Engineering Serendipity: When Does Knowledge Sharing Lead to Knowledge Production?

49 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2019 Last revised: 20 Jul 2020

See all articles by Jacqueline N. Lane

Jacqueline N. Lane

Harvard Business School

Ina Ganguli

University of Massachusetts at Amherst - College of Social and Behavioral Sciences - Department of Economics; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), Center for International Development

Patrick Gaule

University of Bath

Eva Guinan

Harvard Medical School; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group; Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: July 11, 2020

Abstract

We investigate how knowledge similarity between two individuals is systematically related to the likelihood that a serendipitous encounter results in knowledge production. We conduct a natural field experiment at a medical research symposium, where we exogenously varied opportunities for face-to-face encounters among 15,817 scientist-pairs. Our data include direct observations of interaction patterns collected using sociometric badges, and detailed, longitudinal data on the scientists’ post-symposium publication records over six years. We find that interacting scientists acquire and create more knowledge when they share some overlapping research interests, but are less likely to cite each other’s work when they are from similar fields. Our findings reveal both collaborative and competitive effects of knowledge similarity on knowledge production outcomes.

Keywords: knowledge production, innovation, knowledge sharing, knowledge similarity, natural field experiment

Suggested Citation

N. Lane, Jacqueline and Ganguli, Ina and Gaule, Patrick and Guinan, Eva and Lakhani, Karim R., Engineering Serendipity: When Does Knowledge Sharing Lead to Knowledge Production? (July 11, 2020). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 20-058, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3487999 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3487999

Jacqueline N. Lane

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Ina Ganguli

University of Massachusetts at Amherst - College of Social and Behavioral Sciences - Department of Economics ( email )

Amherst, MA 01003
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), Center for International Development ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-9066 (Phone)

Patrick Gaule

University of Bath ( email )

Claverton Down
Bath, BA2 7AY
United Kingdom

Eva Guinan

Harvard Medical School ( email )

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
450 Brookline Avenue, Suite M1B29
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-632-4932 (Phone)
617-632-3770 (Fax)

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ( email )

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
450 Brookline Avenue, Suite M1B29
Boston, MA 02215
United States
617-632-4932 (Phone)
617-632-3770 (Fax)

Karim R. Lakhani (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6741 (Phone)

Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science ( email )

1737 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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