Research and teaching

Complexity, networks and knowledge flow

August 7th, 2009 | Posted by admin in 2006 - (0 Comments)

Olav Sorenson, Jan W. Rivkin, and Lee Fleming

Because knowledge plays an important role in the creation of wealth, economic actors often wish to skew the flow of knowledge in their favor. We ask, when will an actor socially close to the source of some knowledge have the greatest advantage over distant actors in receiving and building on the knowledge? Marrying a social network perspective with a view of knowledge transfer as a search process, we argue that the value of social proximity to the knowledge source depends crucially on the nature of the knowledge at hand. Simple knowledge diffuses equally to close and distant actors because distant recipients with poor connections to the source of the knowledge can compensate for their limited access by means of unaided local search. Complex knowledge resists diffusion even within the social circles in which it originated. With knowledge of moderate complexity, however, high-fidelity transmission along social networks combined with local search allows socially proximate recipients to receive and extend knowledge generated elsewhere, while interdependencies stymie more distant recipients who rely heavily on unaided search. To test this hypothesis, we examine patent data and compare citation rates across proximate and distant actors on three dimensions: (1) the inventor collaboration network; (2) firm membership; and (3) geography. We find robust support for the proposition that socially proximate actors have the greatest advantage over distant actors for knowledge of moderate complexity. We discuss the implications of our findings for the distribution of intra-industry profits, the geographic agglomeration of industries, the design of social networks within firms, and the modularization of technologies.

Research Policy, 35 (2006): 994-1017

Science as a map in technological search

August 7th, 2009 | Posted by admin in 2004 - (0 Comments)

Lee Fleming and Olav Sorenson

A large body of work argues that scientific research increases the rate of technological advance, and with it economic growth. The precise mechanism through which science accelerates the rate of invention, however, remains an open question. Conceptualizing invention as a combinatorial search process, this paper argues that science alters inventors’ search processes, by leading them more directly to useful combinations, eliminating fruitless paths of research, and motivating them to continue even in the face of negative feedback. These mechanisms prove most useful when inventors attempt to combine highly coupled components; therefore, the value of scientific research to invention varies systematically across applications. Empirical analyses of patent data support this thesis.

Strategic Management Journal, 25 (2004): 909-928

Olav Sorenson

A growing body of research documents the role that organizational learning plays in improving firm performance over time. To date, however, this literature has given limited attention to the effect that the internal structure of the firm can have on generating differences in these learning rates. This paper focuses on the degree to which interdependence—and in particular one structural characteristic that generates interdependence, vertical integration—affects organizational learning. Firms face a trade-off. In stable environments, vertically integrating severely limits the organization’s ability to learn by doing because boundedly rational managers find the optimization of operations difficult when making highly interdependent choices. As the volatility of the environment increases though, integration can facilitate learning-by-doing by buffering activities within the firm from instability in the external environment. Thus, firms with a high degree of interdependence suffer less in these environments. Tests of these hypotheses on the growth and exit rates of computer workstation manufacturers support this thesis.

Management Science, 49 (2003): 446-463

Link to data at FIVE Project

Lee Fleming and Olav Sorenson

Some companies are better off making incremental improvements to their products. Others that must compete on their ability to innovate focus on breakthrough inventions. Either approach requires the exploration of a specific type of ‘technology landscape’ and the right strategy for searching across the terrain.

MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2003: 15-23

The dangers of modularity

August 7th, 2009 | Posted by admin in 2001 - (0 Comments)

Lee Fleming and Olav Sorenson

By placing a premium on predictability in their product development efforts, companies create a technology landscape that’s easier to navigate–-but one that may produce fewer true breakthroughs.

Harvard Business Review, September 2001: 2-3

Lee Fleming and Olav Sorenson

This paper develops a theory of invention by drawing on complex adaptive systems theory. We see invention as a process of recombinant search over technology landscapes. This framing suggests that inventors might face a ‘complexity catastrophe’ when they attempt to combine highly interdependent technologies. Our empirical analysis of patent citation rates supports this expectation. Our results also suggest, however, that the process of invention differs in important ways from biological evolution. We discuss the implications of these findings for research on technological evolution, industrial change, and technology strategy.

Research Policy, 30 (2001): 1019-1039