Generalists, Specialists, and the Direction of Inventive Activity

52 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2014

See all articles by Florenta Teodoridis

Florenta Teodoridis

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business

Date Written: October 01, 2014


Due to the cumulative nature of innovation, access to knowledge is important. Although evidence exists concerning the positive impact of increased knowledge access on the rate of inventive activity, less is known about its influence on the direction of inventive activity. I examine how a change in the cost of access to knowledge influences inventive activity by exploiting the hack of Microsoft Kinect as an exogenous event resulting in a sudden and unexpected reduction in the cost of motion-sensing research technology. Specifically, I examine changes in the publication rate of academic papers that use motion-sensing keywords and the composition of authorship on these papers before and after the launch of Kinect relative to other academic publications in selected control subfields of electrical engineering, computer science, and electronics. Despite a growing emphasis on the importance of specialists for knowledge creation, I identify researchers with broader exposure to knowledge – generalists – as playing a particularly important role in the process through which this shock influenced inventive activity. First, generalists have a higher propensity than specialists to respond to opportunities for knowledge creation enabled by the reduction in cost of motion-sensing technology. Second, generalists play a central role in connecting non-motion-sensing specialists to these opportunities, thus influencing the direction of inventive activity.

Keywords: Knowledge creation, Collaboration, Cumulative Innovation

JEL Classification: O31, O33, O40

Suggested Citation

Teodoridis, Florenta, Generalists, Specialists, and the Direction of Inventive Activity (October 01, 2014). Available at SSRN: or

Florenta Teodoridis (Contact Author)

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business ( email )

701 Exposition Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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