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Lone Inventors as Sources of Breakthroughs: Myth or Reality?

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Author Info

  • Jasjit Singh

    ()
    (INSEAD, Singapore 138676, Singapore)

  • Lee Fleming

    ()
    (Harvard Business School, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts 02163)

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    Abstract

    Are lone inventors more or less likely to invent breakthroughs? Recent research has attempted to resolve this question by considering the variance of creative outcome distributions. It has implicitly assumed a symmetric thickening or thinning of both tails, i.e., that a greater probability of breakthroughs comes at the cost of a greater probability of failures. In contrast, we propose that collaboration can have opposite effects at the two extremes: it reduces the probability of very poor outcomes--because of more rigorous selection processes--while simultaneously increasing the probability of extremely successful outcomes--because of greater recombinant opportunity in creative search. Analysis of over half a million patented inventions supports these arguments: Individuals working alone, especially those without affiliation to organizations, are less likely to achieve breakthroughs and more likely to invent particularly poor outcomes. Quantile regressions demonstrate that the effect is more than an upward mean shift. We find partial mediation of the effect of collaboration on extreme outcomes by the diversity of technical experience of team members and by the size of team members' external collaboration networks. Supporting our meta-argument for the importance of examining each tail of the distribution separately, experience diversity helps trim poor outcomes significantly more than it helps create breakthroughs, relative to the effect of external networks.

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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.1090.1072
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by INFORMS in its journal Management Science.

    Volume (Year): 56 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 1 (January)
    Pages: 41-56

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    Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:56:y:2010:i:1:p:41-56

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    Related research

    Keywords: creativity; collaboration; invention; innovation; teams; quantile; diversity; networks;

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    Cited by:
    1. Michaël Bikard & Fiona E. Murray & Joshua Gans, 2013. "Exploring Tradeoffs in the Organization of Scientific Work: Collaboration and Scientific Reward," NBER Working Papers 18958, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Alnuaimi, Tufool & Opsahl, Tore & George, Gerard, 2012. "Innovating in the periphery: The impact of local and foreign inventor mobility on the value of Indian patents," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(9), pages 1534-1543.
    3. Haeussler, Carolin & Sauermann, Henry, 2013. "Credit where credit is due? The impact of project contributions and social factors on authorship and inventorship," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 688-703.
    4. Franzoni, Chiara & Sauermann, Henry, 2014. "Crowd science: The organization of scientific research in open collaborative projects," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 1-20.
    5. Justyna Matysiewicz, Slawomir Smyczek, 2013. "Knowledge Creation in International Scientific Networks on example NetAware Intensive Programme," Equilibrium, Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika, vol. 8, pages 107-122.
    6. Hautala, Johanna & Jauhiainen, Jussi S., 2014. "Spatio-temporal processes of knowledge creation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 655-668.
    7. Chris CM Forman & Nicolas van Zeebroeck, 2012. "From wires to partners: How the Internet has fostered R&D collaborations within firms," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/105990, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
    8. Ajay Agrawal & Avi Goldfarb & Florenta Teodoridis, 2013. "Does Knowledge Accumulation Increase the Returns to Collaboration?," NBER Working Papers 19694, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Simone Santoni & Paolo Ferri & Maria Lusiani, 2013. "Novelty Conduits and Forms of Network Ties: To Bond or to Bridge?," Working Papers 34, Department of Management, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia.
    10. Annamaria Conti & Christopher C. Liu, 2013. "The (Changing) Knowledge Production Function: Evidence from the MIT Department of Biology from 1970-2000," NBER Chapters, in: The Changing Frontier: Rethinking Science and Innovation Policy National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Annamaria Conti & Christopher C. Liu, 2014. "The (Changing) Knowledge Production Function: Evidence from the MIT Department of Biology for 1970-2000," NBER Working Papers 20037, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Jung, Hyun Ju & Lee, Jeongsik “Jay”, 2014. "The impacts of science and technology policy interventions on university research: Evidence from the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(1), pages 74-91.
    13. Gambardella, Alfonso & Giarratana, Marco S., 2013. "General technological capabilities, product market fragmentation, and markets for technology," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 315-325.
    14. Li, Guan-Cheng & Lai, Ronald & D’Amour, Alexander & Doolin, David M. & Sun, Ye & Torvik, Vetle I. & Yu, Amy Z. & Fleming, Lee, 2014. "Disambiguation and co-authorship networks of the U.S. patent inventor database (1975–2010)," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 43(6), pages 941-955.

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