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Catalyst Organizations as a New Organization Design for Innovation: The Case of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

Authors:
CATALYST ORGANIZATION
S AS A NEW ORGANIZATION
DESIGN FOR INNOVATION:
THE CASE OF HYPERLOOP TRANSPORTATION
TECHNOLOGIES
Journal:
Academy of Management Discoveries
Manuscript ID
AMD-2017-0041.R2
Manuscript Type:
Revision
Keywords:
Organizational Design, Structure and Control < Organizational &
Management Theory, Innovation < Performance & Effectiveness,
Organizational Design < Strategy Implementation
Abstract:
The crucial contingencies surrounding organization design for innovation
are experiencing drastic shifts. First, environmental uncertainty is rising
with the increasingly connected nature of innovation. Second, the internet
provides an almost costless supply of external knowledge. Current
organization design theory does not provide adequate frames for studying
organizations attempting to simultaneously leverage shifts of uncertainty
and the costless supply of external knowledge. In the process of
qualitatively examining one such organization – the crowd-based
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT) – we find that HTT’s
design does not fit existing design schema. We label this new design form
a “catalyst” organization, clarifying how HTT’s design challenges existing
organization design principles while simultaneously showing researchers a
way forward to new theorizing. We derive implications for theories of
organization design, exploration, and online knowledge-creating
communities.
Academy of Management Discoveries
Copyright 2018 by Academy of Management.
CATALYST ORGANIZATIONS AS A
NEW ORGANIZATION DESIGN FOR INNOVATION:
THE CASE OF HYPERLOOP TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGIES
ANN MAJCHRZAK
University of Southern California
Marshall School of Business
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1421
USA
Tel: +1-213-740-4023
e-mail: majchrza@usc.edu
DAVID K. REETZ
Technische Universität München
TUM School of Management
80333 Munich
Germany
Tel: +49-89-289-52803
e-mail: david.reetz@tum.de
TERRI L. GRIFFITH
Santa Clara University
Leavey School of Business
Lucas Hall
Santa Clara, CA 95053
USA
Tel: +1-408-256-3141
e-mail: t@terriGriffith.com
OLIVER ALEXY
Technische Universität München
TUM School of Management
80333 Munich
Germany
Tel: +49-89-289-52803
e-mail: o.alexy@tum.de
Acknowledgements
We thank Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. for their willingness to engage in
this research. The first and second authors are HTT contributors and receive small amounts of
equity compensation from that role. Earlier versions of this manuscript have greatly benefitted
from the feedback of conference participants at the 2016 Open and User Innovation Conference
and Michael Tushman. All remaining errors are of course our own.
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CATALYST ORGANIZATIONS AS A
NEW ORGANIZATION DESIGN FOR INNOVATION:
THE CASE OF HYPERLOOP TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGIES
ABSTRACT
The crucial contingencies surrounding organization design for innovation are experiencing
drastic shifts. First, environmental uncertainty is rising with the increasingly connected nature of
innovation. Second, the internet provides an almost costless supply of external knowledge.
Current organization design theory does not provide adequate frames for studying organizations
attempting to simultaneously leverage shifts of uncertainty and the costless supply of external
knowledge. In the process of qualitatively examining one such organization – the crowd-based
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT) – we find that HTT’s design does not fit
existing design schema. We label this new design form a “catalyst” organization, clarifying how
HTT’s design challenges existing organization design principles while simultaneously showing
researchers a way forward to new theorizing. We derive implications for theories of organization
design, exploration, and online knowledge-creating communities.
Keywords: innovation, crowds, organization design, gig economy, environmental uncertainty
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CATALYST ORGANIZATIONS AS A
NEW ORGANIZATION DESIGN FOR INNOVATION:
THE CASE OF HYPERLOOP TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGIES
The 21
st
century has brought paradigm shifts in organization design for innovation. Caused
by the spread of the internet and globalization, firms compete on an innovation landscape
characterized by 1) increasing environmental uncertainty with interdependencies of
technological developments (requiring continuous and coordinated innovation in technology,
strategy, and product; Santos & Eisenhardt, 2009); and 2) near-zero information exchange costs
(Altman, Nagle, & Tushman, 2015) creating an almost costless supply of external knowledge
available to the firm. This supply of external knowledge comes, not simply as information
transmitted across various media and formats, but in the form of people sharing their knowledge
and labor with the firm. A wealth of potential part-time contributors are available through
internet-enabled coordination tools ranging from gig-economy business platforms (e.g.,
Freelancer.com, UpWork) to interest-based community forums such as reddit and Digg. This
supply of knowledge, combined with environmental uncertainty, creates a ‘perfect storm’ that
affects the way we can or should design innovating organizations.
To identify what this may imply for our theorizing, we study how Hyperloop Transportation
Technologies, Inc. (HTT) created an organization design which catalyzes the supply of external
knowledge as the exclusive source of resources the firm uses. HTT’s mission is to change the
nature of public transportation from largely being slow, expensive, financially insolvent and
environmentally unsustainable to a system which is not only financially solvent, but so fast,
inexpensive, and enriching that people will decouple where they work, play, and live. Achieving
this vision involves the development of a slew of complex technologies, not the least of which is
the hyperloop -- a pod magnetically levitated within a vacuum tube able to cost-efficiently travel
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at speeds up to 700 mph (see Figure 1 for artists’ renderings).
--------Insert Figure 1 About Here--------
What makes HTT unique from its competitors (and most of the received organizational
design literature) is not just its expansive vision, but the organization design it uses to execute on
its vision. At the moment, HTT has fewer than 12 employees, though the CEO notes that this
number is fluid. Instead, it is almost entirely staffed by over 800 contributing professionals
distributed around the world. They exchange their as-needed part-time work hours for stock
options. Another group of over 50,000 individuals on various social media sites provide
opportunities for business development. The 800 contributors are not tangential actors as would
be used by organizations outsourcing to Upwork or other gig economy platforms (e.g., Barley,
Bechky, & Milliken, 2017), or in new organizational forms such as Oticon (Foss, 2003), but are
actors pursuing core strategic activities such as business development, partnership agreements,
basic R&D, lobbying public officials, marketing, human resource activities such as onboarding,
in-field feasibility analyses, and hardware and supply acquisition.
As with many of these emerging organization designs (Fjeldstad, et al., 2012; Gulati,
Puranam, & Tushman, 2012; Puranam, et al., 2014), HTT, at its foundation, is designed as would
be expected: contributors are self-organizing actors sharing knowledge through a commons with
the multi-actor collaboration enabled with “protocols, processes, and infrastructures” (Fjeldstad,
et al.: 739). However, such foundational characteristics fail to capture important nuances for how
HTT uses environmental uncertainties and knowledge supply to pursue its mission. For example,
even though actors are to some extent self-organizing some aspects of their organization, there
are other aspects that are not self-organized in order to rapidly proceed with opportunities as they
surface. Instead of laterally coordinating, as described for many of the new organizational forms
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(Fjeldstad et al., 2012; Dahlander & O’Mahony, 2011; Faraj et al., 2011), HTT is organized to
allow coordination hierarchically, bottom-up, layered, as well as laterally. Instead of
decomposing tasks as is commonly seen even among new organizational forms (Puranam et al.,
2014; Baldwin & Clark, 2006; MacCormack, Rusnak, & Baldwin, 2006), HTT does not. Instead
of openly sharing projects for external contributors to join, as is commonly done among such
new organizational forms as Wikipedia and open source software, as well as private
organizations such as Intel, Accenture, or Dell (Fjeldstad et al., 2012; Bayus, 2012), HTT does
not. Instead of recruiting self-organizing actors, as has been described for these new
organizational forms (Fjeldstad et al., 2012), HTT leverages actors of all types, including those
not particularly self-organizing.
Therefore, we offer HTT as an additional novel form of organizing using the criteria for
novelty proposed by Puranam and colleagues (2014). HTT solves the “universal” challenges of
organizing (task division, task allocation, reward distribution, information flows, and exception
handling) in new ways – but in a way so intermingled, dynamic, and with different foci as to
demand new theory. HTT is not so much a new form of organizing built out of “novel bundles of
old solutions” (Puranam et al., 2014: 173), but a new form of organizing enabled by an almost
costless supply of external knowledge. This catalyst organizational form is structurally different
from a collaborative community (e.g., Fjeldstad et al., 2012), or similar organization forms
previously hailed as novel (see Puranam et al., 2014).
The novelty of HTT’s catalyst organization design may be most easily understood when
described as a passion-driven, dynamic organization which uses an almost unlimited availability
of specialized knowledge to create and capture an almost unlimited supply of unanticipatable
opportunities. This new organizational form (1) uses non-modular task division and allocation to
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create limitless options, and (2) integrates work in a manner that allows for continuous
exploration even in the face of the need to produce. Its opportunity orientation transcends the
actor-orientation of other new organizational forms (Fjeldstad et al., 2012) by allowing
contributors throughout the system to match opportunities to available resources in a manner in
which the matching is not simply of different types of skills, but also in different levels of
commitment, different objects of passion, and non-overlapping relational networks. The
organization has those committed and those less committed, with the most committed (such as
the CEO, “hyperleaders,” Chairman of the Board, Director of Operations) leading the charge.
Instead of standardized protocols, there are “guardrails” which allow individuals substantial
discretion within broad direction. Instead of basing coordination on dynamic lateral
relationships, HTT uses multiple different coordination mechanisms at once.
Despite these differences from common organizational design wisdom, HTT is successful
thus far. Within the first 34 months of its existence, HTT had 25 design patents pending; 49
corporate partners with agreements in United States, Slovakia, the United Arab Emirates,
Indonesia, India, South Korea, and France; booked $31.8M in cash investments, obtained $29M
in commitments and in-kind investments, received $22M in land rights; and had over 150,000
hours in development work provided by contributors in exchange for stock options. Compared to
their strongest competitor, HTT has been able to accomplish more with less expenditures. The
quality of the HTT hyperloop is meeting such safety, cost, and reliability targets that it is being
insured by the largest insurance company in the world.
How HTT has been able to accomplish this with fewer than 12 fulltime staff – of which nine
were hired only in the last year – is the focus of our research. Our initial look at HTT indicated
that its differentiation and integration organization design schemes were quite different from
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those described in hierarchical designs (March and Simon, 1958; Perrow, 1967; Thompson,
1967) as well as in collaborative communities (Fjeldstad et al., 2012). Therefore, our intention
here is to first describe the literature in terms of the pressures on traditional design characteristics
related to knowledge supply and environmental uncertainty, and how we would expect HTT to
be designed. Then we describe HTT’s organization design. Finally, in the discussion, we
summarize the elements of a catalyst organization.
Our summary argument from our examination of HTT is that, as organizations become
increasingly open to embracing uncertainty and low-cost external knowledge, organizational
design researchers will need to reconsider how differentiation and integration are conceptualized.
In these new catalyst forms of organizations, differentiation and integration give way to a
constant matching process in which projects, people, skills, and opportunities are morphed to fit
each other. The organization works because it focuses on evolving actionable objectives rather
than tasks, dialectical learning rather than integration, opportunity seizing from the bottom up
rather than exclusively top-down, and emergent and temporary roles aligned with varying layers
of commitment, instead of job titles. Managers may become just another temporary and
emergent role represented by those most willing to commit the time to broker, negotiate,
orchestrate and catalyze those individuals temporarily less committed.
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
Organization design is the process of designing roles, rules, and relationships that govern
any organizational activity (DeSantola & Gulati, 2017). To do so cohesively, any organization
design must address at least these fundamental challenges: 1) task division and allocation (jointly
referred to as the division of labor); and 2) reward provision (motivation), information provision
(coordination), and exception management—jointly referred to as the integration of effort
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(Galbraith, 1973; March & Simon 1958; Puranam, Alexy, & Reitzig, 2014).
Research has shown increasing environmental uncertainty (Burns & Stalker,1961; Grandori,
2010; Lawrence & Lorsch, 1967) adds complexity to the division of labor and integration of
effort. In addition, some have suggested that decreasing information costs will also affect these
two fundamental challenges (Altman et al., 2015; Chesbrough, 2003; Zittrain, 2006). In the
presence of both a surplus of low-cost external knowledge and environmental uncertainty, there
are significant limitations in what is known. For example, despite a burgeoning literature on the
creation of radical, complex innovation through innovation ecosystems (Adner, 2012; Adner,
Oxley & Silverman, 2013), there is a still a paucity of work on how to design organizations that
would steer ecosystem creation under high uncertainty (Dattée, Alexy, & Autio, 2017; Le
Masson, Weil, & Hatchuel, 2009), in particular when it comes to incorporating opportunities
facilitated by increasing connectivity and decreasing costs of collaboration (Tilson; Lyytinen &
Sørensen, 2010; Yoo, Henfriedsson, & Lyytinen, 2010). Similarly, in the extensive literature on
project- and community-based approaches to radical innovation (Foss 2003; Foss & Dobrajska,
2015), organizational design is focused on increasing efficiency of coordination and resource
usage; yet, in a context of significant uncertainty and surplus of resources, efficiency may be less
important than effectively capturing opportunities.
Below we examine the literature on the effects of uncertain environments, then the effects of
low-cost knowledge, on integration and task division organization design choices. We then show
how we build on this research to suggest a series of analytic questions for our case study.
Effects of More Uncertain Environments on Organizational Design
Looking at work on organization design in high-uncertainty contexts, classic research
suggests organizations should create structures that are organic, adaptable, loosely-coupled, and
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ambidextrous (Burns & Stalker, 1961; Davis, Eisenhardt, & Bingham, 2009; Lawrence &
Lorsch, 1967; Thompson, 1967; Tushman & O’Reilly, 1996). Organizational actors are expected
to deliberately react to the changing environmental contingencies by rapidly changing to new
organizational forms (Rindova & Kotha, 2001; Romanelli, 1991), drawing on their dynamic
capabilities for change (Eisenhardt & Martin, 2000; Teece, Pisano, & Shuen, 1997).
Yet, as uncertainty and ambiguity of the environment increases, the precise nature of the
organic, loosely-coupled, and ambidextrous organization becomes increasingly indeterminable
(Cardinal, Kreutzer, & Miller, 2017; Dattée et al., 2017; Davis et al., 2009). Firms need to
continuously search for technological and market-related discoveries before arriving at
something that can be successfully commercialized. Any newly arriving piece of knowledge may
not only provide a new opportunity individually, but also contain novel information about how
all other existing pieces of knowledge are (to be) connected (Drazin & Van de Ven, 1985; Miller,
1987) as they cannot directly anticipate the composition of the eventual value proposition for the
market.
Moreover, scholars suggest that organization designs in such highly uncertain environments
need to foster broad and external exploration in order to discover all relevant problem aspects
and their interconnections, (Katila & Ahuja, 2002), drawing on techniques such as structural
ambidexterity (Lavie & Rosenkopf, 2006; Lavie, Stettner, & Tushman, 2010; Tushman &
O’Reilly, 1996) or open innovation (Chesbrough, 2003). “Incomplete” organizations (Garud et
al., 2008) are one design option for settings where the exploration is so continuous and extensive
that the “boundary between the entity being designed and the context for which it is being
designed” (Garud et al., 2008: 351) is neither clear nor stable. Such organizations, even when not
been labeled as incomplete, have neither defined membership boundaries (Etzion & Ferraro,
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2010) nor a statically defined purpose, but the discovery or emergence of said purpose may be
the initial goal of the organization (Tsoukas & Chia, 2002). One of the implications of such
uncertainty for organizational design may be one of rendering any a priori task division moot or
even counterproductive (Reetz & MacAulay, 2017; Sarasvathy, 2001).
An example is Dattée and colleagues’ (2017) description of ecosystem creation under
uncertainty, which they outline as an abductive process of discovery, rather than a priori
planning. Their argument is reminiscent of earlier work emphasizing the nature and importance
of design to tackle situations of high uncertainty (e.g., Dunne & Martin, 2006; Gruber, De Leon,
George, & Thompson, 2015; Simon, 1996). That work, which should still be considered an
emergent field of study (Garud, Gehman, & Kumaraswamy, 2011; Jelinek, Romme, & Boland,
2008), suggests that organization designs in high uncertainty environments should not
necessarily try to respond to uncertainty through planning, but rather enable the theorizing and
exploration of multiple possible trajectories, as well as constantly adapting as new knowledge is
discovered.
Effects of Low-Cost Knowledge Supply on Organizational Design
Resources are a natural limit to such broad explorations. It is in this context that the decrease
of information costs, which some even consider as zero given technological progress (Altman et
al., 2015), leads to an abundance of the availability of external knowledge. Decreasing
knowledge costs will not only allow the organization to explore more broadly for innovation, but
also to involve an increasing number of external contributors.
However, to ensure broad exploration with external contributors, a variety of research
streams, such as those on crowdsourcing (Afuah & Tucci, 2012), Wikipedia (Kane &
Ransbotham, 2016), open innovation (Dodgson, Gann, & Salter, 2006), and open source
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software (Howison & Crowston, 2014) suggest that the tasks carried out by external contributors
should be directed by the focal organization using a priori defined modularized tasks (also see
Altman et al., 2015; MacCormack, Rusnak & Baldwin, 2006). This allows external contributors
not only to perform tasks that are of the most utility to the focal organization; it also allows
external contributors to perform the tasks at will, through self-selection. The literatures on meta-
organizations (Gulati et al., 2012), supplier networks (Dyer, 1996), and distributed innovation
communities (Bogers & West, 2012; Lakhani & Panetta, 2007) similarly depict the evolution of
such organizations as dependent on a central hierarchy to control the task structure.
Hence, at the system level, the organization controls the nature of the innovation. Indeed, we
would argue that this logic underlies many crowd-based approaches currently discussed in the
literature, in which surprisingly traditional organization designs (see also Puranam et al., 2014)
are implemented to fulfill the purpose of the organization. Although this literature inspires the
possibility of new organizational forms with less centralized control, the precise nature of how
control is maintained in an environment of an abundance of external knowledge supply needs
further development (Cardinal et al., 2017).
We suggest that, if the organization can involve contributors and their knowledge and
resources at zero cost, there is an advantage to the organization to engage an almost limitless
supply in a variety of explorative efforts (Afuah & Tucci 2012; Argote & Greve 2007; Altman et
al., 2015). If during exploration the organization discovers new knowledge that requires a change
in course or structure, reliance on external contributors for innovation should allow for faster
response compared to a monolithic organization (e.g., Adner, 2012; Gawer; 2014). As such,
integration across all the various explorations in the organization may be less important.
In sum, shifting our focus to contexts of significant environmental uncertainty with low-cost
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knowledge supply suggests that an effective organization design may be one which does not
modularize its tasks for external contributors. Moreover, how the organization integrates – if it
even tries – these various efforts at exploration is not clear. What would task division look like if
there was no a priori definition by the organization, and how would task allocation operate if
there was no menu from which potential contributors would choose? How could such an
organization ensure that contributors would be motivated, coordinated, and directed? In short,
what would be an appropriate configuration of design choices for an organization that would
seek to leverage a contributor community? Would there be new interdependencies or
complementarities across design elements (Puranam et al., 2014; Fjeldstad, Snow, Miles, &
Lettl, 2012), and what insights would these suggest for extant theories of organization and
innovation? These are the analytic questions we turn to next.
DATA AND METHODS
HTT exemplifies an organization leveraging near-zero information costs within an
environment of high uncertainty, trying to develop a radically new technological and market
solution by purposively drawing on external contributors to explore broadly and deeply. To our
knowledge, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT) is the first commercial, large-
scale organization involved in co-creating an entirely new industry ecosystem and technology
developments with the involvement of thousands of contributors changing the future of
transportation. We selected HTT purposefully because of this vast ambition.
Background on Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT)
The transportation industry is broken [co-founder, Dirk Ahlborn].
There is no profitable mass transport system using available real estate today that is
human-centric, giving customers a rich humanistic experience [co-founder Bibop Gresta]
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Transportation is overcrowded, overloaded, overwhelmed [Chief Marketing Officer, Rob
Miller]
The hyperloop is one answer to the transportation industry’s woes but only if it is made
to be fast, safe, beautiful, net energy positive, and financially profitable, and the only way
to do that is to use existing technology when possible, the brightest and best minds to fill
in the technology gaps, and the willingness of thousands of people and organizations to
partner in order to help us change the worlds of insurance, finance, government
regulations, and customer experience. [Dirk Ahlborn]
HTT was inspired in 2013 by an Elon Musk white paper reminding the world of the
technology for a hyperloop, that it was time for the world to move forward with hyperloop
transportation, and Elon saying he was too busy to pursue it himself (more recently, one of
Musk’s firms, The Boring Company, is signaling that it might take up the hyperloop challenge,
Gibbs, 2017). A hyperloop refers to a fully enclosed vacuum tube with a levitated capsule
running inside the tube at up to 700 mph; the lack of air reduces the amount of energy needed to
move the capsule forward.
Shortly after the release of the white paper, HTT co-founder Dirk Ahlborn posted a project
on jumpstartfund.com, a community of entrepreneurs, asking
…our community if they thought we should be working on the [hyperloop] project. The
response was overwhelming. Many people said we should definitely do it, but there was
another button on that response page, one which said, ‘I would like to do this.’ The
overwhelming majority of people clicked that button as well. We then asked what the
company should be called and that is how the company started. [co-founder, Dirk
Ahlborn]
HTT’s co-founders selected a core group of about 100 top engineering and aerodynamics
specialists from around the world based on applications submitted on jumpstartfund.com. The
specialists spent some of their time not working on their day jobs to look at the technology side
of hyperloop in exchange for becoming stakeholders in the company. The specialists concluded
that the building of a hyperloop was possible by integrating existing technology, but that further
research and development would be needed to make the hyperloop financially solvent and
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energy positive, and that substantial work would be needed to develop an ecosystem supporting
fast, cheap public transportation.
Ahlborn and co-founder Bibop Gresta accepted the challenge:
HTT would be a technology licensing company providing solutions that are technical,
marketing, and a series of tools to create a hyperloop. We are not going to build. We are
rarely going to be involved directly in the design-and-build. We will be a provider of
solutions in R&D and project management in the implementation of the project. Our
project management approach will be a local approach with a global mind; nation by
nation we will identify local partners. [Gresta]
Together they developed a business model for the company which was to engage the world
in a movement of passionate engineers, designers, programmers, lawyers, marketers,
videographers, people with connections to government agencies, people with ideas, research and
development labs, universities, engineering firms and more.
Our model is the unique opportunity of contribution…We have $60M in assets through
work, through land, through pumps, travel around the world, companies paying us to
hear us speak which is financing our business development; if we need a simulator we
use the university; if we need a wind chamber, we have 11 available to us. We are trying
to use resources that exist instead of creating new ones. It’s for improving this planet. It’s
not philosophical and hippie. We are building this hyperloop in a different way for the
solution of humanity. Our model implies coopetition with external partners. If we are
successful we open a new path. We can inspire others to embrace and dig into this.
[Gresta]
In their vision, this notion of involving others in changing the world of transportation is not
only inspiring but essential.
“I looked at why 100’s of prior ‘hyperloop-like’ projects have failed. They failed because
they were dependent on one company of one person. So, we need to build a movement not
dependent on a single person.” [Ahlborn]
As of December 2017, HTT’s organization consists of approximately 800 individuals, some
of which are working independently in exchange for stock options and others are working with
44 industry-leading companies who are partnering in exchange for stock options. There are
minimal cash transfers. The work is primarily virtual (except when conducting in-field feasibility
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tests), but takes advantage of in-person conversations when members of the executive board
travel to locations where external contributors and partners reside.
The core of HTT are the external contributors who have signed a contributor agreement with
a minimum 10 hour/week commitment in exchange for stock options. These contributors vary
broadly across professional disciplines including people from engineering (representing a wide
swath of industries and all subspecialties), project management, business development, human
resources, social media, videography, marketing, legal, financial, government relations, and
construction. While the contributors number 800 people, about 300 are actively working on
issues at any moment, conducting the work of preparing proposals, meeting customer
requirements, research and development, marketing, and management. Contributors are from all
over the world, doing their work typically in addition to their formal, more traditional, jobs.
Additionally, there is a broader set of thousands of contributors who come to HTT via social
media and who completely self-determine how much time they want to contribute and what they
want to contribute with no promise of stock options; these contributors have led to discovery of
new ideas, new knowledge, social media recognition, business opportunities, and designs.
Data Collection
In the tradition of engaged scholarship (Van de Ven, 2007), we combined an ethnography
with a series of interviews and private and public data on HTT. The first two authors joined HTT
for 18 months on a ten-hour per week basis and are assigned to the global operations group as
experts on virtual collaboration and crowdsourcing. At the point of their onboarding, HTT rolled
out an enterprise collaboration tool (Facebook @ Work, FB@W, rebranded by Facebook as
Workplace in 2016) for which they became administrators, as well as serving as the liaison
between engineering and global operations. This involved attending 80 engineering design and
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operations meetings. In addition, they conducted repeated semi-structured interviews with 15
team leaders and five other engineering team members, as well as seven interviews with the CEO
(five lasted an hour, one three hours, and one five hours). They used a structured interview guide
including questions about reasons why individuals were involved in HTT, status of work, and
issues of concern. Finally, the research team reviewed all 4,000 posts to the FB@W
collaboration site. Table 1 provides an overview of the data sources.
------------Insert Table 1 About Here----------------
Data Analysis
We started our analysis by examining HTT’s organization design. For guidance, we used the
literature on challenges of organization design – the challenges all organizations must address to
support their existence. Here, we found it useful initially to follow Puranam and colleagues’
(2014) classification of task division, task allocation, incentives/rewards, coordination, and
decision-making for exceptions (Table 2 includes a summary of this assessment). Drawing on
this framework as a lens, we tried to identify the design choices that allowed HTT to operate at
the fruitful intersection of addressing uncertainty by leveraging a contributor community. Other
relevant work, especially Fjeldstad et al. (2012), was integrated the further we moved into the
interpretation of the data.
Our intuition from early conversations about HTT was that HTT’s design seemed to be
different from those previously described organizations making use of crowd-based actors. We
elaborated this view through repeated discussions with HTT leadership, in which the first two
authors, based on their initial notes, inquired about features of HTT’s organization design. We
then compared these features, individually and as a set, with existing literature describing related
phenomena (as reflected in Table 2), similar to cross-case comparisons (Yin, 2014).
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-----------Insert Table 2 about here-----------------
To refine our understanding, and to follow good practice for qualitative work (Denzin &
Lincoln, 1998; Gioia, Corley, & Hamilton, 2013), the two authors involved with HTT discussed
their insights with the authors who were not. These discussions took place in person and
electronically, and facilitated by the iterative drafting and discussion of working papers
expressing preliminary findings. The team shared these drafts with HTT to ensure accuracy.
Proceeding in the above way, we became increasingly able to build bridges to existing
theory and enter a process of abductive reasoning (Mantere & Ketokivi, 2013; Peirce, 1878).
That is, we combined our increasingly refined observation of HTT with established logics of
organization design (as also described in our literature review) to derive a novel explanation of
how organizations may operate differently when leveraging high uncertainty by exploiting near-
zero information cost. We believe that the following offers the “best” explanation of the data, but
we also acknowledge that other scholars might look at the same data and find a different best
solution (Mantere & Ketokivi, 2013: 73). We look forward to other interpretations, but also offer
that our hybrid team (two authors involved with the organization and data collection, and two not
– as well as our editor and reviewers), helped in mitigating interpretive bias.
FINDINGS
We found that HTT’s organization design showed considerable overlap between the five
dimensions identified by Puranam and colleagues (2014). Accordingly, we collapsed the
dimensions into the classic two fundamental organizational design challenges of labor division
(i.e., task division and allocation) and integration of effort (i.e., information and reward
provision, to which we also add exception management). Below we describe the findings with
respect to the two aggregate dimensions, summarizing them in Table 3. To distinguish between
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data obtained from the sources and our interpretations, we have put data in single-spaced italics,
indicating the source or set of sources.
-----------------------------Insert Table 3 about here---------------------------
Division of Labor
There is an overwhelming amount of work that needs to be accomplished for HTT to
develop a financially and environmentally sustainable hyperloop-based transportation system.
The list of work, as compiled from a range of documents and interviews, includes:
Negotiating with governments and regulators to allow a “flying” device using magnetic
levitation and support initial costs of building one, as well as developing a new system of
regulations with governments since the hyperloop is neither a plane nor a train.
Developing a range of technologies such as the hyperloop itself to meet the specifications
of being locally maintainable, safe, customer-centric, componentized to fit with different
nation needs, and low-cost; developing complementary products such as special steel and
windows to absorb impact; developing algorithms such as those for engineering the best
routes for the hyperloop in any nation undertaking a feasibility study; and integrating
alternative sources of energy to minimize the costs of operating the hyperloop.
Developing organizational practices and information systems for managing a large
population of interested and contributing parties.
Encouraging societal acceptance of transport through a tube.
Developing alternatives for the “last mile” between the hyperloop station and final
destination.
Convincing an entire ecosystem of insurers, construction companies, and transportation
companies to collaborate and reuse for sustainability rather than design and develop
from scratch.
Developing and brokering licensing deals.
To execute on this work, a variety of organizational structures have been proposed over
time, with the latest shown in Figure 2. In this circular figure, the larger community of people
interested in the hyperloop provide the “talent pool” to staff “sprints” of short-duration. Sprints
are projects conducted within the purview of one or more specialty teams managed by “heads
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(also called hyperleaders) who are associated with one of six divisions in the company:
engineering, marketing, legal, operations, finance, and digital. There is a multi-person strategic
committee which generally does not engage in day-to-day activities, consisting of the CEO,
Chairman, and Chief of Global Operations.
-------------Insert Figure 2 about here -------------
There have been many conversations among HTT contributors about how all the work that
needs to be done should be divided into tasks. A variety of different approaches have been used
including the sprints described above, posting narrowly defined micro-tasks, announcements to
the community of broad sets of needs, and no announcements at all allowing community
members to do what they thought best. We outline below HTT’s labor division design in terms
of three insights: how tasks are designed and selected, how cross-task work is managed, and how
tasks are actually given to HTT from the external community.
How tasks are designed and selected. The current approach for those within the formal
contributor boundaries, where legal agreements have been signed and contributors are working
in exchange for stock options, is to design tasks and projects collaboratively. Tasks are
considered open-ended problems to be solved such that they require multiple perspectives, but
there is no agreement on the scope of a task. Some tasks are quite broadly scoped such as “CFD
(run some computational fluid dynamics analysis) while others are quite narrowly scoped such
as: “take a look at this beta software and let us know about the user interface.” About a year
ago, several agile software consultants became contributors, bringing a partnership with the
Trello agile software product, and offered to help teams keep track of their task lists more
effectively on a Trello board. One of the learnings shared by the consultants was that the
definition of a task differed to a great extent between the teams.
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Each team is responsible for its own board. Teams can setup the board any way they like
and they can change their board any way they like. In general, a board should be setup
with a prioritized backlog list on the far left which the team can use to pull tasks from. To
the right of the backlog list are usually a blocked list, an in-progress list and a completed
list. Note that teams can add lists as appropriate for them. During each team meeting it is
important that each task on the board is discussed. Tasks should flow across the board to
the completed list. If tasks are not flowing, they are blocked or no work is being done or
the tasks are too large to complete and need to be decomposed. Hope this helps.
[Hyperleader on FB@W]
Contributors are encouraged to collaboratively suggest new tasks for their own teams, either
on the Trello board or on FB@W, as well as tasks that could be done by contributors not on their
own team, and listed on FB@W. Examples from FB@W include:
Hey HTT..,we have an urgent video shoot at the Design Studio tomorrow. I need a few
able body folks to help me carry gear and help with general PA stuff. Please message
me ASAP.
To anyone in the crowd: There is a Facebook at Work API for the social graph. Can
anyone from this wonderful crowd of ours help us with this?
To the Energy storage team only, we need to identify potential partners for low-cost,
high-storage, and small batteries for energy storage.
For HTT, collaboratively suggesting or designing tasks means that once a suggestion has
been made, if someone is willing to respond to perform the task, then the task has been designed
and allocated! If the task takes more than 20 hours of someone’s time, then a “project” is created.
Example projects include: “Design the geometry of the capsule,” and “Develop a software
platform that creates routes from point A to point B with a variety of parameters specified.”
We were able to note several reasons why HTT evolved this approach to task division. First,
they found that narrowly defined micro-tasks often became obsolete within a matter of hours or
days in such a high-change environment. For example, a task of “having someone translate a
drawing into a 3-D CAD tool” changed when a new partner stepped in to offer a new 3D CAD
tool to use. Second, tasks that were too narrowly defined did not allow sufficient innovativeness
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to provide both value to HTT and sufficient responsibility for contributors to take the time to
review the quality of their own work:
When I tried to precisely tell a contributing partner how I wanted the video to look, it
came out in a way I didn’t like it. Then I found a different contributing partner who is
more creative and we collaborated about the storyboard and they provided some real
strong creative input and the marketing video is much better [Chief Marketing Officer]
Not standardizing the meaning, scope, and definition of tasks seems to allow for much more
flexibility about requests for needs to be filled by the crowd. For example, in response to the
interview question: “What are your engineering needs?” responses were quite varied:
specific skills (e.g., “ability to do dynamic flow analysis”),
actions (“people to input CAD models”), and
roles (e.g., “systems engineer”).
Moreover, this flexibility was embraced by the strategic committee since it allowed for the
creation of multiple competing projects! If contributors identified an approach to solving a
problem that was quite different from the approach being followed by an existing team, a new
team was created, competing against the existing team. This allowed for parallel exploration to
occur, leveraging both the abundant knowledge supply as well as the need to consider alternative
breakthroughs in an uncertain environment. Initially, contributors were taken aback by having
“to compete” within their own organization, but over time, the value of having multiple design
teams for various problems has proven itself as some approaches ended up providing a better
match to supplier and/or customer interests.
When announcements of new tasks are posted on FB@W, they are responded to extremely
quickly—often within an hour. For example, in the screenshot below (Figure 3), the original
request was made at 10:47am, with a response by 11AM!
----Insert Figure 3 about here ----
Page 21 of 56 Academy of Management Discoveries
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No one, even contributors assigned to a particular team, is directed to perform a task; the
tasks are just laid out (e.g., using a Trello board or FB@W or an email or a WhatsApp message)
and then contributors indicate their willingness to complete the task. Initially, contributors
assigned to a team were encouraged to only sign up for tasks within their own team. However,
that expectation has evolved so that both the executive team and hyperleaders no longer feel they
own the individual team members’ time. This enables any contributor to commit to any task that
is posted.
One consequence of allowing anyone to commit to any posted task is the surprises about
who commits to perform which tasks. For example, one member who originally joined HTT to
help teams adopt the agile development methodology, later contributed to engineering the
propulsion system. Why?
Because I am interested in reducing road blocks across the design and I thought I might
have something to contribute.
This openness to have work accomplished by unanticipated contributors is a prized aspect of
the catalyst nature of HTT. Hyperleaders and at least one member of each team are professional
specialists on the team’s topic (for example, the hyperleader for the capsule is someone who has
engineered fuselages for airplanes in the past and thus is extremely expert at designing capsules).
Consequently, if someone less expert on the topic is interested in joining the team, this is
welcomed. This diversity allows for the incorporation of new ideas and perspectives into the
design discussions, as illustrated in the example above with the agile development consultant
joining a propulsion system team.
This openness to pleasant surprises is particularly important given the interdependencies and
multi-dimensional aspects of the hyperloop technology and transportation ecosystem (e.g.,
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political, technical, geographic, social, regulatory, financial, as well as engineering, project
management, risk reduction, and construction). The executive team and hyperleaders have
increasingly supported the need for unplanned cross-fertilization across teams and specialties:
Every tiny change in one area has implications for other areas. For example, if change in
size of door, this has implications for vacuum team, pod team, interior design, electrical,
mechanical, etc. [report by contributor on interviews with hyperleaders]
Consequently, managing the interdependencies across tasks has become a significant focus of the
organizational design.
Managing across tasks. HTT’s executive team envisioned early on to use agile project
management techniques (agilemanifesto.org), even though agile methods are generally used for
tasks which can be micro-managed such as standard software development rather than highly
interconnected, complex, and uncertain tasks (Dybå & Dingsøyr, 2008). They had hoped to
institute short three-week sprint tasks focused on an engineering design problem but found: The
three-week sprints don’t work” [Co-Founder]. One reason for why they do not work appears to
be that it is difficult to define a do-able three-week sprint such the tasks are sufficiently
independent and require relatively little knowledge of what has transpired before the start of the
sprint. If the actors were full-time, the intensity of a three-week collaborative effort might be
feasible.
Instead of three-week sprints, contributors appear to prefer structured weekly
teleconferences so that they can plan their busy full-time, non-HTT, work schedules around one-
week sprints. During the teleconferences, contributors enjoy engaging in a collaborative design
effort, as well as discussions to identify engineering issues that need resolution, and alternatives
for resolution. They then volunteer to explore the alternatives over the course of the week before
the next teleconference. While the engineers tend to use FB@W to keep others informed of their
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progress during the week, other parts of the organization, including the executive team do not,
preferring less open and more controlled communication tools of email, Slack (another internet-
based messaging system), and WhatsApp (a texting tool)
Tasks Given to HTT From External Community. Instead of tasks being defined by HTT
and assigned to the external community to perform, HTT does the opposite. The external
community of 30,000-50,000 on various social media sites frequently identifies tasks – as
opportunities - for the HTT executive team to perform. These tasks, as compiled from a series of
interviews with the Strategic Committee include:
Specific opportunities for executive team members to speak at conferences about HTT.
For example, Gresta was invited to give a keynote speech to a global entrepreneur forum
in India, an invitation which was made possible by local people in India interested in
HTT. “It turned out to be about 14 people locally. We asked them to notify the media, and
then to help us make appointments with relevant government officials while we were
there. They did this because they would like a hyperloop in India; they didn’t receive
stock for their time.”
Scheduling meetings for the HTT executive team with high-level government officials
including prime ministers and directors of transportation. An inquiry from a community
member about the possibility of meeting with officials in Toulouse, France led eventually
to the negotiation of a major hyperloop test track, land, and an R&D center situated in
the booming industrial park of Toulouse.
Early-stage technology developments to be pursued for incorporation into hyperloop
development. The exclusive license which HTT is using to power its hyperloop started
with an inquiry posted by a community member.
Suggestions for companies to partner with. Some of the companies that HTT is partnering
with today came about because someone in the community suggested that HTT contact
the company because the potential partner is doing some work that would be relevant to
HTT and, a partnership would result in mutually beneficial outcomes.
While only those speaking engagements that occur in a strategic area of interest are responded to,
most of the other inquiries are almost always at least initially examined.
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Integration of Effort
For Puranam et al. (2014), integration refers to how contributors are motivated and provided
the necessary information to perform their work in a coordinated fashion (see also Malone &
Crowston, 1994). We find that HTT integrates by using a variety of design elements, many of
which alone are not novel, but together help create a highly fluid organizational design. We
highlight these elements in Table 3, with examples from HTT’s approach to their talent pool,
culture, on-boarding and engagement practices.
Talent pool. Apparent from Figure 2 is the importance of the talent pool. The talent pool
refers not to people, but the relational networks, skills, passion, and commitment available to
HTT. The CMO has coined the phrase: “What we need are people who have Talent + Passion +
Responsibility” [emphasis from the original]. The larger external community provides talent in
the manner of tasking described above: of providing opportunities for introductions to CEOs,
investors, government officials, speaking engagements, and regulatory agencies. The smaller,
core crowd of contributors are those who have been on-boarded and signed the contractual stock
option agreement. These contributors – either as individuals or as representatives of partnering
organizations – are charged with executing on the opportunities provided by the larger
community. Such activities include designing the hyperloop and ancillary technologies, writing
proposals and marketing collateral, sharing design specifications back and forth with
collaborating companies, and providing the “boots on the ground” to accomplish feasibility
studies and testing. This requires professionals who feel responsible for the success of the
community, rather than just an organization. In the words of one member: “the people you meet
at HTT are absolutely amazing: smart, hard-working, committed, creative, fun, and passionate—
just the people I love to hang around with online and off.”
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There has been no problem in obtaining resumes. Estimates from the CEO, Chief Operating
Officer, and Human Resources Director, indicate an average of 100 resumes are submitted every
week, either via LinkedIn or to one of the company’s websites. There are triggers that tend to
spark an influx of resumes: Executive speaking engagements, recruiters/contributors who look
for specific talent defined by the executives, and advertisements on online job markets such as
AngelList. The challenge comes in matching the resumes to HTT’s organization culture and the
available opportunities.
Culture. Over time, HTT contributors helped to create the company’s mission and values
statements, as shown in Figure 4.
-----Insert Figure 4 about here -----
The vision of moving humanity forward is meant to signify that HTT is concerned first and
foremost with the passenger, not with the technology or stock market or investor value.
Delivering the next breakthrough is intentionally chosen to indicate that HTT is a technology
licensing company, intent on continuing to develop technologies associated with, and ancillary
to, the hyperloop. The core values emphasize the nature of the people they want in the
organization; people who don’t “sit on the sidelines but instead make things happen,” take
responsibility for professionalism in their work, don’t just dream but engage in doing, recognize
that HTT is a passionate movement rather than just a company, and solve problems that require a
vision of tomorrow and collaboration today. We summarize the culture these statements
exemplify into four essential elements: 1) being extremely collaborative when disruptive, 2)
being willing to take the initiative without knowing if it will bear fruit for the organization or
oneself, 3) working as part of a proliferating potpourri of largely self-governing teams with
uncertain interdependent elements between the teams, and 4) knowing how to catalyze others to
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perform tasks in a context in which many tasks are self-selected. This four-part culture is a direct
function of the environment in which HTT operates.
The first element—intense collaborative disruption—is needed as a check-and-balance on
disruptive ideas. If one contributor offers an idea that is too disruptive for the organization, the
collaboration required to bring that idea to fruition will help to smooth out some of the
disruptiveness of the idea. The following example of intense collaborative disruption comes from
a series of interactions via FB@W between the first author and the Hyperleader responsible for
Engineering Integration:
One contributor interested in organizational design suggested that the engineering
department be reorganized into project management and R&D so that those
engineers interested in project management could be engaged in that discipline
and those interested in R&D could be engaged in the R&D activities. Since several
engineering hyperleaders agreed, plans were made to disrupt the organization to
make the change. Then, unexpectedly, an opportunity surfaced to conduct a
hyperloop feasibility study for a government. During the feasibility study, both
project management and R&D engineering became quite intertwined, making it
clear that such a bifurcation of engineering would not have been a good idea.
Consequently, the idea was not pursued further.
The second cultural element—being willing to take initiative without knowing if it will bear
fruit for the organization or oneself—is needed since there are so many uncertainties and the
organization must be responsive to changes in market and technology conditions, that an
initiative which seems worthy at one point, may no longer be needed at another and vice versa.
The first author compiled the following example over several months based on initial
engineering design meetings, and then repeated interviews with several members of the
engineering team over time.
The engineering R&D team took the initiative to develop the hyperloop design
on the assumption that the capsule will be run through concrete tubes because
ultimately there would not be enough steel to create all the tubes in the world.
The engineers spent considerable time analyzing the safety, risk, cost and
feasibility of concrete tubes under varying environmental conditions. Most
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recently, the CEO announced the completion of a successful negotiation with
a steel company in Spain to deliver steel tubes to Toulouse in exchange for
stock options. The R&D engineers had to be willing to immediately pivot to
consider the possibility that sometimes the tube will be built in steel and other
times will be built with concrete.
Since the hyperloop design is intended to be a “glocal” technology customizable to each
nation and thus a platform spawning a pluralistic suite of products, the R&D efforts for the
concrete tube may be useful later. Initially, the ability to embrace such pivoting was a difficult
cultural element for many HTT contributors since it often meant that their most recent work felt
unappreciated.
The third cultural component— working as part of a proliferating potpourri of largely self-
governing teams with uncertain interdependent elements between the teams —is needed because
there are so many interdependent components of the hyperloop transportation industry still under
development. Below, two examples illustrate this cultural component:
Safety regulations for the hyperloop are being developed as technologies are being
developed and as estimates of risk are being developed. Since there is no experience
of a vacuum-sealed tube transporting passengers at high speed, analogs to high-
speed rail and airplanes are often used. Therefore, engineers on the safety team are
often interfacing with the regulatory team. [compiled from interviews with the Safety
Hyperleader]
Passenger Experience. The paramount emphasis on passenger experience permeates
most aspects of the design. Some of the basic passenger experience principles being
pursued include completely electronic and seamless experience with the passenger’s
“time never wasted” [Gresta]. Therefore, capsules need to be designed not just for
comfort but various passenger use cases from working to purchasing. Such a capsule
design affects the way seats are oriented. The orientation of seats affects the speed of
egress and ingress into the capsule. Designing the station for a 10-second time
window between capsules coming in and leaving the station is affected by this speed
of egress/ingress. If capsules are leaving every 10 seconds, do passengers even need
tickets in advance? If passengers are using non-hyperloop means to arrive at the
station (such as Uber or Lyft), is there a way to integrate with these others to allow a
seamless enriched journey from the time of thinking about a trip to the time of travel,
and thinking about the next trip? [compiled from interviews with Station Team
member and co-founder Gresta]
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These interdependencies are not unusual in complex engineering efforts. To handle the
interdependencies, integration standards are often created, specifying design assumptions such as
the weight, speed, or energy load allowed (see Boeing 777, for example, Thomke and Fujimoto
2000). However, with HTT, enforcement of integration standards may remove a market
opportunity. So, every team must design to assumptions about what might be feasible integration
standards. This can cause frustration. In the words of one engineering contributor:
If we don’t know details about this component, we cannot make certain design
assumptions, and unless we can make these design assumptions, we cannot move forward
with the design of other components.
However, instead of enforcing integration standards, the executive team repeatedly responded to
these frustrations by encouraging the engineers to move forward in designing to the very general
specifications of the hyperloop, but not to be constrained by integration standards. This
approach, while unusual for engineering, has allowed HTT to be quite flexible in quickly
meeting different client requires for feasibility proposals. In other words, each client creates its
own requirements which force temporary integration standards, which then lead to rapidly
configuring the more general design for the specific client, as a form of just-in-time engineering.
The fourth cultural element—knowing how to catalyze others to perform tasks in a context
in which many tasks are self-selected—is needed because the company’s talent pool is not
required to perform any specific task. The Chief Marketing Officer notes:
This is a very important element in our organization. The traditional carrot/stick model
does not work. How do we keep our contributors and community enthused? How do you
ensure there's a sense of purpose and responsibility?
Even though contributors receive stock options in exchange for the work, they exhibit a
substantial amount of free will in self-selecting contributions and tasks to perform. The self-
selection nature of the contributions means that contributors often need to be sold on the personal
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value of a task and the value of the task for the organization. A compilation of posts on FB@W
provide two illustrate examples of the need to catalyze others to accept tasks:
On FB@W, requests were made repeatedly for individuals to contribute to a central
project management document. Few responded. However, once an upcoming
feasibility study was announced and the connection to the central project
management document was made explicit, contributors quickly added their work to
the document.
On FB@W, contributors often post media reports about competitors. At one point, a
contributor posted a media report announcing a successful public test of a hyperloop
component by a competitor. Over a several day period, contributors shared on
FB@W and during weekly teleconferences and emails concerns about the
implications for HTT’s success in such a competitive marketplace. Finally, the CEO
posted on FB@W a message indicating the downsides of the competitor’s technology
and explained how HTT was still ahead of the competitor. This post helped to
redirect the contributors back to focusing on the work, rather than discussing the
competition.
The posting of new tasks has, therefore, increasingly been accompanied by a justification
of the need for the task. Clearly, tasks requested by the CEO or Chief Global Operations Officer
are more likely to be self-selected, but since tasks can be suggested by anyone at any time in
response to any opportunity, the importance of justification for catalyzing others to engage in
posted tasks has now become part of the culture.
Onboarding. Hiring and onboarding at HTT are challenging because professional specialists
need to be collaboratively disruptive, willing to offer new projects, and spend time selling
projects to others. Once an HR director was hired by HTT, attention was placed on ensuring that
recruiting, screening, and onboarding were identifying people to sign the contributor agreement
who represented the best fit. An example of how the application and onboarding process evolved
is described below based on a compilation of observations of the changes in the onboarding site
over time, and interviews with the HR director:
The application process has evolved from requesting resumes to coupling
resumes with short answers about the precise nature of the contribution the
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contributor wants to make and why the contributor believes she can work in
such an environment. Once hired, the new hire self-certifies through an
online self-guided process of reading about the company and its culture. The
new hire is then assigned to a hyperleader who is asked to monitor the new
hire’s behavior and offer mentoring.
Keeping contributors engaged. Once hired and assigned to a hyperleader, new contributors
often look for guidance rather than jumping on a task described in a teleconference.
Consequently, as more contributors come onboard, hyperleaders (many of whom are 10-hour a
week contributors) have the increasing responsibility for not just meeting milestones in their
functional discipline (marketing, human resources, engineering, etc.), but also for assigning tasks
to new hires. Often these tasks require training—on HTT’s tools, current design state and
assumptions, HTT’s culture, and the proper network of other contributors to ask questions. This
takes time. There is some discussion as to whether hyperleaders need to become full-time to
manage contributors, but there is also acknowledgment that this might come at a cost of losing
hyperleaders who can only work part-time (given many of them are employed full-time in
traditional organizations).
Standards and procedures. Since HTT’s mission is to collaboratively disrupt by catalyzing
change, HTT provides incentives for collaborative disruption in a variety of ways: converting
part-time contributors to full-time paid staff if desired, publicly recognizing collaborative work
well-done and achievements that are good for the larger organization, and encouraging
contributors to take initiative to design the organization as they would like to see it work, rather
than looking to senior management as drivers of organizational change.
Designing procedures for an organization like HTT is not simple. Standardization is difficult
because each person is working with the language of their own tools, country, business, and
discipline, and sometimes substantially different views of what a new transportation system
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might look like. All this variation means that processes and procedures need to be more of
“guardrails,” a term used in agile project management (e.g., Sutherland & Sutherland, 2014)
rather than rigid ways of working. Creating guardrails that are acceptable to others takes time
(and the attention of the Cultural Director and the head of HR). This means procedures such as
certain reporting guardrails about how much time contributors should spend on a task in
exchange for a stock option have taken longer to create, waiting for sufficient socialization
among contributors. Despite the guardrail indicating that FB@W should be used for
collaboration, FB@W is still minimally used by the executive team, marketing, and business
development. This allowance of personal preferences in performing the work is part of this
concept of collaborative disruption: if others are not ready, then it will not happen.
DISCUSSION
In this paper, we set out to describe how an organization could manage, and even gain from,
uncertainty by deploying an organizational design that leverages an environment of near-zero
information cost. We described how HTT learned to design itself to accomplish its broad mission
of creating a movement for sustainable transportation. The primary contribution of our paper is
hence HTT itself; an organization that operates as a crowd-sourced ecosystem capable of
proactively leading and reacting to the development of new technology and ecosystems. We
label HTT a “catalyst organization” because it serves as a platform to catalyze new technologies,
new business connections among contributors, and the creation of a new market and ecosystem.
It is the largest crowd-sourced startup, with a community of followers numbering over 50,000.
The many contracts it has acquired and the state of its development—accomplished primarily
with the labor of part-time professionals in exchange for stock options—is unprecedented. Next,
we summarize the core aspects of this novel organization design and then derive implications for
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theory and practice in research on search, organization design, and communities.
The Catalyst Organization: A Novel Organization Design for Innovative Search
As argued by Puranam et al. (2014), many of the emerging organizational designs are simply
novel bundles of old solutions to age-old challenges of organizational design. We believe HTT is
more than that. First, the age-old challenges are based on a notion of efficient operations (which
drives the need to differentiate by task and then hierarchically or laterally integrate). But, in a
context of near-zero cost external knowledge supply, efficiency is a less important driver of
design. Second, the distinctions of the five challenges presume their value for analyzing new
organizational form and yet the interdependencies among the five challenges suggest that new
sets of challenges may better capture the realities of the catalyst organization. Third, the classic
design solutions to differentiation and integration - which fundamentally focus on achieving
organizational goals through a hierarchy defining tasks, rewards, and information flow - places
people in a responsive passive role. But, under conditions of such significant market and
technological uncertainty, coupled with a virtually infinite potential supply of external
knowledge, people’s choices to make offerings to the firm become much more of the defining
role in the design.
The resources people can offer HTT are not just knowledge, but range from networks to
hardware supplies, from time to attention, from existing skills to willingness to learn new skills.
This creates an ever-changing structure, hierarchy, and workforce. The stability comes from the
firm having a clear vision developed not by the founder but by a flow of contributors having
frequent catalyzing experiences, a volume of opportunities presenting themselves, a volume of
people offering their resources, a number of commons for sharing resource needs and
availability, and crossable layers of commitment levels so that the organization and contributors
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can adjust to changing demands.
This new form is therefore not based on the design solutions to the differentiation and
integration challenges. It is neither promoted 1) classically as tasks being divided and allocated,
and hierarchy integrating across the task divisions, nor 2) aligned with current views of emerging
designs as self-organizing. A classic differentiation and integration design would create too
much filtering and delays in the ability to quickly and proactively engage in the huge range of
unforeseen opportunities presented by an uncertain environment, as well as capture unforeseen
offerings of passion, resources, skill, and time from the low-cost supply of external knowledge.
A pure self-organizing design with standardized practices such as used with Wikipedia also
would not work because the process for achieving the mission is too unpredictable.
Therefore, we suggest a new organizational form – which we refer to as a catalyst
organization – which is needed explicitly because the intention of the organization is to engage
as many opportunities as possible across a broad uncertain and evolving market and technology
landscape using an abundant supply of external knowledge and resources available at a low-cost.
At the most fundamental level, this new organizational form (1) uses non-modular task division
and allocation to create limitless options, and (2) integrates work in a manner that allows for
continuous exploration even in the face of the need to produce. It is these differences which
allow HTT to operate effectively at the intersection of environmental uncertainty and potential
engagement from an almost limitless community of contributors.
As we show in Table 4 below, HTT also differs from Fjeldstad et al.’s (2012) actor-oriented
organization design. Apparent in this comparison is that HTT is not easily characterized as
exclusively an actor-oriented design, although it has elements of such a design. Instead of
decomposing tasks, there is a substantial amount of opportunity-to-available resource matching
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distinctions that surface as projects unfold, and in which the distinctions are not simply in
different types of skills, but also in different levels of commitment, different objects of passion,
and non-overlapping relational networks that can be brought to bear. Instead of direct control and
exchange, there is an attempt at orchestration that is not done by any single conductor, but rather
by those committed to completing a project. Instead of standardized protocols, there are
“guardrails” allowing individuals substantial discretion within broad direction. Instead of basing
coordination on dynamic lateral relationships, there are multiple different coordination
mechanisms in use at the same time. In sum, the novelty of HTT’s catalyst organization design
may be most easily understood when described as a passion-driven, dynamic movement
organized to create and capture an almost unlimited supply of unanticipatable opportunities
through the supply of low-cost and highly specialized knowledge. While Wikipedia and open
source development projects are movements, their organizations are not intended to create
unanticipatable opportunities. While Oticon (Foss, 2003), Blade.com (Fjeldstad et al., 2012), and
R&D teams (Ben-Menaham et al., 2016) are organizations looking for opportunities, they are not
drawing on the contributions of external actors.
----Insert Table 4 About Here ------
HTT stands out even when examined in the logic of real options where a few technological
pathways are explored in parallel (Adner & Levinthal, 2008; Gruber, MacMillan, & Thompson,
2013). Given the abundance of potential contributors, in principle, HTT can explore a sheer
limitless amount of parallel ideas, as long as there are individuals interested in executing them.
At the same time, this dynamic mandates that HTT not prescribe the precise way in which things
are done. Put differently, HTT cannot dictate a modular task division because it cannot precisely
predict what the right task division is (Reetz & MacAulay, 2017). In addition, modularization in
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the hope for skill-matched self-selection should also not be an aim, as it is not foreseeable
precisely which talents will be required. Rather, HTT can be continuously informed about
potential avenues for further development when contributors decide to embark on them, or when
new knowledge enters the organization through its many connections to the outside world.
To integrate these dispersed external contributions, the catalyst design needs to incentivize
as well as react to discoveries which may fundamentally alter the way HTT should operate. HTT
seems to have set up a structure which is continuously able to adapt. The work, and who does it,
is emergent. Given uncertainty, it is important that a continuous process of discovery and
disruption is kept in motion. By providing team- and community-level incentives, and by
relegating information dependencies to the team level, HTT can foster diversity in the
explorative efforts undertaken. The large amount of available slack (interested contributors)
sustains these efforts. Furthermore, HTT explicitly reminds contributors that “we all are
disrupters” -- contributors are constantly challenged, and evaluated on, their ability to generate
new proposals and suggestions for implementation. A Cultural Director, who has taken on a role
of sharing to all HTT contributors descriptions of other companies known for disruptions,
facilitates this. At the same time, the relatively stable onion structure and the official cultural
guardrails ensure that some control/agency over the development and integration is kept by HTT.
We think that the catalyst organization may become a template to create organization
designs for contexts like HTT’s: where uncertainty is high and systemic, and for which a large
contributor base can be activated at near zero knowledge acquisition costs. For example, such a
design may prove fruitful for organizations tackling wicked problems (e.g., Rittel & Webber,
1973) or grand societal challenges (e.g., George, Howard-Grenville, Joshi, & Tihanyi, 2016),
which will also feature difficult-to-foresee interdependencies as well as large communities of
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potential contributors.
At the same time, we do not claim that the catalyst organization is an optimal organization
design. Rather, we suggest that is well-functioning in the setting we have identified, and call for
future research to identify not only (in line with our above suggestions) other settings in which
this design may be suitable, but also to inquire more generally which shifting boundary
conditions (see also: Gulati et al., 2012) would impact the efficacy of this model.
Implications for Theories of Organization Design
HTT’s non-modularity of task division may have implications for work on organization
design more broadly than the description of a new organizational form. If it is true that we are
moving toward a gig economy (see: Barley et al., 2017), where a temporary workforce with, at
best, weak organizational affiliation or commitment assumes temporary responsibility for tasks,
task division becomes the pivotal point of contact. So far, as we have noted, the literature on
organization design argues that modularity is essential to engage volunteers (Afuah & Tucci,
2012; MacCormack et al., 2006). Yet, as observers of organizational design, we must remind
ourselves of the equally well-known research showing that broader job responsibilities lead to
more perceived meaningfulness in work (Hackman & Oldham, 1980) and job satisfaction
(Wood, Veldhoven, Croon, & De Menezes, 2012). Broader job responsibilities may also be
aligned with the preferences of millennials (Ng & McGinnis, 2015). Therefore, research on
organization design will need to consider not just the design of the organization, but the design
and meaningfulness of the broader ecosystem. That is, instead of thinking of organization design
as focused on tasks as requirements for individual or group performance, our understanding may
be deepened if volunteers could not just pick from a set of well-defined tasks, but even partake in
designing and redesigning the tasks themselves as conditions and contexts change (Oldham &
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Hackman 2010).
HTT’s form of integration—to focus on time, skills, commitments, actions, and passion of
people to disrupt, learn, and instill learning in others – instead of coordinate, control (Fjeldstad et
al. 2012), and execute tasks —may increasingly be expected of 21
st
century organizations.
Instead of having funding rounds, we might foresee that 21
st
century organizations such as HTT
have talent and commitment layers and rounds (Applegate, Griffith, & Majchrzak, 2017), where
people can shift from active to inactive, from inactive to active, from not involved to onboarding,
from a community fan to active business opportunity creator. The challenge then is not growth in
a traditional sense of resource spending, or even talent acquisition, but rather catalyzing new
“bundles of energy” willing to dialectically engage with others, act rather than “sit on the
sidelines,” demonstrate passionate professionalism in everything that is done, bring personal
networks of relationships and resources to bear, learn new skills, and collaboratively disrupt the
world. In turn, this could become a fertile ground to use ideas generated in the context of catalyst
organizations to study the boundary conditions of traditional organizations.
Implications for Theories of Exploration
Classic perspectives on exploration (e.g., Simon, 1973) usually still assume organizations
and tasks to be structured around decomposable goals (Clement & Puranam, 2017; Puranam &
Swamy, 2016). While this may be true if the set of all eventual tasks is known a priori, when this
is not the case and tasks are modularized too early, the organization may end up exploring in the
wrong places (Dattée et al., 2017).
Flexibility then is needed both in how exploration is carried out and how to evaluate the
results. The specter of unlimited and broad contributors provides the ability to use contributors to
define and conduct the exploration, as well as evaluate options received. Essentially, the catalyst
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organization is maximizing structural ambidexterity (e.g., Tushman & O’Reilly, 1996) down to
the level of the individual opportunity and unique skill, since a sheer limitless number of real
options can be explored in parallel. Consequently, a catalyst organization offers an alternative to
one of the central premises of Afuah and Tucci (2012) about when a firm should engage in
crowdsourcing. Afuah and Tucci argue that crowdsourcing requires modularization so that
specialized actors can use their local search knowledge. Similarly, MacCormack, et al. (2006)
highlight how the open source project Mozilla, the organization behind the Firefox browser, only
took off after being modularized so that potential volunteers could identify more “chunk-size”
contributions. The alternative presented by the HTT case is that, given a sufficiently large and
diverse contributor base encouraged to collaboratively engage in the design as well as the
accomplishment of work, non-modularization will lead contributors to explore more broadly as
their worldviews collide with other worldviews—a likely prerequisite for successful explorations
under high uncertainty (Dattée et al., 2017; Santos & Eisenhardt, 2009).
Implications for such a design on organizational design scholarship are many. We know
little about collaborative exploration behavior. What is the process by which seekers and solvers
co-define an exploration need to ensure disruptive thought? How are alternatives evaluated when
generated from collaborative exploration? How is the decision to stop exploring made?
Implications for Theories of Communities
The HTT case highlights how communities and formal organizations (with senior managers
and bounded legal status) are increasingly merging given zero information costs and
environmental uncertainty. Given high uncertainty, it is unclear who forms today’s periphery of
the community, and whether the notion of a periphery of a community even makes sense
anymore. With uncertainty comes the need for shifting roles, in a manner like HTT’s, where
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contributors can select which roles to play in the onion structure, playing multiple roles across
boundaries at the same time. Also, contributors not yet involved with the organization need to be
considered, given their potential relevance if the organization were to change. This is necessary
to avoid developing path-dependencies that would prematurely include or exclude specific
subgroups.
There is also the question of the value that catalyst organizations add to the community.
HTT is an example of a collaborative organization rooted in a desire to reuse existing resources
among contributors rather than reinventing new resources. Unlike research on collaborative
organizations (Fjeldstad et al., 2012; Snow, Håkonsson, & Obel, 2016), HTT seems to suggest
that a central organization is needed to help catalyze a larger contributor community. The
catalyst is not the supervisor of the contributor, but how the organization provides the
contributors a virtual room in which to meet, become stimulated by other’s work, make new
connections, and become energized in the talent and skills contributors have and how they can
use them for worthwhile purposes. Research questions are many, however. Why, for example,
has the notion of a hyperloop stimulated such world-wide attention? Is there a “cool factor” that
defines successful and less successfully sustained communities? Does this mean that apparently
mundane problems, like reducing mosquitos, will not be able to sustain their communities? Do
catalyst organizations redefine benefits for contributors such that contributors may be able to
receive no payment, no recognition, and no physical evidence of involvement purely in exchange
for the glow of being listened to?
Implications for Practice
Dirk Ahlborn and Bibop Gresta, HTT’s co-founders, have spent the last four years
attempting to convince CEOs, investors, and customers to adopt HTT’s organization design.
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They encourage executives to help employees gain an ecosystem orientation to work. They argue
that everyone has the potential to offer ideas and business opportunities, that boundaries around
organizations are simply mind games rather than realities, and that any product today is simply a
product on its way to obsolescence. While it may take a village to raise a child, it increasingly
takes worldwide communities to make societal change.
Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
Our case of HTT, while offering exciting insights, also has limitations. We see both direct
next steps for future research and opportunities for these ideas to inform other streams of
research. Validation of the catalyst organizational form, and its generalizability, is of the essence.
While we identified many organizations similar to HTT on one or several dimensions (see Table
2), we could not find another organization that was the same on all of them. Future research
should strive to find and assess organizations with parallel dimensions to HTT to better
understand the interdependencies we found here. Additionally, it is crucial to study the
conditions under which organizations with a similar purpose (but different design) could be more
efficacious than HTT, and vice versa.
The context provided both strength and limitations. HTT is not simply building software (as
in open source), knowledge (as in Wikipedia), t-shirts (as in Threadless), or a one-off innovation
challenge such as promoted by InnoCentive, but rather an entire industry supporting the creation,
implementation, and ongoing service of self-sustaining public transportation. This makes HTT
unique among new organizational forms. The broad nature of the goals gives us confidence that
it is not the digital nature of the product which is driving the effects we are observing.
Consequently, our findings may translate broadly to other industries that are capital-intensive
and/or high in the importance of complementary assets. We do, however, acknowledge that it
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may be precisely because HTT is not just building a product, but rather an entire industry
ecosystem which may create one-time effects which could influence our results.
Finally, our findings give a renewed impetus for research trying to identify “new” forms of
organizing (Dunbar & Starbuck, 2006; Greenwood & Miller, 2010; Walsh, Meyer, &
Schoonhoven, 2006; Puranam et al., 2014). Indeed, our results highlight that new organizational
forms emerge as traditional distinctions between task division and integration become
increasingly less important than the nuances of how work gets done. We see the HTT example
challenging assumptions held in our theories, and pushing their boundary conditions.
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Table 3:
HTT Case Description
Organizational Design Challenge
HTT’s Characteristic Features
Division of Labor: Task Division,
Allocation, and Execution
Holistic, less modularized tasks
Mutual agreement on task assignment
Tasks related to entire ecosystem
Task performers come from entire ecosystem
Multiple competing tasks
Use of one-week sprints for task completion
No pre-defined task-skill matching but instead
ensuring range of skills within talent pool
Tasks are often duplicated to get competing
viewpoints
Tasks include environmental scanning by
contributors providing the organization with
opportunity to pivot quickly
Community-driven micro tasks given to HTT
management
Integration of Effort: Motivating
Contributors, Coordination,
Collaboration, and Control
Contributors work for future stock options &
guarantee minimum 10 hrs/week
Cultural guardrails encouraging disruption and
collaboration & movement and membership
rather than tasks and individual ideas
Socialized control methods through collaboration
Use of technology for socialization, coordination
& collaboration
Part-time managers
Control through parallel paths to see which path
is more fruitful
Tools for collaboration
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Table 4:
Comparison of Catalyst Organization HTT vs. Actor-Oriented Architecture
HTT – Catalyst Organization Actor-Oriented Architecture
(examples from Fjeldstad et al.,
2012)
Organizational design is a combination of
hierarchy, bottom-up information flows, and
networks
Organizational design is focused on
dynamic lateral networks of
relationships
Hierarchy used for orchestration, not control or
coordination. Work is prioritized based on what
people and skills are present.
Direct exchange (rather than
hierarchical planning, etc.) among
the actors leads to control and
coordination
Goals are not determined through control but
through the direct exchange among the
contributors to match opportunities and
knowledge, problems and solutions, needed
actions and available free time, roles and
commitments.
“Control is the determination of
goals, the allocation of resources to
pursue them, and the monitoring of
goal fulfillment and resource use.”
p. 746
Matching of talent to goal by identifying
niches/distinctions across people in available time,
passion, knowledge, resources and identifying
distinctions in work across time, tacit knowledge
required, and resources needed
Decomposing tasks
Some decisions handled hierarchically, some
handled by default from lack of resources; division
of returns handled contractually in layers
Lateral nature of decisions regarding
projects to pursue, resources to share
and division of returns
Broad purpose with opportunities driving
dynamically created objectives
Singular specific objectives
Infrastructures that encourage actors to bring own
information, knowledge, and other resources
which are only shared in layers with rarely a single
shared situational awareness
Infrastructures of commons for
allowing “actors to access the same
information, knowledge and other
resources” for “shared situational
awareness” p. 739
Range of actor competencies with many not
setting their own goals but simply responding to
others’ calls for action.
“competent actors who have the
knowledge, information, tools and
values needed to set goals, and
assess the consequences of potential
actions for the achievement of those
goals” p. 739
Guardrails not as a code but as encouragement to
take measured initiative
“Protocols are codes of conduct used
by actors in exchange and
coordination activities” p. 739
No centralized investment in contributors but
expectation that contributors will only stay if they
Significant centralized
organizational investment by
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engage in learning-oriented conversations organization in long-term
development of consultants (e.g.,
Accenture)
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Figure 1:
Artists’ Hyperloop Renditions
Hyperloop pod traveling through vacuum tube (actual tubes are not transparent)
Hyperloop pod with augmented windows simulating external environment
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Figure 2:
HTT Organization Chart
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Figure 3
Screenshot from Facebook at Work
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Figure 4
Culture Statement from HTT Onboarding Documents
Vision:
We move humanity forward
Mission: Deliver the next breakthrough in transportation
Core Values:
1) We are champions of tomorrow: From the way we work to what we create, we are fervent
champions of new and better ways to deliver tomorrow’s innovations today
2) We are better together. We are a global community of problem-solvers who believe that all
of us is better than one of us
3) We are passionate. We are a movement, not just a company
4) We are dreamers and doers. The only way to change the world is to dream big; the only way
to make a lasting impact is to make those big dreams reality
5) We are dedicated to the details. Care for our passengers and communities requires absolute
precision of every task
6) We are “hand raisers”. We are the ones who step forward to make things happen
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Bios:
Ann Majchrzak (majchrza@usc.edu) is The USC Associates’ Endowed Professor Chair of
Business Administration at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California.
She obtained her PhD a very long time ago. Her research focuses on how organizations and
technology are increasingly intertwined and developing relevant theory.
Terri L. Griffith (tgriffith@scu.edu) is Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at Santa
Clara University’s Leavey School of Business. Her research focuses on the design and
integration of technology and work. Her Ph.D., not quite so long ago as Ann’s, is from Carnegie
Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.
David K. Reetz (david.reetz@tum.de) is a doctoral candidate in the department of Innovation
and Entrepreneurship at the TUM School of Management, Technische Universität München. He
studies search under high uncertainty and the emergence of organizational structure.
Oliver Alexy (o.alexy@tum.de) is professor of strategic entrepreneurship at TUM School of
Management, Technische Universität München, where he was also awarded his Ph.D. His
current research focuses on effective organization designs for high-uncertainty environments.
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... As digital enterprises are becoming more common, it is becoming more important to understand the opportunities and threats in digital entrepreneurship (Hansen, 2019). This is why there are calls for studies assessing how technologies impact innovation Majchrzak et al., 2018). ...
... As far as we know, such a model has not been explored in past studies. Fourth, the research has responded to calls for analyzing the effects of technology on relationships between support systems and entrepreneurial success Majchrzak et al., 2018). Fifth, the overall model has provided support for network theory (Watson, 2007). ...
... As far as we know, such a model has not been explored in past studies. Fifth, the authors have responded to calls for research by analyzing the effects of technology on relationships between support systems and entrepreneurial success Majchrzak et al., 2018). Sixth, this research has made a contextual contribution by investigating entrepreneurship in a developing country (Bruton et al., 2008;Chatterjee et al., 2018). ...
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The purpose of this research is to investigate the associations of internal and external support mechanisms with entrepreneurial success, in the context of China's entrepreneurial sector from network theory perspective. The role of digital technology, as a moderator, has also been analyzed. Data has been obtained from 500 entrepreneurs in Jiangsu, a province in China. All hypotheses were tested using structural equation modeling. It has been found that family support, business partner support, community support and external stakeholder relationships have positive effects on entrepreneurial success. It has also been discovered that digital technology adoption strengthens the positive relationship between business partner support and entrepreneurial success. Theoretical and practical implications have been highlighted and future research suggestions have been provided.
... Organizations are embracing this openness to exchange knowledge with external actors (Trantopoulos et al., 2017) at near-zero cost (Altman et al., 2015;Majchrzak et al., 2018). For example, to engage external actors, organizations are involving customers and users (e.g., Eaton et al., 2015;Parmentier and Mangematin, 2014) or entire crowds and networks (Boons and Stam, 2019;Eiteneyer et al., 2019;Lyytinen et al., 2016) in their innovation processes. ...
... Organizational forms characterized by a high degree of openness, which facilitate flexible collaboration and coordination across digital platforms, ecosystems, or innovation networks IS journals (n = 12) (Abrell et al., 2016;Eaton et al., 2015;Hensen and Dong, 2020;Hinings et al., 2018;Huang et al., 2017;Huang et al., 2018;Lang et al., 2015;Lehrer et al., 2018;Lyytinen et al., 2016;Nambisan et al., 2017;Trantopoulos et al., 2017;Wang, 2021) Other journals (n = 28) (Altman et al., 2015;Bell et al., 2014;Berente, 2020;Boland et al., 2007;Boons and Stam, 2019;Boudreau and Lakhani, 2013;Dougherty and Dunne, 2012;Eiteneyer et al., 2019;Gawer, 2009;Gawer and Cusumano, 2014;Helfat and Raubitschek, 2018;Henfridsson, 2020;Lakhani and Panetta, 2007;Lanzolla et al., 2021;Lee and Berente, 2012;Majchrzak et al., 2018;Majchrzak and Griffith, 2020;Nambisan et al., 2019;Parmentier and Mangematin, 2014;Pershina et al., 2019;Rindfleisch et al., 2017;Scuotto et al., 2017;Seidel and Berente, 2020;Szalavetz, 2019;Velu, 2020;Verstegen et al., 2019;Wessel et al., 2016;Yoo et al., 2012) Digital identity and culture Shared norms, beliefs, and values within an organization that enable successfully innovating in a digital context IS journals (n = 19) (Baskerville et al., 2020;Bonina et al., 2021;Huang et al., 2017;Hylving and Schultze, 2020;Jarvenpaa and Standaert, 2018;Jonsson et al., 2008;Kazan et al., 2018;Lang et al., 2015;Lindgren et al., 2008;Lokuge et al., 2019;Lucas and Goh, 2009;Sandberg et al., 2020;Singh and Hess, 2017;Svahn et al., 2017a;Tumbas et al., 2017Tumbas et al., , 2018Vial, 2019;Wiredu et al., 2021;Yoo et al., 2010) Other journals (n = 27) (Barrett et al., 2012;Belk, 2013;Bell et al., 2014;Benkler, 2006;Benner and Tushman, 2015;Bogers and West, 2012;Boland et al., 2007;Browder et al., 2019;Ferlie et al., 2005;Gawer and Cusumano, 2014;Henfridsson and Yoo, 2014;Kane et al., 2016Kane et al., , 2017Kane, 2018;King and Grudin, 2020;Klein et al., 2020;Lakhani and Panetta, 2007;Lanzolla et al., 2021;Magnusson et al., 2020;Parmentier and Mangematin, 2014;Pershina et al., 2019;Reck and Fliaster, 2019;Saadatmand et al., 2019;Svahn et al., 2017b;Tripsas, 2009;Troilo et al., 2017;von Hippel, 2006) A. Hund et al. ...
... Distinguishing between different types of knowledge as proposed in the knowledge management literature (e.g., declarative, procedural, causal, conditional, relational (Alavi and Leidner, 2001)), it might be possible to uncover what roles certain types of knowledge play during specific phases of the innovation process. In light of ubiquitous digital technology and since there is an almost unlimited supply of knowledge (Majchrzak et al., 2018), we need a deeper understanding of how developing specific types of knowledge can support strategies for and practical advice on how to identify, prioritize, access, and recombine knowledge. (1) inherent to digital innovation, or (2) socially constructed, or (3) both influence coping and management strategies at an organizational level? ...
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While research has produced valuable insights about digital innovation, we lack a comprehensive understanding about its core nature, and research across disciplinary boundaries lacks integration. To address these issues, we review 227 articles on digital innovation across eight disciplines. Based on our findings, we (1) inductively develop a new definition and propose a new framing of current conceptualizations of digital innovation, (2) organize central concepts of the literature on digital phenomena and show how they intersect with our conceptualization, and (3) develop a framework to organize digital innovation research according to five key themes. We conclude by identifying two particularly promising areas of future research.
... O Hyperloop é uma cápsula com levitação magnética (Choi et al., 2019;Tudor & Paolone, 2019), colocada em um tubo à vácuo (Alexander & Kashani, 2018;Ji et al., 2018;Majchrzak et al., 2018;Rajendran & Harper, 2020) para superar o limite de velocidade do atrito entre a roda e a resistência do ar (Ji et al., 2018), que permite que uma cápsula viaje a velocidades transônicas ) com a capacidade de operar em pressões muito baixas (Braun et al., 2016;Tudor & Paolone, 2019). ...
... O Hyperloop é uma resposta para os problemas do setor de transporte, mas apenas se for implantado para ser um meio de transporte rápido, seguro, eficiente e financeiramente rentável (Majchrzak et al., 2018). Dessa forma, para que seja comercializado, fazem-se necessários maximizar as principais potencialidades e minimizar as dificuldades/desafios para preencher as lacunas tecnológicas e orçamentárias. ...
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Atualmente, têm sido realizados avanços tecnológicos na área engenharia de transportes para minimizar o tempo e o custo das viagens. Um exemplo de sistema inovador, que tem recebido atenção globalmente é o Hiperloop, o qual consiste em uma cápsula de alta velocidade que viaja por meio de um tubo cilíndrico a vácuo. Nesse sentido, este artigo tem como objetivo identificar pesquisas que tratam do Hyperloop, mediante a uma revisão de literatura com abordagens bibliométricas, que englobou buscas diretas no Web of Science. Os resultados indicam que o assunto, apesar de ainda prematuro, encontra-se em constante crescimento, sendo publicados em importantes periódicos e principalmente por autores de instituições dos Estados Unidos, Coreia do Sul e Suíça, que juntos correspondem a cerca de 56% das publicações. Além disso, nota-se que apesar de ser uma tecnologia com diversas vantagens, quando comparada aos meios de transporte convencionais, para que seja comercializada é necessário romper as limitações técnicas e orçamentais.
... While this may be the case in many European Cities, the concept is yet to gain more ground globally, but the narrative for reducing car-dependency is critical in order to achieve safer, more resilient, sustainable and inclusive cities, as per the goals of the Sustainable Development Goal 11 and the New Urban Agenda, and leads to the creation of more human-scale cities with higher vibrancy and quality of life. The quest, therefore, is to ensure that available transportation modes within the human-friendly cities adhere to the principles of sustainability and 'smartness', and warrants more efficiency for intra-city travels and high speed city-to-city models, as in the case of the hyperloop [82] and the Maglev trains [83]. ...
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Mobility is a subject of increasing importance in a time when cities have gained prominence, as they are home to over 56% of the world’s population and generate over 80% of global GDP. Urban planning principles have traditionally been developed to promote urban efficiency and enhance productivity. The emergence of ‘Smart Mobility’ has provided researchers and policy practitioners new ways to understand and plan cities. With rapid urbanization growth and the sustained mobility challenges faced in most global cities, this paper sets forth to understand and map the evolution of the concept of ‘Smart Urban Mobility’ through a bibliometric analysis and science mapping techniques using VOSviewer. In total, 6079 articles were retrieved from the Web of Science database over 5 decades, from 1968 to 2021, and divided into four sub-periods, namely 1968 to 2010, 2011 to 2015, 2016 to 2019, and 2020 to 2021. The paper provides a better understanding of the thematic focus and associated trends of smart mobility beyond technical issues related to Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS), where due to diverse dynamics, such as unprecedented growth and advancement in technologies, attention has extended to incorporating the impacts of the application of different technologies in urban mobility as well as associated fields. This paper further identifies major sources, authors, publications, and countries that have made more contributions to the development of this field. The findings of this study can help researchers better understand the evolution of the subject, and help policymakers make better-informed decisions on investable infrastructures for better mobility outcomes in urban regeneration pursuits and future cities.
... For example, we think that some interesting research questions arise in the case of the 'lead user' and popular influencer Chiara Ferragni recently joining the board of directors of the Italian fashion company Tod's. Extending inquiry beyond the role of users as just idea generators begs questions regarding using users as problem creators (posing to firms new challenges to be solved), not just problem solvers (Majchrzak et al., 2018;Alexy et al., 2020). ...
Article
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The purpose of this study is to systematize and consolidate scattered literature on the theme of firm-user collaboration by focusing on the strategic, organizational, and managerial dynamics of firms. To achieve this aim, a systematic review of 152 articles was carried out. Papers were first organized into six clusters of firm-user collaboration: (1) Identifying and Selecting Users and Ideas, (2) Organizing Collaboration with Users, (3) Networking with Users, (4) Engaging Users in the Innovation Process, (5) Developing Resources and Capabilities to support Collaboration with Users, and (6) Strategizing for Users’ Involvement. The main topics within each area were then organized sequentially, following a typical innovation-management process to facilitate the identification of further research opportunities and under-addressed topics that could be relevant to tackle. The paper contributes to the innovation literature by providing a firm-centered perspective on the strategic, organizational, and managerial preconditions and dynamics needed to enable and enhance collaboration with users.
... Nowadays, research on hyperloop technology are conducted by several research groups and companies all over the world, but the general idea is the same: to move passengers and goods placed safely capsules through a low-pressure tube with the speed ca. 1200 kmph, so than air resistance can be reduced and requirements of sustainable transportation can be met (Musk, 2013;Błażejczyk and Różycka, 2018;Fajczak-Kowalska and Kowalska, 2018;Gkoumas and Christou, 2020;Kim, 2018;Mielczarek and Foljanty, 2019;Ross, 2016;Jeker, 2019;Zhou, 2018;Majchrzak et al., 2018). The main directions of hitherto studies on hyperloop technology have concentrated on technological aspects of propulsion, e.g. the electromagnetic levitation (Soni et al., 2019;Pradhan and Katyayan, 2018;Abdelrahman et al., 2018;Tudor and Paolone, 2019;Lafoz et al., 2020), the dynamics of the HL capsules and low-pressure tubes (Rajendran and Harper, 2020;Niu et al., 2020a;Nowacki et al., 2019;Belova and Vulf, 2016) the HL infrastructure and their resistance to natural catastrophes (Ahmadi et al., 2020;Alexander and Kashani, 2018;Taylor et al., 2016;Heaton, 2017) environmental aspects of the HL technology including energy consumption and utilization of renewable energy sources (Janić, 2020;Nowacki et al., 2019;Sayeed et al., 2018Sayeed et al., -2018Lafoz et al., 2020;Roswall et al., 2018;Rajendran and Harper, 2020) as well as costs and benefits associated with operational, economic, social, and environmental performance of the HL (Janić, 2020;Almujibah et al., 2020;van Goeverden et al., 2018;Rajendran and Harper, 2020). ...
Article
Full-text available
Due to the innovation of transport means based on hyperloop technology, the correctness of its functioning should be investigated in relation to many technical, economic and operational factors. This paper presents an analysis of the hyperloop technology from the point of view of ensuring safety of passengers while travelling in a low-pressure rail tunnel. The main subject of research was the design of hyperloop station infrastructure and the safety management system that will ensure the safety of passengers at the station in the sphere of atmospheric pressure, despite the station’s interaction with low-pressure tubes during entry and exit of the capsules. The safety management system also includes evacuation of passengers from low-pressure tubes in an emergency situation. The paper reviews the key issues of passenger safety in the hyperloop transport system, which are the source of justified and unfounded people’ fear of using this transport means despite its obvious advantages. The authors’ original achievement is the identification of critical points of passenger safety during their stay in the station area and during their journey through a low-pressure tunnel, as well as the design of a double airlock that can be used in the hyperloop tunnel at repeatable intervals with the aim of evacuating passengers to the atmospheric pressure zone. The designed solution allows to eliminate one of the significant weaknesses of the transport system using low-pressure rail.
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Should organizations move to flatter designs—or rather: when, why, and how should they do so? In light of a burgeoning literature, I review the well-structured, timely, and applicable contribution that Markus Reitzig’s new book Better at Flatter: A guide to shaping and leading organizations with less hierarchy makes in particular for executives struggling with these questions. At the same time, I highlight how the core arguments on which Reitzig builds his insights and recommendations easily transcend to current academic discussions, and may help inspire further research on the future of organizing more broadly.
Chapter
The design of a number of contemporary organizations is reviewed: Vinci, a French builder and operator of infrastructure; ING, a Dutch bank; Zappos, an American online retailer; Haier, a Chinese appliance maker; and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a firm bringing the hyperloop transportation system to market. Several common design elements are found in their way of organizing. The most striking commonality is that they all have a modular organization structure, with relatively small teams as the main building blocks. A second important common feature is that these teams are to a large extent self-governing. The third way in which their organization designs are alike is the presence and importance of common management processes, needed to hold the structure together in the absence of a traditional hierarchy. These processes have two important aims: to achieve coordinated action between the teams and to set organization-wide strategic goals. A final point of similarity is that all the organizations reviewed here accept a certain level of duplication of effort. Some of them have even actively resisted the tendency to pool resources, believing it will diminish the autonomy of their teams.
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Fluid digital innovation structures and processes are increasingly being leveraged to generate innovations. Fluid digital innovation is largely dependent on digital technology for communication and coordination. Interaction between participants in fluid digital innovation occurs through digital knowledge artefacts. As participants come and go, they can read what others have contributed and then contribute their knowledge. Fluid digital innovation is characterised by the scale of contributions and the fast-paced evolution of knowledge accumulation. This means that sometimes the knowledge evolution patterns are not explicitly evident (‘hidden’) even though they implicitly impact the innovation process and outcomes. In this essay, we summarise the nascent research on such hidden knowledge evolution patterns in fluid digital innovation. We also present a model of knowledge evolution dynamics in fluid digital innovation. Finally, we outline a research agenda and some specific future research directions for studying knowledge evolution impacting fluid digital innovation.
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Innovation ecosystems are increasingly regarded as important vehicles to create and capture value from complex value propositions. While current literature assumes these value propositions can be known ex-ante and an appropriate ecosystem design derived from them, we focus instead on generative technological innovations that enable an unbounded range of potential value propositions, hence offering no clear guidance to firms. To illustrate our arguments, we inductively study two organizations, each attempting to create two novel ecosystems around new technological enablers deep in their industry architecture. We highlight how ecosystem creation in such conditions is a systemic process driven by coupled feedback loops, which organizations must try to control dynamically: firms first make the switch to creating the ecosystem following an external pull to narrow down the range of potential applications; then need to learn to keep up with ecosystem dynamics by roadmapping and preempting, while simultaneously enacting resonance. Dynamic control further entails counteracting the drifting away of the nascent ecosystem from the firm's idea of future value creation and the sliding of its intended control points for value capture. Our findings shed new light on strategy and control in emerging ecosystems, and provide guidance to managers on playing the ecosystem game.
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This paper focuses on dynamic capabilities and, more generally, the resource‐based view of the firm. We argue that dynamic capabilities are a set of specific and identifiable processes such as product development, strategic decision making, and alliancing. They are neither vague nor tautological. Although dynamic capabilities are idiosyncratic in their details and path dependent in their emergence, they have significant commonalities across firms (popularly termed ‘best practice’). This suggests that they are more homogeneous, fungible, equifinal, and substitutable than is usually assumed. In moderately dynamic markets, dynamic capabilities resemble the traditional conception of routines. They are detailed, analytic, stable processes with predictable outcomes. In contrast, in high‐velocity markets, they are simple, highly experiential and fragile processes with unpredictable outcomes. Finally, well‐known learning mechanisms guide the evolution of dynamic capabilities. In moderately dynamic markets, the evolutionary emphasis is on variation. In high‐velocity markets, it is on selection. At the level of RBV, we conclude that traditional RBV misidentifies the locus of long‐term competitive advantage in dynamic markets, overemphasizes the strategic logic of leverage, and reaches a boundary condition in high‐velocity markets. Copyright © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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Is top-down organization design worth attempting at all, or should organizations simply let their members learn which patterns of interaction are valuable by themselves, through a bottom-up process? Our analysis of an agent-based computational model shows that weak enforcement of even a randomly selected formal structure in a top-down manner can usefully guide the bottom-up emergence of networks of intraorganizational interactions between agents. In the absence of formal structure, interactions are prone to decline within organizations, because maintaining interactions requires coordination but breaking them does not. Formal structure regenerates the network of interactions between agents, who can then learn which interactions to keep or discard. This “network regeneration effect” of formal structure offers a rationale for the importance of top-down organization design, even if the design is limited in accuracy and enforcement.
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Organizational control is a key managerial function, and the focus of a great deal of research in the management and organizations field. Our concern is that research has not kept pace with changes in contemporary organizations and the external environment. In response to this concern, we review extant empirical work on organizational control with an emphasis on the consequences of control (i.e., the control-outcome linkage). As part of our analytical process, we surface theories underlying existing control frameworks used in empirical research and identify key dimensions implied by the frameworks. The three dimensions of control formality, control coerciveness, and control singularity map onto traditional vs. more current issues in and around organizations, and therefore prove helpful in assessing the existing research stream. Based on our review, we show how control-outcome research has in fact reached a troublesome point in its evolution, particularly concerning quantitative research. Older frameworks, theories, and issues seem to have limited theorizing that better fits today's realities, and several empirical tactics appear to be negatively affecting quantitative work. We close with actionable suggestions for an area of scholarship that continues to have great potential.
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Entrepreneurial ventures face unique challenges related to growth, particularly in managing their internal organizations. Progress on understanding these dynamics has been constrained by fragmentation within relevant management research. In this paper, we clarify and describe two narratives that have emerged within past and current research on growth and the internal organization. The first narrative draws attention to the surprising endurance of organizational features during growth; the second, their dramatic change. We juxtapose the two narratives to reveal ongoing gaps in the study of how growth can effect change along three dimensions: organizational design, team composition, and organizational culture. We conclude with recommendations on how future research can be enriched through a systematic examination of how entrepreneurial ventures navigate the organizational dilemmas growth presents.
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Rather quietly over the last decade, a large body of literature has emerged to consider how new forms of organization arise and become established in the organizational community. The literature represents a very wide array of theoretical perspectives, and no emerging consensus or dominant theme can plausibly be identified. No long stream of research has been produced to validate the arguments of any perspective. What we find instead is a disparate group of mostly nascent theories from organizational ecology, economics, institutional sociology, strategic management, and others, all seeking to explicate the nature of contexts and processes that may generate new organizational forms. This review organizes this literature according to assumptions about how variations are generated in the organizational community. Three perspectives appear to capture most of the arguments: an organizational genetics view, which emphasizes random variation; an environmental conditioning view, which considers variation to be contextually constrained; and an emergent social systems view, which considers variations in organizational forms to be the products of embedded social-organizational interactions. Theories associated with each of the perspectives are explicated, and their practical implications for future research are examined. The review concludes with a brief consideration of the theory of the evolution of new organizational forms as itself an evolution of a new and important field of study.
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Rather than being passive observers and analysts of innovations in organizing, I argue that we can advance organizational science by prototyping and piloting new forms of organizing. While this may be a radical departure from our conventional ways of studying organizations, I believe that the return is worth the risk, particulary in a normatively oriented field like organizaion design. Equally important, recent conceptual and methodological advances actually make this possible.