mayer, a vice
president at Google,
exemplifies the “idea
utilizing their talents effectively, managers can pre-
side over major improvements in the conversion of
external knowledge into innovative outcomes.
Consider the case of a software company that
specialized in developing solutions for multimedia
customer-contact centers. Because the pace of tech-
nological change in this particular field is extremely
rapid, competitors need to continuously identify
and integrate emerging advances in communica-
tion technologies from the outside world. This
particular company lost a major client contract to a
rival primarily because the rival’s product featured
more advanced voice-recognition capabilities. Dur-
ing the course of our work with the company, we
discovered that the very voice-recognition technol-
ogy displayed in the rival’s product was actually
identified by one of the company’s software engi-
neers almost a year earlier. The engineer in question
had learned of the new technology from a working
paper published on a university labs website. Real-
izing its potential, she immediately brought the new
development to the attention of her team leader.
However, this opportunity developed no further.
To determine why this idea came to naught
within the company’s internal R&D network, we
used organizational network analysis, or ONA,
which revealed the team leader to be a peripheral
player in the network structure. (See “ONA: A Tool
Adapted From the Social Sciences.”) Even if he had
genuinely wanted to incorporate the new voice-
recognition capability, he lacked the trusted
personal connections to see it through. Where this
company failed was where its rival obviously suc-
ceeded — in ensuring that an outside idea got to
the right point in the network, where it could be as-
sessed and ultimately exploited.
Idea Scouts and Idea Connectors
R&D leaders need to think not only about combing
the outside world for new and potentially applicable
ideas but also about how to ensure that those ideas
reach the people able to develop them in innovative
ways. Organizations that are smart in this regard in-
vest in both the idea scout and the idea connector.
Another company we worked with was a leading
player in the medical-devices industry — in partic-
ular, our client was an R&D unit assigned to
advance the company’s stent-delivery technology.
To maintain its leadership position in this arena,
the management team understood the importance
of identifying and exploiting emerging ideas from
industries as diverse as electronics, pharmaceuticals
and plastics. Yet it lacked a coherent structure for
doing so. In the words of the R&D director, “Knowl-
edge flow is the lifeblood of our division, but it is
invisible to us. [I]t all happens informally.
With the aid of ONA, we proceeded to ascertain
the R&D unit’s network connections that facilitate
open innovation. (See The Connector’s Critical
Role, p. 40.) Highlighted in the diagram are Tom and
Mike (idea scouts) and Helen (an idea connector).
Idea scouts such as Tom and Mike are integral to the
open innovation process. They act as the R&D unit’s
antennae, tuned to emerging scientific and techno-
logical developments that are broadcast from around
the globe. But while idea scouts are very well con-
nected to knowledge sources outside the company,
we have found that they tend to possess very few
strong connections internally.
Without this effective
internal distribution network, their contributions to
an open innovation strategy are limited.
This was exactly the situation that faced Tom. In
an interview, he explained that through his scout-
ing activities he often becomes aware of emerging
technological developments that have potential
value for the company. While he attempts to dis-
tribute such information throughout the internal
network himself, he acknowledged that his efforts
often fail: The opportunities he identifies are not
considered, let alone exploited, by the R&D unit.
Toms distribution efforts usually involve his send-
ing out a blanket e-mail to 20 or so colleagues.
However, his R&D colleagues explained to us that
because they suffer from “inbox overload, if an
e-mail does not appear to be directly relevant to
them, it is usually deleted. Thus Toms idea-scout-
ing abilities, though vital to the company’s
innovation objectives, are largely wasted, as he lacks
an effective distribution channel.
Contrast Toms case with that of Mike. Like Tom,
Mike is an idea scout who has few strong connec-
tions internally. However, a major difference
between the two is that Mike is linked to Helen —
an idea connector who does have an extensive
network together with the know-how needed to
distribute the technological information that Mike
The insights presented in
this article are based on our
research and consulting
work over the past five
years with a number of lead-
ing companies in a variety of
industries. These industries
include high-tech engineer-
ing (Siemens, Boston
Scientific, Creganna), infor-
mation and communication
technology (Microsoft, Intel,
Atos Origin, TED), energy
(Royal Dutch Shell, Chev-
ron), management
consulting (Deloitte) and
financial services (Equens).
Our work has centered on
understanding how oppor-
tunities for innovation
diffuse throughout interper-
sonal networks. To examine
this process, we used ONA
techniques (see “ONA: A
Tool Adapted From the So-
cial Sciences”) to visualize
networks, identify the key
innovation brokers and dis-
cover any underutilized
potential. We then con-
ducted interviews with over
80 innovation brokers to get
a deeper appreciation of
their attributes and the roles
they perform. We also took
measures of personal inno-
vation and correlated them
with network position,
sources of knowledge used
and personal factors such
as tenure and area of exper-
tise. Finally, we studied the
use of social media and
Web 2.0 technologies in the
innovation process in over
30 organizations by using
interviews, surveys and net-
work-analysis techniques.
acquires. Connectors such as Helen are the hub of
the company’s social network, the go-to people of
the organization.
Much of their expertise lies in
knowing who is doing what. When they are made
aware of an opportunity for innovation, connec-
tors not only know who in the company is best
equipped to exploit that idea but also possess the
social capital needed to rapidly deploy the network
to meet that particular challenge.
Indeed, Helen was able to provide us with a re-
cent example of network-based open innovation in
practice. Through his scouting activities, Mike had
learned of a new development in ultrasonics that
was being used in the aerospace industry. He dis-
cussed this technology with Helen, and after
considering how the R&D unit might profit from it,
she informed two other colleagues who she knew
were trying to solve a particularly complex prob-
lem: how to bond certain medical plastics without
using the traditional methods of heat or adhesives.
After considering and ultimately modifying the
new ultrasonics technology, they were able to de-
velop a solution and have even applied for a patent
to protect their innovation.
Todays Idea Scouts Especially
Need Complementing
While the importance of network brokers to the
innovation process has long been recognized, our
research shows that their profile is evolving as a
result of advances in Web-based communication
technologies. Let’s consider how the innovation
broker looked 30 years ago. In a series of influen-
tial studies conducted with the leading R&D
powerhouses of the day, MIT Sloan School of
Management professor Tom Allen discovered the
existence of a small number of R&D professionals
who were exceptional networkers both inside and
outside their companies.
These rare individuals
acted as the gate — hence Allens term “techno-
logical gatekeeper” — through which knowledge
of emerging scientific and technological develop-
ments flowed into and throughout the R&D
department. That is, they performed the roles of
both the idea scout and the idea connector.
Fast-forward to today, when much of the needed
information can be acquired from the Web. The 40
or so idea scouts we have interviewed explained
that Web resources — such as online forums, RSS
feeds, industry blogs and search engine inquiries —
are the primary means through which they keep
abreast of emerging technologies and industry
trends. Indeed, we found that idea scouts are
roughly three times more likely to learn of such de-
velopments through the Web than through a
personal extramural contact. This easy access to an
abundance of information has led the traditional
gatekeepers to have to undergo specialization as
well as a division of labor. With so much “smog” on
the Web, identifying the truly novel ideas is a time-
consuming and complex process that requires the
attention of a specialist idea scout.
Yet while the Web and the specialist idea scout
are necessary for open innovation, they are not suf-
ficient. More than ever, in-house connectors are
also needed to complete the circuit.
For example, an apparel company we worked
with had started soliciting fashion and product ideas
through “crowdsourcing — allowing consumers to
post ideas, and rate the ideas of others, on the com-
pany website. A marketing associate acted as scout
by asking the consumers specific questions and then
analyzing their answers, as well as their comments
and ratings, over time. Initially, the company viewed
this effort as a huge success, based simply on the
thousands of comments it received within a short
period. And the marketing associate was seen as
doing a fine job at summarizing emerging themes in
the fashion industry, identifying likes and dislikes
regarding the company’s apparel line and making
product recommendations based on consumer sen-
Organizational network analysis (ONA) is a systematic approach and set of tech-
niques for studying the connections and resource flows between people, teams,
departments and even whole organizations. With ONA, social relationships are
viewed as nodes and links that can be illustrated visually and mathematically.
Using these methods, managers gain a bird’s-eye view of existing network struc-
tures and communication patterns, which are often in stark contrast to what they
believe them to be or how they would like them to function.
While the application of ONA to the discipline of management is relatively
new, it has enjoyed a long and rich tradition, particularly in the fields of sociology
and anthropology. Much of what we know today as ONA is built upon the work
of psychotherapist Jacob L. Moreno, who began developing “sociometry” in
the 1930s to reveal the hidden group structures that affect psychological well-
being. In management settings, ONA has been effective at providing leaders
with insights to help diagnose and solve the problems that often hamper impor-
tant collective-process outcomes such as organizational structure, decision
making, performance and innovation.
timent. However, there was little or no connection
between that marketing associate and the key influ-
encers and decision makers across the different
product divisions.
As a result, several problems emerged. Because
the specialized scout had little knowledge of the
company’s overall strategic directions and visions,
she often asked the wrong questions and looked for
information and solutions that were not aligned
with the company’s intentions. Second, many of the
recommendations that the scout made (e.g., faster
introduction of new fashion lines) were simply not
feasible based on the company’s operations and the
logistics that pertained to its suppliers. Finally, much
time was wasted, as the valuable information did
not make it to the right decision makers.
The scout was communicating to people based
on their organizational titles and not on their
ability to make product decisions, with the result
that many good ideas were never acted on and
opportunities were lost. It wasn’t until she was
complemented by a connector (a product-strat-
egy manager who had been with the company for
many years) in the crowdsourcing initiative
that useful information found the appropriate
decision makers, with the result that many crowd-
sourced ideas were actually implemented.
Tackling the NIH Syndrome
Innovation leaders must remember that importing
outside ideas is only part of the open innovation
challenge. Because new ideas will always encounter
internal barriers, leveraging the internal network to
actually adopt those ideas is where the idea connec-
tor is crucial.
Another company we worked with — a leading
European electronics and engineering business —
was trying to implement open innovation, but it
was being stymied by a condition commonly known
as the “not invented here (NIH) syndrome. This
syndrome occurs when R&D professionals build up
resistance to an outside idea or technology because
they assume that if they did not come up with it
themselves, it must not be very valuable. In this case,
the NIH syndrome was blocking the company’s
efforts to transform itself from being “product
focused” to offering a “total solutions” package to its
customers. The new strategy required previously
segregated business units to integrate their technical
competencies, as management was convinced that
every unit possessed knowledge that other units
could convert into innovative solutions. However,
when we used ONA to measure the extent to which
interunit collaboration was occurring, it revealed
that the locus of innovation activity continued to
remain at the business unit level. Each unit tended
to hoard its own knowledge and rarely sought ideas
from its counterparts. The new total solutions strat-
egy, which was essential to the company’s future,
was unable to succeed at the scale intended.
But some flow of ideas between business units
was actually occurring, though sporadically, and we
found that where it did occur an idea scout and an
idea connector were at the fore. For example, in
what became a profitable venture for the company,
the sharing of ideas between the transportation unit
and the mobile applications unit resulted in the
ability to offer advanced track-and-trace services to
buyers of its luggage-logistics products. This inno-
vative feature was central to the transportation
unit’s winning of a contract to supply the luggage-
logistics system to a major European airport.
When we traced how this innovation came
about, it was clear that the successful outcome
hinged on a connection between a single idea scout
and an idea connector. Peter, an engineer in the
Both Tom and Mike are idea scouts who have well-developed knowledge and social
networks outside their company but limited networks within it. Because Mike is
linked to Helen, an idea connector with extensive contacts within the organization,
the outside ideas he identifies have developed much more often than Tom’s into
useful processes, products or services for the company.
Boundary of the Company
transportation unit, is the idea scout of the story.
He is inquisitive by nature and is constantly search-
ing for new developments both inside and outside
the company. He explained that other units may
not broadcast what they are working on, but if you
are curious enough you can pull the information
from them. Through his grapevine network he has
access to a number of acquaintances in other busi-
ness units, and his interactions with these colleagues
usually take place around the communal coffee
machine, where they trade what they know for what
they need. He also utilizes more formal initiatives
to secure new insights from around the company;
the initial spark for the luggage-logistics service
feature came from a client lunch he attended that
was organized by the mobile applications unit
to promote its new offerings. When a particular
radio-frequency identification capability was dem-
onstrated, he immediately sensed the potential that
RFID could have if fused with the existing airport
conveyor-belt expertise. However, like many other
idea scouts we studied, Peter himself lacks the in-
fluence and political skills to convert a new idea
into a viable project within his own division.
Enter Hans, an idea connector who has the con-
tacts and influence within the transportation unit
to ensure that an idea he champions has a good
chance of being adopted, thereby helping to break
down the NIH syndrome. Not only do they connect
people; network operators like Hans also often pos-
sess the ability to put different concepts together
into a potential innovation. Indeed, this is what
happened when Peter presented him with the RFID
idea. Hans saw an opportunity to add an extra layer
of service to the units conveyor-belt technology if
RFID could be applied in a certain way. The result-
ing service feature provided baggage handlers and
airport operators with real-time and historical
track-and-trace data, giving them an instant over-
view of the positions of all pieces of luggage.
Insights for R&D Leaders
The innovation brokers identified and analyzed in
our research have tended to emerge informally. In
many cases, the people who wound up as idea
scouts and connectors came as a complete surprise
to management. Nevertheless, innovation is too
important to be left to chance; if innovation bro-
kers do not exist, management is obliged to “invent”
them — i.e., assign people to perform these valu-
able roles. Procter & Gamble, for example, has
formally appointed idea scouts to seek out new
technologies from around the globe.
But many R&D leaders pursuing open innova-
tion tend to place an undue emphasis only on idea
scouting, thereby neglecting how the ideas become
meshed with the company’s existing capabilities.
Because research has shown that breakthrough in-
novations tend to result from the combination of
new and existing knowledge bases,
R&D leaders
must consider the open innovation process in its
entirety. In doing so, they need to recognize that
both the idea scout and the idea connector are criti-
cal for the successful implementation of open
innovation strategies.
How can management be sure it is recruiting and
appointing the right people to these positions? Based
on our study of emergent innovation brokers, we
have described the key characteristics and expertise
of idea scouts and connectors. (See “Innovation-
Broker Profiles, p. 42.) R&D companies can use our
findings to ensure that these competencies exist
within their talent pools.
In addition, by focusing on the phases of open in-
novation where idea scouts and connectors contribute
most — ideation, selection and diffusion — execu-
tives can optimize the contribution of these
innovation brokers to the innovation process. (See
“Who Shines When, p. 43.)
Ideation While all employees have the ability to ac-
quire ideas from beyond the company’s boundaries,
our research shows that there tend to be only a hand-
ful of people who possess the technical expertise and
personal interest to perform this task regularly and
at an effective level. Management can harness the
activities of these idea scouts simply by allocating to
them the funds they need to scan the outside world
for new knowledge. But we have found that time is
the most important resource of the idea scout. For
example, one pharmaceutical company we worked
with permitted its newly appointed idea scouts to
devote 100% of their working week to this activity.
In terms of additional resources, all these pros-
pectors need is a computer with an Internet
connection. However, it would be beneficial if idea
scouts were also given priority to attend external net-
working events such as conferences or trade shows.
This is not only a way to create alternative channels
for ideation; it also allows management to demon-
strate its commitment to the front-runner role that
these employees play in sparking innovation.
While the Web has always been a place where
scouts could find emerging content, social media
technologies have dramatically expanded scouts
capabilities in this arena. These new social tools —
applications such as social bookmarking/tagging,
social networking (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), blogs
and wikis — enable them to find and follow sub-
ject-matter experts and practitioners who have
experimented with new ideas and technologies. In
effect, scouts using social media perform “social
navigation — searching for and finding relevant
people and content — which is positively corre-
lated with personal innovativeness
and success in
idea generation. The implication is that organiza-
tions need to train current and future scouts on
how to most effectively exploit the growing num-
ber of social technologies that exist in the business
setting; in so doing, they may complement the more
traditional channels used to acquire knowledge and
ideas from beyond the company’s boundaries.
ONA techniques can also help idea scouts probe
the outside world more effectively. Each idea scouts
explorations can be analyzed to determine if he or she
is tapping into the right external networks or if im-
portant innovation sources are failing to be leveraged.
In the medical-devices company we studied, univer-
sity labs were an important source of knowledge for
its R&D division. An ONA analysis revealed that its
idea scouts were indeed connected to university labs,
but they tended to be the same three universities from
which these workers had graduated. At least 10 uni-
versity labs globally were conducting state-of-the-art
research important to the company, but most of them
were not being accessed.
To obtain these data, we issued each employee a
network-analysis survey, which asked a variety of
questions about their networking activities. While
we favored this approach in our work, other more
automated methods are also possible. For example,
many employees use websites such as LinkedIn to
Because idea scouts and idea connectors have different critical functions to perform in pursuit of open innovation, their desirable traits are different as well.
•Ability to identify useful ideas from outside the company
•Deep knowledge base of a particular technology space
•Strong analytical skills
•High information-technology literacy
•Ability to connect different concepts in a meaningful way
Wide-ranging knowledge base that facilitates understanding
the context of new information and how it fits with extant
Ability to translate external information into a form
understandable by and relevant to internal colleagues
Influential — can convince other network members to take
a needed action
•Broad network outside the company
•Short to medium organization tenure
•Attained higher-level degree in specialized technology field
Genuine interest in keeping abreast of emerging trends in
their specialty
•Broad network inside the company
•Long organization tenure
•Enjoy helping others
Have a reputation for technical competence among their
How to
•Give them time to scan the outside world
•Encourage them to attend external networking events
•Train them in the effective use of social-media technologies
•Use ONA to assess and optimize external network
Include them in talent-management programs and recognize
their scouting successes
Encourage their networking activities through involvement
in cross-functional projects and job rotations (particularly for
newly employed connectors)
Link them to an idea scout to ensure that the newly identi-
fied ideas get disseminated to the right parts of the company
Use ONA to determine if their internal networks contain
biases or disconnects
Include them in talent-management programs and recognize
their broker role — e.g., make social graphs publicly available
maintain links with their professional contacts.
ONA software applications that can convert such
online profiles (and even e-mail logs) into a social
graph for visual analysis are freely available on the
Web. Of course, the employees would have to agree
to provide such data for analysis. Including idea
scouts in the company’s talent-management pro-
gram is one way to encourage their participation.
It must also be remembered that open innovation
is not just about outside ideas flowing in — compa-
nies also need to consider collaborating with
external partners to liberate internally generated
ideas so that they may flow out. Building external
networks through the idea scouts will increase the
likelihood of connecting with the outside people
and companies best equipped to use the company’s
own ideas that for one reason or another should be
developed elsewhere.
Idea Selection For today’s Web-enabled organiza-
tion, access to new ideas from around the globe is
often just a few mouse clicks away. But while the
great advantage of the Web is that anyone can pub-
lish his or her thoughts on it, this also makes the
task of “separating the wheat from the chaff a far
more difficult process. In our studies of innovation
units, we find that the interaction between idea
scout and idea connector is crucial not only for en-
suring that the most promising ideas with the best
organizational fit are selected for further consider-
ation; the interaction is also crucial for verifying
that the outside knowledge is reliable and truly
novel — and not just marketing hype, as is often
the case. We can think of the idea scout as providing
the fuel for innovation and of the idea connector as
the engine that converts that fuel into useful out-
puts. Thus, management needs to ensure that
scouts and connectors are linked to each other.
Google is a company that has excelled in turning
nascent ideas into innovative products. Central to
this success has been the role of Marissa Mayer, a
company vice president, who exemplifies the key
traits of an idea connector.
The initial concept for
orkut (Google’s social networking site) or for the
company’s desktop search did not originate with
her, but she played a central role in ensuring that
those promising ideas, and many others that bub-
bled up to the surface, were fast-tracked for
investment. One useful mechanism has been May-
er’s tradition of holding three weekly sessions where
she is accessible to all Google employees who want
to pitch a new idea. She brainstorms with these
scout-equivalents and presses them for more de-
tails on the proposed products’ functionality before
deciding whether to champion the ideas to com-
pany leaders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
The take-away lesson is that organizations need
to create formalized means through which idea
scouts can reach out to those who have the skills
and influence to select ideas with the most merit
and feasibility and then to help transform them
into innovative products.
Idea Diffusion Once an idea connector recognizes
the potential of a new concept, it needs to be dif-
fused to those with the know-how to exploit it. For
example, on hearing the initial idea for Google
Desktop, Mayer used her knowledge of the internal
network to bring it to the attention of Steve Law-
rence, a skilled programmer with expertise in
information retrieval. Once Lawrence bought into
the idea, a team was assembled to work with him to
develop what ultimately turned out to be one of
Google’s most successful products.
Idea connectors like Mayer have a natural flair
for getting to know others. While they may have
Ideas from inside and outside the company progress through four
stages until a small number of ideas are ultimately exploited in an
innovative way. Scouts are more critical in the earlier phases by
identifying a range of promising ideas, but the emphasis shifts to the
connector in the later phases. Using their knowledge of the internal
network, connectors champion the most promising ideas to those
who are best equipped to convert them into innovative outcomes.
Ideation Selection Diffusion Exploitation
been hired initially for their expertise in a particular
field, over the years they have evolved into general-
ists whose knowledge and interests embrace
multiple areas. Indeed, connectors’ continuous in-
teractions with others contribute to their growing
knowledge base, making them even more influen-
tial in the innovation process. Thus, connectors
need the opportunity and resources to network;
involving these individuals in multiple projects
throughout the company enables them to build
their set of contacts faster and to become more ef-
fective dissemination hubs. Job rotation also enables
emerging connectors to be exposed to different
organizational functions as well as to the business
roles, processes and cultures associated with them.
ONA can also be of help to idea connectors by
allowing them to grasp if there are parts of the inter-
nal network to which their ties do not extend.
Knowing of such omissions, they can take the neces-
sary steps to remedy them. And because ONA
graphs may be similarly useful to others in the orga-
nization, they can be made intramurally public. In
one company we studied, management informed all
of the knowledge workers in its marketing and new-
product development divisions that ONA graphs
would be used for the sole purpose of helping them
build awareness and identify key decision makers
and subject-matter experts in both divisions. Work-
ers we talked to said they were initially apprehensive
about their names being displayed publicly, but
many found that the ability to recognize the innova-
tion brokers in the network (both in terms of
expertise and number of connections) had helped
them to recognize and implement ideas.
ONA surveys are now performed regularly at
the company as a periodic assessment. In addition,
social media collaboration platforms are increas-
ingly providing the ability to view the social graph
of any given group. For example, users identify who
they are “following” in the organization, and a map
is created and displayed in real time. Again, this
gives users the ability to discover others in the orga-
nization who potentially have influence in creating
and implementing ideas.
Invest in Innovation Brokers
Leaders need to recognize that there is far more to
open innovation than importing new ideas and
technologies into the organization. Promising ideas
will not mature into innovative outcomes unless
they reach the parts of the employee network that
have the expertise and influence to exploit them.
While advances in Web-based communication tech-
nologies have altered how external knowledge is
sourced and distributed, the role of the innovation
broker remains as critical as ever. When manage-
ment invests in the idea scout and the idea connector,
and in the relationships between them, it will be well
on its way to achieving open innovation success.
Eoin Whelan is a lecturer in information manage-
ment at the Kemmy Business School of the Uni-
versity of Limerick in Limerick, Ireland. Salvatore
Parise is an associate professor of information
systems at Babson College in Waltham, Massachu-
setts. Jasper de Valk is a consultant at VODW in
Leusden, the Netherlands. Rick Aalbers is a man-
ager at Deloitte Consulting in Amstelveen and
a researcher at the University of Groningen in
Groningen, the Netherlands. Comment on this
article at, or
contact the authors at
1. E. Whelan, R. Teigland, B. Donnellan and W. Golden,
“How Internet Technologies Impact Information Flows in
R&D: Reconsidering the Technological Gatekeeper,” R&D
Management 40, no. 4 (September 2010): 400-413.
2. An overview of the critical role of central connectors is
provided in S. Parise, R. Cross and T.H. Davenport, “Strat-
egies for Preventing a Knowledge-Loss Crisis,” MIT Sloan
Management Review 47, no. 4 (summer 2006): 31-38.
3. T.J. Allen, “Managing the Flow of Technology: Technol-
ogy Transfer and the Dissemination of Technological
Information Within the R&D Organization” (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1977).
4. H.W. Chesbrough, “Open Innovation: The New Imper-
ative for Creating and Profiting From Technology”
(Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press,
5. A.B. Hargadon, “How Breakthroughs Happen: The Sur-
prising Truth About How Companies Innovate” (Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Harvard Business Press, 2003).
6. P.H. Gray, S. Parise and B. Iyer, “Innovation Impacts
of Using Social Bookmarking Systems,” MIS Quarterly
35, no. 3 (September 2011): 629-643.
7. For a profile of Marissa Mayer and an assessment of
her role at Google, see “Managing Google’s Idea Fac-
tory,” BusinessWeek, Oct. 3, 2005.
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... From a customer-dominant logic perspective, understanding how social media obtains maximum benefits is still a research gap. The literature attributes this research gap to a combination of factors such as cost, time and lack of top management knowledge, unproven success metrics, and the company's perceived loss of control (Whelan, et al., 2011). Because of a number of technology-related challenges, firms are slow in adopting social media as a strategy to leverage business opportunities (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). ...
... Social media have changed the classic business dynamics. Through more efficient communication means, such as weblogs, social networks, social bookmarking sites, wikis, and virtual worlds (Curran & Lennon, 2011), social media facilitate promotion among dispersed individuals with seemingly, marginal concerns (Rodriguez, Peterson, & Krishnan, 2012), they foster mutual enrichment through conversation, exchange, and participation (Whelan et al., 2011) and they reduce transaction and coordination costs. In addition, social media platforms allow salespeople to coordinate internal value-creating functions and deliver superior value in customer relationships (Bharadwaj, 2000;Kaplan & Haenlien, 2009). ...
Social media platforms have become a major forum for consumers to interact with firms and other individuals. Drawing on both the customer-dominant logic and the theory of planned behavior, the present chapter aims to advance understanding and encourage research on the variables that drive consumers' online purchase intention. Al though there is a general agreement in recognizing the importance of social media platforms as a source of information about consumer behavior, a complete theorization of the variables that affect the relation between behavioral intention and online purchase intention is still lacking. The proposed theoretical model is an extension of the theory of planned behavior and incorporates trust and electronic word-of-mouth communication as part of the customers' online purchase intention. Finally, the theoretical and managerial implications are further discussed.
... The top management should identify such enthusiastic employees who can work as innovation brokers for ideation, R&D and commercialisation of new ideas. Despite the developments in information and communication technologies, the role of innovation brokers remains critical in terms of how external knowledge is sourced and processed (Whelan et al., 2011). ...
Purpose COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an existential crisis amongst the companies, communities, organisations and institutions across the globe. People are facing unusual scenarios characterized by prolonged lockdowns, changes in the work from home compulsions, job losses, disruptions in the supply-chain networks, the slowdown in economies, scarcity of essential commodities and unavailability of medical services due to burgeoning numbers of positive cases with COVID-19. Death rates due to COVID-19 are alarmingly high, which complicate matters all the more. The purpose of this paper is to explore how open innovation can enable the suffering communities overcome the crisis of such magnitude. Design/methodology/approach This paper is based on general understanding and academic insight emerging out of the millennial crisis like COVID-19 that the author witnessed with close quarters. Findings The people’s suffering due to COVID-19 pandemic is terrific, almost unparalleled in the history of civilisation. However, the pandemic has also galvanised the people all over the world to come together and work towards collaborative problem solving and open innovation. As such, COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented situation which warrants extra-ordinary responses. The crisis has inadvertently made room for open innovation so that human miseries can be successfully mitigated by leveraging collective wisdom and traditional knowledge of the communities who are more than willing today to collaborate and make a difference in the solutions space in true sense. Originality/value This paper provides fresh insights on the rationale and efficacy of open innovations in overcoming the crisis like a pandemic. Companies across the globe have also come forward to work together with anyone, including their competitors, to explore immediate and practical solutions to the problems caused by COVID-19. The paper also provides a framework of developing as well as strengthening an ecosystem for open innovations in the world inflicted by unique civilizational crisis. The only way to get out of the current mess is to join hands for collaborations and collectively find innovative solutions to the issues plaguing humanity today.
... To accomplish this, the boundary spanner should be able to comprehend or adopt the institutional logics held by the collaborating entities in the organization's environment so that their own rules, norms, and routines match those of the collaborating entities. Simultaneously, the boundary spanner should be able to reach out to others effectively, bridging both formal and informal institutional divides in the process [41]. The roles of the boundary spanners and their ability to deal with the resistance caused by the existence of conflicting institutional logics are crucial to the success of the transformation process of companies in general and energy network companies navigating energy transitions specifically. ...
Full-text available
Energy network companies play a vital role in energy transitions. The transformational ability of these companies influences the process of energy transitions and the effectiveness of policies in this domain. This study shows the need for managers of network companies as well as scholars and policy makers operating in the midst of energy transitions to acknowledge the importance and value of boundary spanners in improving the transformation ability of these companies to play their role in facilitating energy transitions. Evidence comes from an in-depth analysis of an energy network company in the Netherlands. Our findings show that the transformation ability of energy network companies depends on various instances of boundary spanning as these organizations address differing or conflicting intra- and inter-organizational institutional logics when contributing to an energy transition. In the context of energy transitions, inter-organizational boundary spanning generally demands more resources and attention than the spanning of intra-organizational boundaries. Additionally, intra-organizational boundaries affect inter-organizational relationships, particularly in the policy arena. Our findings indicate that to carry out the type of institutional change that an energy transition requires, more attention and resources should be dedicated to intra-organizational boundary spanning, even as the need to connect external stakeholders increases.
UNITARY DEVELOPMENTAL THEORY AND ORGANIZATION DEVELOPMENT, VOL. 2: A MODEL OF DEVELOPMENTAL LEARNING FOR CHANGE, AGILITY AND RESILIENCE Myles Sweeney BA (Psychol.), MBS (Finance), PH.D (Business & Economic Psychol.) To all Developmentalists, the failure rates for Developmental Interventions across the paradigms of Psychology, Organizational Science and Economics that range from 75% to 100% and verified beyond doubt for organizations in five dense pages in Managing Change by Burnes (2017, x-xiv), should be truly shocking; and while alarming in their own right, they also signal a fundamentally paradigmatic problem that is acknowledged across the board, e.g., in Economics where the leading Developmentalist Jeffrey Sachs refers to the paucity of the models of human-nature available to it, and on which Economics is actually based. Furthermore, across each domain, the same fundamental remedy has been prescribed – i.e., “Learning”, whether it is as Learning Life, Learning Organization, Learning Region, Learning Economy or more recently by Nobel Economist Joe Stiglitz, Learning Society which he even refers to as the only viable Government strategy. However, even though there is such external demand – as well as internal demand from prominent Psychologists such as Dan McAdams who have called for an integration of the theories from various schools to generate a normative model of personality and developmental learning – no such model has been devised – until now! UDT is a model that not only answers the need in Psychology, but is equally valid and operationalizable across each of these paradigms, i.e., for developmental analysis and intervention for people, organizations, societies and economic systems such as nations when each are defined as Micro-, Meso- and Macro- Socio-Economic Systems as well as sub-systems such as Teams or Regions. The modeling for each of the three levels of system is presented in four different volumes with Vol. 1 dedicated to the Psychology behind the model and what it brings to the discipline in practice; Vol. 2 shows how its application to Organization Development advances prevailing practice; Vol. 3 addresses Societal systems such as Family, Education and Justice; and Vol. 4 does the same for Macro-Economic Development. The model comprises a sequence of Developmental Phases through which humans naturally learn developmentally, and these phases correspond with – but also complete – existing models, whether that learning is the natural development of a young person or a developmental intervention in an organization. The model also shows how learning stalls in well-established patterns of corresponding Habituation Stages such as Groupthink in organizations which corresponds to Identification Habituation for individuals growing up within restrictive parameters of a parent’s identity. These Phases are grouped into seven Levels and from Immaturity to Maturity, they are called Inversion, Critical, Equilibrial, Operational, Complexity, Creativity and Leadership. The ultimate Level is divided into the Phases of Integrative Leadership and finally Regenerative Leadership which encompasses the ultimate expression of Maturity which is the Regenerative Eco-System whether referring to a family with that Level of parenting or an organization that seamlessly and without friction facilitates Spin-Off Enterprises, M&As, etc. Along these Phases, Construct Capabilities that are significant to a system’s purpose can be assessed, and development occurs prescriptively along these Capabilities. Failure rates are shown to be either due to interventions being overpitched relative to the previously undiagnosable Learning Level/Change-Capacity of the system, or through missing any of the Phases. UDT diagnosis optimizes Traction for interventions which also gain Sustainability from the normatively prescribed Phases. Such methodology can be used in stand-alone interventions, or to guide and offer structure to post-modern approaches such as “Dialogue” methodologies. Construct Validity is shown in the degree to which UDT corresponds with modelling from across schools such as Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, Cognitive Psychology, and Humanist Psychology and also developmental modelling across Organizational Science and Economics. For example, in Psychology, uniquely, the three Stages of Level (1) correspond to DSM-5’s three Clusters of Personality-Disorders and adds value to understanding them. More importantly for OD, it is shown how this Level of Habituated Mindset/Culture is always a permanent drag on development in a process called Inversion that also finds common ground with established theory, and is very clearly observable in the demise of organizations, and the only defence is the internal processes of Regenerative Leadership which cyclically refreshes the developmental process for Capabilities. Other issues that are elaborated include Linear, Lateral and Integrative Mindset/Culture with each associated with different Phases of Development and Habituation patterns along the hierarchy. Newly understood is the fact that all human systems are existentially either Linear or Lateral and must build Integrative capacity as well as remaining aware of their underlying biases. While Linearity brings positives such as Purpose and Discipline, its negatives include features such as 1-Dimensionalism, Exclusive Goal Focus, Command and Control, and Red Tape across the Levels such as Self-Destructive Exploitation (1a), Autocracy (2a), Silos (2b), and finally, Bureaucracy (4b) which is the highest Level of Maturity available to Linear-based Culture, which is averse to Change and Creativity. Laterality has strengths related to Change, Social Conscience and Creativity, but is associated with deficits such as Neurotic obstruction of Goal achievement (1b), Paralysis by Analysis (1c), Chronic Inclusiveness (3), Over-Connectedness (5) and Creativity without market connectedness (6). Most significantly, Culture which is regularly cited as the main intrinsic reason for OD/CM failure and has only been so poorly understood as, e.g., “the way we do things around here” is newly defined in terms of Habituated Stages which correspond to those Cultures described in the most advanced modeling on the subject, but of course, as with all Construct Correspondence, the UDT model fills in gaps and offers a complete and operationalizable solution to the Culture problem. This line of research also critically shows that the UDT Phases are positively correlated with Returns and Productivity for organizations and nations alike. This also suggests that Culture Change which typically focuses on personal issues like Values, Assumptions, Beliefs, becomes another normative praxis-based OD intervention focusing on maturing Capabilities. UDT similarly transforms the concept of Agility which is shown as its highest three Levels. A a case study of an exemplar Agile Company is examined in detail to show how the organization’s Philosophy, Growth Patterns and prevailing functionalities map onto essential elements of the UDT modeling which ultimately offers a methodology to achieve such Agility for all organizations through their own planning, effort and intrinsic progression rather than trying to simply copy elements of such Complexity. Only 22% of organizations reach these Levels which average 30% premium, but a critical fundamental insight is the finding that systems functioning in the non-Agile Division of the Model (i.e., 78% of organizations) have limited intrinsic Integrative capacity and therefore must begin every CM/OD intervention at the beginning of the normative process rather than use a simple Next-Step strategy which is the typical prevailing approach. It is also shown how the UDT diagnosis can predict Resilience and how its developmental process builds the espoused combination with increased Agility whereby Resilience progresses from planned responses through the Phases to a capacity at Level 7 for an organization to re-invent itself as required in the face of adversity, and surely, this is the key lesson about Resilience from the Covid Pandemic. Case studies are offered to show how the UDT modeling of maturation and inversion corresponds with historical examples of both successful growth and degradation, as well as good and bad interventions. For organizations, the model is used in 3 ways: as a Discussion Tool or simple Catalyst for change; as a process of discrete Change Management; and as a more systemic diagnostic-and-developmental intervention for e.g., Team Development, Organization Development, Digital Transformation, M&A Integration, etc.; and examples are offered where the model has been successfully used for each of the three levels of intervention.
Software development requires software developers to share knowledge and solve problems together. Although researchers have considered the business and technical knowledge germane to performing software development tasks, empirical studies investigating business and technical advice networks on problem-solving competence is scarce. Using social network theory, we argue that software developers must be embedded for knowledge brokering within and across business and technical advice connectedness for improving problem-solving competence. Moreover we argue that contact quality matters in increasing or decreasing individual problem-solving competence. We present data collected via an online survey from 153 respondents in a professional software organisation. Our findings suggest that software developers who engage in knowledge brokering in business and technical advice connectedness will increase problem-solving competence in the software development effort. Our findings also reveal no significant effect of contact quality between these advice networks and problem-solving competence. We discuss our findings’ implications for theory and practice.
Conceptually drawing on network theory as its theoretical lens, this study examines two prime notions of network configuration of commercial expeditions. Exploring the role of both structural holes and network closure as indicators of team configuration for those venturing out in such extreme adventure, this study clarifies the impact of social structures, network closure, and structural holes in particular on performance outcomes in the context of expedition mountaineering. Presence and bridging of structural holes did turn out to be a significant predictor for the success or failure of an expedition. The findings show network closure to significantly influence the performance of mountaineering teams that make for a successful ascent. The capacity to span structural holes, commonly portrayed as serving as an eye-opener for options otherwise not found, does not appear to assist teams that make for successful ascents, however.
Full-text available
Knowledge and innovation are two inseparable topics in the literature on knowledge management or innovation. Most often, when scholars write about knowledge management, they refer to innovation as the key objective. Some argue that using the knowledge available beyond a firm’s boundaries (open innovation) leads to increased innovativeness, while others talk of the knowledge-creating firm. However, current literature provides us with limited insights on how the innovation team deals with externally developed knowledge or how it comes into the innovation creation process. Managing teamwork innovation endeavours in technology development is challenging since the outcome is often uncertain as well as inputs along that path. This paper attempts to open the backbox of open innovation and suggests that innovating teams entwine externally developed knowledge through the process of dealing with not-knowing.
Conference Paper
What do companies learn from inter-organizational innovation? To answer this question, organizations and researchers have focused on planned objectives and final outcomes, and from this perspective it may seem that many inter-organizational innovation projects have been labelled as failures because they were unable to reach the planned objectives. The focus on final outcomes assumes that knowledge is built by individuals that deliberately engage in purposeful knowledge creating activities where knowledge is based on prior plans that are carried out to realize the desired outcome. However, in complex innovations where problems are ill-defined (which is often the case in inter-organizational R&D projects), focusing on final outcomes overlooks other important learnings that emerge during the innovation process. Inspired by Chia and Holt (2006), we argue that underneath the intentional knowledge building mode there is a more subtle ‘dwelling’ mode of knowledge creation where intent is immanent in adaptive action and where knowledge emerges in a non-deliberate way in everyday practices (Chia and Holt, 2006). To better understand the non-deliberate emergence of knowledge we apply a serendipity lens (Yaqub, 2018), suggesting that innovation and new knowledge creation can emerge as accidental and unrelated side effects in collaborative processes leading to unexpected and beneficial discoveries. To investigate this, we engaged in a 3-year process study of an inter-organizational R&D project in the pharmaceutical industry. During our (still ongoing) data collection we observed a high level of enthusiasm by the participants in the R&D consortia, even though no planned outcomes were achieved. This triggered us to further examine the emergent knowledge ‘side effects’; the unplanned or apparently unrelated knowledge discoveries that emerged during everyday practices. In our analysis, we found several instances of distributed serendipitous learning (Garud et al., 2018) and relate them to organizational features (organizational setup, future-oriented mindset, sustained involvement, and heterogeneity in participants) that appeared to foster knowledge transfer from the inter-organizational settings to the company. Our study contributes to prior research on the roles and practices in knowledge absorption from inter-organizational innovation activities (Sjödin et al., 2018; Ter Wal et al., 2017; Whelan et al., 2011) and to the organizational serendipity literature (Garud et al. 2018, Yaqub, 2018, Cunha et al., 2010).
Full-text available
Departing employees leave with more than what they know; they also take with them critical knowledge about who they know. That information needs to be a part of any knowledge-retention strategy
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Previous studies have firmly established the technological gatekeeper to be a key node in the innovation process – acquiring, translating, and disseminating external information throughout the R&D unit. However, the gatekeeper concept has received modest attention in recent times. We argue that the concept needs to be re-examined in light of the recent advances in Internet technologies that have dramatically altered how knowledge workers source and share their information. Drawing on social network analysis and interview evidence from a medical devices R&D group, we find that the gatekeeper role is still vital, but no longer needs to be performed by a single individual. Instead, the modern R&D group can keep abreast of the latest technological advances through a combination of Internet-enabled internal and external communication specialists. This study makes a number of important contributions. The gatekeeper theory is extended through the development of an updated conceptual framework. We also discuss the practical implications of our findings and advise R&D managers on how to organise resources to maximise optimal information flows.
The original edition of this book summarized more than a decade of work on communications flow in science and engineering organizations, showing how human and organizational systems could be restructured to bring about improved productivity and better person-to-person contact. While many studies have been done since then, few of them invalidate the general conclusions and recommendations Allen offers. In a new preface he points out - new developments, noting areas that need some modification, elaboration, or extension, and directing readers to the appropriate journal articles where the findings, are reported. The first three chapters provide an overview of the communication system in technology, present the author's research methods, and describe differences in the career paths and goals of engineers and scientists that cause special problems for organizations. The book then discusses how technological information is acquired by the R & D organization, shows how critical technical communication within the laboratory is for R & D performance, and originates the idea of the "gatekeeper," the person who links his or her organization to the world at large. Concluding chapters take up the influence of formal and informal organization and of architecture and office layouts on communication. Many of these ideas have been successfully incorporated by architects and managers in the design of new R & D facilities and complexes.
Many organizational innovations can be explained by the movement of ideas and information from one social context to another, "from where they are known to where they are not" (Hargadon 2002, p. 41). A relatively new technology, social bookmarking, is increasingly being used in many organizations (McAfee 2006), and may enhance employee innovativeness by providing a new, socially mediated channel for discovering information. Users of such systems create publicly viewable lists of bookmarks (each being a hyperlink to an information resource) and often assign searchable keywords ("tags") to these bookmarks. We explore two different perspectives on how accessing others' bookmarks could enhance how innovative an individual is at work. First, we develop two hypotheses around the idea that quantity may be a proxy for diversity, following a well established literature that holds that the more information obtained and the larger the number of sources consulted, the higher the likelihood an individual will come across novel ideas. Next, we offer two hypotheses adapted from social network research that argue that the shape of the network of connections that is created when individuals access each others' bookmarks can reflect information novelty, and that individuals whose networks bridge more structural holes and have greater effective reach are likely to be more innovative. An analysis of bookmarking system use in a global professional services firm provides strong support for the social diversity of information sources as a predictor of employee innovativeness, but no support that the number of bookmarks accessed matters. By extending the social networks literature to theorize the functionalities offered by social bookmarking systems, this research establishes structural holes theory as a valuable lens through which social technologies may be understood.
For a profile of Marissa Mayer and an assessment of her role at Google, see "Managing Google's Idea Factory
For a profile of Marissa Mayer and an assessment of her role at Google, see "Managing Google's Idea Factory, " BusinessWeek, Oct. 3, 2005. Reprint 53108.
An overview of the critical role of central connectors is provided in S
  • R Parise
  • T H Cross
  • Davenport
An overview of the critical role of central connectors is provided in S. Parise, R. Cross and T.H. Davenport, "Strategies for Preventing a Knowledge-Loss Crisis, " MIT Sloan Management Review 47, no. 4 (summer 2006): 31-38.