Dismantling Knowledge Boundaries at NASA: From Problem Solvers to Solution Seekers

54 Pages Posted: 2 May 2014 Last revised: 22 May 2016

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business; Harvard Business School

Date Written: May 14, 2016


Innovation scholars have long been modeling and arguing about the optimal way to organize for the production of scientific and technological innovation. Until recently, the prevailing consensus among various streams of theoretical and empirical literature has been that innovation does and should take place within the boundaries of the firm. However, recently a new model, usually named “open” or “peer production” innovation, is challenging the permeability itself of these boundaries. According to this model, knowledge work should transcend the traditional professional and knowledge boundaries, and instead be conducted in the “open”, by anyone who chooses to contribute. This study is a longitudinal in depth field study of how R&D professionals permeate their boundaries. In an open innovation experiment at NASA, R&D professionals experimented with posting their strategic R&D challenges on open innovation online platforms and communities. This experiment resulted in an important scientific breakthrough in unprecedented speed. However, challenging the permeability of professionals’ knowledge boundaries, posed a challenge on their professional identity. This paper describes the reactions of these professionals and finds that professional identity refocusing work- the ability to change, reconstruct and re-narrate one’s professional identity-is critical for permeating professional’s knowledge boundaries and shifting the locus of innovation. I discuss the contributions and implications of these findings on organizing for scientific and technological innovation, knowledge boundaries and professional identity.

Keywords: innovation; knowledge boundaries; boundary work; professional identity; open innovation; identity work; knowledge boundary work; technology, work and organizations

Suggested Citation

Lifshitz-Assaf, Hila, Dismantling Knowledge Boundaries at NASA: From Problem Solvers to Solution Seekers (May 14, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2431717 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2431717

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 West 4th Street
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Cotting House 321A
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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