Are Experts Blinded by Feasibility? Experimental Evidence from a NASA Robotics Challenge

61 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2022 Last revised: 9 Jun 2022

See all articles by Jacqueline N. Lane

Jacqueline N. Lane

Harvard Business School

Zoe Szajnfarber

the George Washington University

Jason Crusan

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Michael Menietti

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

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: May 23, 2022

Abstract

Resource allocation decisions play a dominant role in shaping a firm’s technological trajectory and competitive advantage. Recent work indicates that innovative firms and scientific institutions tend to exhibit an anti-novelty bias when evaluating new projects and ideas. In this paper, we focus on shedding light into this observed pattern by examining how evaluator expertise in the problem’s focal domain shapes the relationship between novelty and feasibility in evaluations of quality for technical solutions. To estimate relationships, we partnered with NASA and Freelancer.com, an online labor marketplace, to design an evaluation challenge, where we recruited 374 evaluators from inside and outside the technical domain to rate 101 solutions drawn from nine robotics challenges. This resulted in 3,869 evaluator-solution pairs, in which evaluators were randomly assigned to solutions to facilitate experimental comparisons. Our experimental findings, complemented with text analysis of the evaluators’ comments, indicate that domain experts exhibit a feasibility preference, focusing first on the feasibility of a solution as the primary indicator of its quality, while discounting riskier but more novel solutions. This results in a tradeoff in which highly feasible but less novel solutions are judged as being higher in quality, shedding light into why experts prefer more incremental ideas over more radical but untested ideas.

Keywords: evaluations, resource allocation, novelty, feasibility, technological innovation, field experiment

Suggested Citation

N. Lane, Jacqueline and Szajnfarber, Zoe and Crusan, Jason and Menietti, Michael and Lakhani, Karim R., Are Experts Blinded by Feasibility? Experimental Evidence from a NASA Robotics Challenge (May 23, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4117951 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4117951

Jacqueline N. Lane (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

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

Zoe Szajnfarber

the George Washington University ( email )

800 22nd St
2670
Washington, DC

Jason Crusan

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Michael Menietti

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

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

Karim R. Lakhani

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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