Jack of All Trades and Master of Knowledge:
The Role of Generalists in Novel Knowledge Integration
52 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2017
Date Written: July 1, 2017
We consider the role of the individual researcher in absorptive capacity and examine the impact of individual-level knowledge diversification on identifying and integrating novel knowledge in innovation. Our study is motivated by a paradox where impactful discoveries are the result of diversified knowledge input, yet achieving diversification is increasingly difficult as knowledge accumulation leads to division into narrower knowledge areas and increased specialization. We build on recent findings suggesting an important role for diversified researchers as coordinators in increasingly large teams of specialists, to consider their role in identifying and integrating novel knowledge in innovation. Using a natural experiment, we find evidence that diversified researchers have a higher propensity to engage with novel knowledge, and do so in a manner that produces more highly cited output. The effect is more pronounced when the novel knowledge is distant from the researcher’s past experience and requires exploration rather than exploitation.
Keywords: Individual-Level Knowledge Diversification, Novel Knowledge
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