Generalists, Specialists, and the Direction of Inventive Activity
52 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2014
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: Suggested Citation