Seminar Series

Fall 2009 Schedule

Mondays – 11:30-1 pm (E52-598)


Speaker (Affiliation)

Title and Abstract

Sep. 14th

Michael Cusumano (MIT Sloan and Engineering)



Enduring Ideas in Strategy and Innovation

Sep. 21st

Steve Kahl (Chicago GSB)




This paper explores why actors may develop different interpretations of a new concept. It leverages work from cognitive science to define this interpretive process in terms of creating coherence: fitting the new concept into the existing conceptual schema. We argue that variation in conceptualization results in part from cognitively cohering the concept in different ways. We appeal to the social structure of the group to explain this variance. Cohesive groups favor establishing similarities between the new concept and something familiar in the existing schema. Diffuse groups lack a clear, agreed-upon schema to hook a new concept into, and therefore favor making sense of the new concept without directly integrating it into the schema. We illustrate the relationship between social cohesion and cognitive practices by analyzing the different conceptualizations of the computer during its introduction in the insurance industry from 1940-1960.

Oct. 19th

Toby Stuart (HBS)

Boundary Spanning in a For-Profit Research Lab: Scientific Publication and the Interface Between Commerce and Academe



In innovative industries, private sector firms increasingly are participants in open communities of science or technology. As part of the norms of exchange and engagement in such communities, firms often publicly disclose what would otherwise remain private discoveries. In a quantitative case study of one firm in the biopharmaceutical sector, we explore the consequences of scientific publication—an instance of public disclosure—for a core set of activities within the firm. Specifically, we link publications to human resource practices, finding in researcher-level, fixed effects regressions that bonuses are tied to publications.  Second, using a unique electronic mail dataset, we show that researchers within the firm who author publications are much better connected to external (to the firm) members of the open scientific community. This result directly links publishing to current understandings of firms’ absorptive capacity. Third, in an unanticipated finding, our analysis raises the possibility that the firm’s most prolific publisher begin to migrate to the periphery of the intra-firm social network, which may occur because their strong external relationships induce them to reorient their focus to a community of scientists beyond the firm’s boundary.

Oct. 26th

Minyuan Zhao (U. of Michigan)

The Macro Practices of R&D Management and the Micro Behaviors of Scientists



A better understanding of decision making under uncertainty has led to the wide diffusion of firm-level practices such as sequential investments and portfolio diversification to manage R&D projects. While the impact of these choices on firm R&D productivity has been extensively examined, their effect on micro-behaviors of scientists has been understudied. We argue that midway project termination, a consequence of sequential investments and portfolio diversification, creates a sorting process among R&D scientists and results in a separation between scientists that disagree with the termination decision and those that do not. The likelihood of disagreement is systematically higher in projects that are characterized by higher uncertainty and for scientists that are more productive and talented. Using longitudinal scientist level data on pharmaceutical discovery, we find consistent evidence that scientists pursuing more novel projects at the frontier of science, and scientists  with higher quality, productivity, and diversity in their research, are more likely to leave incumbent firms to pursue their ideas elsewhere. This finding underlines a reverse lemons problem in the market for R&D scientists. We discuss the theoretical implications for management of R&D scientists and their effect on firm-level productivity.

Nov 16th

Benjamin Jones (Kellogg, visiting Sloan)

The Knowledge Trap: Human Capital and Development Reconsidered



This paper presents a model where human capital differences, rather than residual productivity differences, can explain several central phenomena in the world economy. In the model, workers choose both the duration and content of their training. A "knowledge trap" occurs where skilled workers avoid narrow, deep training and thus fail, collectively, to embody frontier knowledge. Standard human capital accounting is shown to underestimate the resulting skill differences between rich and poor nations. The theory may explain price, wage and income differences across countries, and suggests novel interpretations of immigrant outcomes, poverty traps, and the brain drain, among other applications.

Nov 30th

Raghu Iyengar (Wharton)


Dec 7th

Erica Fuchs (Carnegie Mellon)



Seminar Organizers: Pierre Azoulay, Michaël Bikard, Phil Anderson

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