Job Market Paper

“Generating Innovation in the Lab: Experimental Evidence from the Life Sciences” (with C. Ayoubi, K. Boudreau, E. Guinan, and K. Lakhani)

Abstract: High-value innovations in science and technology often come from especially novel or atypical recombinations of ideas and prior innovations. In this paper, we use a field experiment to investigate how exposure to new ideas affects the novelty and value of recombinant innovations. Partnering with a leading U.S. medical school and intervening in their grant evaluation process, we created exogenous variation in the new ideas that 142 research scientists were exposed to, by randomly assigning each researcher to evaluate 15 (out of 150) scientific proposals. We then leverage this unique approach to test key claims of existing theories of novel recombinations while also documenting a range of added patterns. Tracking the scientists’ research output over the following five years, we find that the randomized exposures led to papers that recombined ideas that are more novel to the scientist, while simultaneously broadening their expertise. In particular, the papers were 10% and 34% more likely to be published in journals and subfields that were new to the scientist, and also involved 0.5 new coauthors on average. That said, we find no evidence that the recombinations could be judged as more novel in relation to the prior literature. Further, recombinations that were less novel (i.e., more incremental) were more successful in terms of forward citations and journal impact factor. Our study offers insights into how successful recombinant innovations can be produced from new idea exposures, while highlighting the potential trade-offs between the novelty and value of innovative outputs.

Keywords: innovation, knowledge recombination, novelty, knowledge broadening, field experiment

Publications and Forthcoming Papers

Lane, J.N., M. Teplitskiy,  H. Ranu, G. Gray, E. Guinan, M. Menietti, & K.R. Lakhani. “Conservatism Gets Funded? The Role of Negative Information in Expert Evaluations For Novel Projects.” Management Science (Forthcoming).

Abstract: The evaluation and selection of novel projects lies at the heart of scientific and technological innovation, and yet there are persistent concerns about bias, such as conservatism. This paper investigates the role that the format of evaluation, specifically information sharing among expert evaluators, plays in generating conservative decisions. We executed two field experiments in two separate grant funding opportunities at a leading research university, mobilizing 369 evaluators from seven universities to evaluate 97 projects resulting in 761 proposal-evaluation pairs and over $300,000 in awards. We exogenously varied the relative valence (positive and negative) of others’ scores and measured how exposures to higher and lower scores affect the focal evaluator’s propensity to change the initial score. We found causal evidence of a negativity bias, where evaluators lower their scores by more points after seeing scores more critical than their own than raise them after seeing more favorable scores. Qualitative coding of the evaluators’ justifications for score changes reveal that exposures to lower scores were associated greater attention to uncovering weaknesses, whereas exposures to neutral or higher scores with increased emphasis on non-evaluation criteria, such as confidence in one’s judgment. The greater power of negative information suggests that information sharing among expert evaluators can lead to more conservative allocation decisions that favor protecting against failure than maximizing success.

Lane, J. N., I. Ganguli, P. Gaule, E. Guinan, & K.R. Lakhani (2021). “Engineering serendipity: When does knowledge sharing lead to knowledge production?” Strategic Management Journal42(6), 1215-1244.

Video Abstract

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 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 of the scientists’ postsymposium publication records over 6 years. We find that interacting scientists acquire more knowledge and coauthor 1.2 more papers when they share some overlapping interests, but cite each other’s work between three and seven times less when they are from the same field. Our findings reveal both collaborative and competitive effects of knowledge similarity on knowledge production outcomes.

Askari O., J.N. Lane, F. Bullo, N. Friedkin, A. Singh, & B. Uzzi (2019). “Transitions Between Structurally Balanced and Unbalanced States and Risky Decision-Making in Social Networks.” Nature Communications, 10(2648), 1-10.

Abstract: Polarization affects many forms of social organization. A key issue focuses on which affective relationships are prone to change and how their change relates to performance. In this study, we analyze a financial institutional over a two-year period that employed 66 day traders, focusing on links between changes in affective relations and trading performance. Traders’ affective relations were inferred from their IMs (>2 million messages) and trading performance was measured from profit and loss statements (>1 million trades). Here, we find that triads of relationships, the building blocks of larger social structures, have a propensity towards affective balance, but one unbalanced configuration resists change. Further, balance is positively related to performance. Traders with balanced networks have the “hot hand”, showing streaks of high performance. Research implications focus on how changes in polarization relate to performance and polarized states can depolarize.

Gomez-Zara, D., M. Paras, M. Twyman, J.N. Lane, L.A. DeChurch, & N.S. Contractor (2019). Who Would You Like to Work With?: Use of Individual Characteristics and Social Networks in Team Formation Systems. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems Proceedings (CHI 2019), May 4–9, 2019, Glasgow, Scotland UK. ACM, New York, NY, USA.

Abstract: People and organizations are increasingly using online platforms to assemble teams. In response, HCI researchers have theorized frameworks and created systems to support team assembly. However, little is known about how users search for and choose teammates on these platforms. We conducted a field study where 530 participants used a team formation system to assemble project teams. We describe how users’
traits and social networks influence their teammate searches, teammate choices, and team composition. Our results show that (a) what users initially search for differs from what they finally choose: initially they search for experts and sociable users, but they are ultimately more likely to choose their prior social connections; (b) users’ decisions lead to nondiverse and segregated teams, where most of the expertise and social capital are concentrated in a few teams. We discuss the implications of these results for designing team formation systems than promote users’ agency.

Lane, J.N., B. Ankenman & S.M. Iravani (2018). “Insight into Gender Differences in STEM: Evidence from Peer Reviews in an Engineering Class.” Service Science, 10(4), 442-456.

Abstract: As the service industry moves toward self-service, peer feedback serves a critical role in this shift for educational services. Peer feedback is a process by which students provide feedback to each other. One of its major benefits is that it enables students to become actively involved in the learning and assessment process and play an integral role in the delivery and quality of their education. However, a primary concern is that students do not consistently provide each other with quality feedback, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in which gender stereotypes may hinder the ability of women to provide critical peer feedback. A potential way to improve peer feedback is to create anonymous review settings. This study examines how anonymity alters the nature of peer feedback in a large introductory undergraduate statistics class for computer science and engineering majors. In this class, peers review a series of team video projects as either anonymous or nonanonymous reviewers. Our results show that female peer reviewers were more affected by the anonymity setting than the male peer reviewers. We discuss the implications of these findings for promoting greater participation and retention of women in underrepresented STEM disciplines and the design of effective peer-review processes for improved student achievement and satisfaction.

Working Papers

Bojinov, I., P. Choudhury, & J.N. Lane. “A Field Experiment on Virtual Social Interactions and Performance of Remote Newcomers”.

World Bank Blog Post

Abstract: Do virtual, yet informal and synchronous, interactions affect individual performance outcomes of organizational newcomers? We report results from a randomized field experiment conducted at a large global organization that estimates the performance effects of “virtual water coolers” for remote interns participating in the firm’s flagship summer internship program. Findings indicate that interns who had randomized opportunities to interact synchronously and informally with senior managers were significantly more likely to receive offers for full-time employment, achieved higher weekly performance ratings, and had more positive attitudes toward their remote internships. Further, we observed stronger results when the interns and senior managers were demographically similar. Secondary results also hint at a possible abductive explanation of the performance effects: virtual watercoolers between interns and senior managers may have facilitated knowledge and advice sharing. This study demonstrates that hosting brief virtual water cooler sessions with senior managers might have job and career benefits for organizational newcomers working in remote workplaces, an insight with immediate managerial relevance.

Huber, L.R., J.N. Lane, & K.R. Lakhani. “Learning With People Like Me: The Role of Age-Similar Peers on Online Business Course Engagement”.

Abstract: Over the past decade, online learning has witnessed tremendous growth in popularity due to its ability to reach diverse participants in a scalable manner. However, one primary area of concern is the low course completion rates in digital platform-based learning, compared to face-to-face counterparts. Given that most education tends to be organized by age, we ask: how does the degree of age-similarity among cohort peers affect course engagement and persistence? Using a unique dataset of 17,000 working professionals enrolled in business skills training courses offered by an elite U.S. business school over a three year period, we show that age similarity has a positive effect on individual course completion: an individual’s likelihood of course completion increases by 3% for every 10 same-age cohort peers. Given that the average cohort size is 220 people, this suggests that a small threshold of same-age peers can have a substantial impact on course engagement and persistence. To examine mechanisms, we turn to participants’ motivations for taking the course, and find that similar-age peers are more likely to affiliate with one another because they share a common motivation for taking the course. Our results suggest that there is an implicit trade-off between social engagement and diversity of perspectives in online courses, and that the organization and structure of online courses ought to balance both objectives.

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