Lone Inventors as Source of Breakthroughs: Myth or Reality?
INSEAD Working Paper No. 2009/31/ST
41 Pages Posted: 11 Nov 2008 Last revised: 20 Dec 2013
Date Written: June 10, 2009
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, 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 - due to more rigorous selection processes - while simultaneously increasing the probability of extremely successful outcomes - due to 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.
Keywords: Creativity, Collaboration, Invention, Innovation, Teams, Quantile, Diversity, Networks
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?
Innovation as Catalysts for Organizational Change: Shifts in Organizational Cognition and Search
By Henrich R. Greve and Alva Taylor
Superman or the Fantastic Four? Knowledge Combination and Experience in Innovative Teams
By Alva Taylor and Henrich Greve
Idea Generation and the Quality of the Best Idea
By Karan Girotra, Christian Terwiesch, ...
Opportunity Spaces in Innovation: Empirical Analysis of Large Samples of Ideas
By Laura J. Kornish and Karl T. Ulrich
Ecological Approaches to Organizations
Managing Delegated Search Over Design Spaces
By Sanjiv Erat and Vish Krishnan
The Next Generation: Technology Adoption and Integration through Internal Competition in New Product Development
By Alva Taylor
The 'Right' Consumers for Better Concepts: Identifying and Using Consumers High in Emergent Nature to Further Develop New Product Concepts
By Donna L. Hoffman, Praveen K. Kopalle, ...