Does Knowledge Diversity Drive Success?

in Strategy & Innovation
October 21st, 2011

Stine Grodal, Assistant Professor, Strategy & Innovation

Stine Grodal, Assistant Professor, Strategy & Innovation

Even in the relatively abstract worlds of science and technology, people assume that diversity drives success.  But does the mixing of diverse ideas actually guarantee an innovative outcome? And how do ideas drawn from diverse fields spread beyond the place of invention to create value in the marketplace?

New research-in-process by Stine Grodal and co-author Grid Thoma, Cross-Pollination in Science and Technology: Concept Mobility in the Nanobiotechnology Field,” searches beyond mere assumptions about the value of knowledge diversity (or “cross-pollination”) aiming to measure its ultimate commercial potential.

“By measuring ideas directly, we get one step closer to unpacking the challenge of how to provide advice to firms looking to become more innovative.”

–Assistant Professor Stine Grodal

Exploring the juncture between the biotechnology and nanotechnology fields, Grodal (Assistant Professor in Strategy and Innovation, Boston University School of Management) and Thomac(Assistant Professor of Economics and Management, University of Camerino), write that many existing studies on innovation have “investigated cross-pollination at the team or individual level…while [only] assuming that cross-pollination occurred between concepts.”

Grodal and Thoma’s goal is to look deeper, focusing at the level of the concept. For instance, just because ideas coming from different communities are recombined, does that mean the resulting theory or model is as multifaceted as the backgrounds of its creators?  And if it is, how does this resulting cross-pollination influence the concept’s mobility from science to the marketplace?

Findings

Drawing on data from 1991 to 2005 tracking the movement of 133,128 concepts from science to technology and commercialization, the authors find the following:

  • Cross-pollination does ultimately facilitate concept mobility.
  • For cross-pollinated ideas to impact technology and economic growth, they must move from their locus of first use to other institutional arenas; Otherwise the cross-pollinated concepts might be innovative, but they fail to gain widespread acceptance.
  • If a patent contains cross-pollinated concepts, it is more valuable.
  • Scientists who reside in commercial firms generally assist the mobility of concepts, but;
  • Scientists who reside in commercial firms also generally hinder the mobility of cross-pollinated concepts.

Explains Grodal, “We were able to directly capture and quantify how ideas move between different institutional contexts.  And by measuring ideas directly, we get one step closer to unpacking the challenge of how to provide advice to firms looking to become more innovative.”

What’s Next: Applying Findings to Firm Performance

Grodal and Thoma are working to link their current findings on cross-pollination and concept mobility to firm performance outcomes.  “Can we show that possessing cross-pollinated patents create value for the firm?,” Grodal explains.  They are also exploring whether cross-pollination is more fruitful at different points during the industry life cycle.

Read more about the paper “Cross-Pollination in Science and Technology: Concept Mobility in the Nanobiotechnology Field.”