Posts filed under ‘Innovation’
| Peter Klein |
On this blog we’ve tended to celebrate, rather than denigrate, diversity in higher education. While others fear that MOOCs and other forms of online learning will cheapen the product, we think that “education,” like “health care,” is not a homogeneous blob but a set of discrete, marginal goods and services that can be offered in a variety of combinations, at different prices, and via many forms of delivery, local and remote. Naturally, the dominant incumbents try to resist the innovative incumbents by erecting entry barriers — what else would you expect?
A recent New Yorker piece on MOOCs recognizes this diversity, and makes the fundamental point that US higher education is already diverse — in other words, the digital revolution is simply pushing the industry down a path it was already going.
When people refer to “higher education” in this country, they are talking about two systems. One is élite. It’s made up of selective schools that people can apply to—schools like Harvard, and also like U.C. Santa Cruz, Northeastern, Penn State, and Kenyon. All these institutions turn most applicants away, and all pursue a common, if vague, notion of what universities are meant to strive for. When colleges appear in movies, they are verdant, tree-draped quadrangles set amid Georgian or Gothic (or Georgian-Gothic) buildings. When brochures from these schools arrive in the mail, they often look the same. Chances are, you’ll find a Byronic young man reading “Cartesian Meditations” on a bench beneath an elm tree, or perhaps his romantic cousin, the New England boy of fall, a tousle-haired chap with a knapsack slung back on one shoulder. He is walking with a lovely, earnest young woman who apparently likes scarves, and probably Shelley. They are smiling. Everyone is smiling. The professors, who are wearing friendly, Rick Moranis-style glasses, smile, though they’re hard at work at a large table with an eager student, sharing a splayed book and gesturing as if weighing two big, wholesome orbs of fruit. Universities are special places, we believe: gardens where chosen people escape their normal lives to cultivate the Life of the Mind.
But that is not the kind of higher education most Americans know. The vast majority of people who get education beyond high school do so at community colleges and other regional and nonselective schools. Most who apply are accepted. The teachers there, not all of whom have doctorates or get research support, may seem restless and harried. Students may, too. Some attend school part time, juggling their academic work with family or full-time jobs, and so the dropout rate, and time-to-degree, runs higher than at élite institutions. Many campuses are funded on fumes, or are on thin ice with accreditation boards; there are few quadrangles involved. The coursework often prepares students for specific professions or required skills. If you want to be trained as a medical assistant, there is a track for that. If you want to learn to operate an infrared spectrometer, there is a course to show you how. This is the populist arm of higher education. It accounts for about eighty per cent of colleges in the United States.
Most citizens of the elite world described above know little about the second world, but have a vague sense that it is cheap and tawdry (and that its uninformed consumers are exploited by fly-by-night, for-profit producers). The online revolution has already had a huge effect on vocational education, though most of the media attention is on the so-far modest, very marginal effects on the elite world.
| Peter Klein |
That’s the title of a new review paper by Aaron Chatterji, Ed Glaeser, and William Kerr (a gated NBER working paper, unfortunately). Agglomeration has been a huge issue in the entrepreneurship, technology strategy, innovation policy, and economic growth literatures and it’s nice to have an up-to-date, not-very-technical review paper. (Hopefully there is an ungated copy out there somewhere.)
Clusters of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Aaron Chatterji, Edward L. Glaeser, William R. Kerr
NBER Working Paper No. 19013, May 2013
This paper reviews recent academic work on the spatial concentration of entrepreneurship and innovation in the United States. We discuss rationales for the agglomeration of these activities and the economic consequences of clusters. We identify and discuss policies that are being pursued in the United States to encourage local entrepreneurship and innovation. While arguments exist for and against policy support of entrepreneurial clusters, our understanding of what works and how it works is quite limited. The best path forward involves extensive experimentation and careful evaluation.
Update: ungated version here.
| Dick Langlois |
The idea of attention as a scarce resource goes back at least to Herbert Simon and Nelson and Winter. I hadn’t seen much application of this idea in a while until I ran across this interesting paper called “Rational Inattention and Organizational Focus” by Wouter Dessein, Andrea Galeotti, and Tano Santos. Here’s the abstract:
We examine the allocation of scarce attention in team production. Each team member is in charge of a specialized task, which must be adapted to a privately observed shock and coordinated with other tasks. Coordination requires that agents pay attention to each other, but attention is in limited supply. We show how organizational focus and leadership naturally arise as the result of a fundamental complementarity between the attention devoted to an agent and the amount of initiative taken by that agent. At the optimum, all attention is evenly allocated to a select number of “leaders”. The organization then excels in a small number of focal tasks at the expense of all others. Our results shed light on the importance of leadership, strategy and “core competences” in team production, as well as new trends in organization design. We also derive implications for the optimal size or “scope” of organizations: a more variable environment results in smaller organizations with more leaders. Surprisingly, improvements in communication technology may also result in smaller but more balanced and adaptive organizations.
Apparently, Dessein has been working on attention models for some time, though I hadn’t noticed. (But, of course, Peter had.) I should also note that this model is similar in spirit to the work of Sharon Gifford, now 20 years old, which Dessein et al. do not cite.
| Dick Langlois |
This summer I am directing a two-week summer school on “Modularity and Design for Innovation,” July 1-12. I am working closely with Carliss Baldwin, who will be the featured speaker. Other guest speakers will include Stefano Brusoni, Annabelle Gawer, Luigi Marengo, and Jason Woodard.
The school is intended for Ph.D. students, post-docs, and newly minted researchers in technology and operations management, strategy, finance, and the economics of organizations and institutions. The school provides meals and accommodations at the beautiful Hotel Villa Madruzzo outside Trento. Students have to provide their own travel. More information and application here.
This is the fourteenth in a series of summer schools organized at Trento by Enrico Zaninotto and Axel Leijonhufvud. In 2004, I directed one on institutional economics.
| Peter Klein |
The number of individuals who know how to make a can of Coke is zero. The number of individual nations that could produce a can of Coke is zero. This famously American product is not American at all. Invention and creation is something we are all in together. Modern tool chains are so long and complex that they bind us into one people and one planet. They are not only chains of tools, they are also chains of minds: local and foreign, ancient and modern, living and dead — the result of disparate invention and intelligence distributed over time and space. Coca-Cola did not teach the world to sing, no matter what its commercials suggest, yet every can of Coke contains humanity’s choir.
No surprises here to students of open innovation, but a vivid illustration nonetheless.
| Peter Klein |
We’ve written many posts on the popular belief that information technology, globalization, deregulation, and the like have rendered the corporate hierarchy obsolete, or at least led to a substantial “flattening” of the modern corporation (see the links here). The theory is all wrong — these environmental changes affect the costs of both internal and external governance, and the net effect on firm size and structure are ambiguous — and the data don’t support a general trend toward smaller and flatter firms.
Julie Wulf has a paper in the Fall 2012 California Management Review summarizing her careful and detailed empirical work on the shape of corporate hierarchies. (The published version is paywalled, but here is a free version.) Writes Julie:
I set out to investigate the flattening phenomenon using a variety of methods, including quantitative analysis of large datasets and more qualitative research in the field involving executive interviews and a survey on executive time use. . . .
We discovered that flattening has occurred, but it is not what it is widely assumed to be. In line with the conventional view of flattening, we find that CEOs eliminated layers in the management ranks, broadened their spans of control, and changed pay structures in ways suggesting some decisions were in fact delegated to lower levels. But, using multiple methods of analysis, we find other evidence sharply at odds with the prevailing view of flattening. In fact, flattened firms exhibited more control and decision-making at the top. Not only did CEOs centralize more functions, such that a greater number of functional managers (e.g., CFO, Chief Human Resource Officer, CIO) reported directly to them; firms also paid lower-level division managers less when functional managers joined the top team, suggesting more decisions at the top. Furthermore, CEOs report in interviews that they flattened to “get closer to the businesses” and become more involved, not less, in internal operations. Finally, our analysis of CEO time use indicates that CEOs of flattened firms allocate more time to internal interactions. Taken together, the evidence suggests that flattening transferred some decision rights from lower-level division managers to functional managers at the top. And flattening is associated with increased CEO involvement with direct reports —the second level of top management—suggesting a more hands-on CEO at the pinnacle of the hierarchy.
As they say, read the whole thing.
| Peter Klein |
Northwestern’s Searle Center, headed by Dan Spulber, is holding its sixth annual conference on innovation and entrepreneurship 6-7 June 2013. I have attended before and the papers and discussion are typically very high quality. Proposals are due 15 February. The full call for papers is here and below the fold. (more…)
| Peter Klein |
I’m #57 on a new list of Top 100 Web-Savvy Professors. Teppo smokes me at #19, but I’m right up there with Clay Christensen, Noriel Roubini, Austan Goolsbee, Richard Thaler, and other luminaries. I don’t know the group behind the list or how the ranking was compiled, but it looks good to me. In any case, this will give you more names to follow on blogs or Twitter. Enjoy!
| Peter Klein |
Josh Gans asks if “we have yet evolved to the right set of institutions in the app economy,” comparing contracts between app developers and distributors/publishers to those between book authors and publishers. He also notes, correctly I think, that app development may have more to do with signaling programming skill than making money from selling the app. Still, there are important contractual issues to be sorted out in the age of the app.
More generally, Josh’s post highlights the need for organizational scholars to think more broadly about the complementarities between technology, organization, and strategy. Milgrom and Roberts (1990, 1995) are the pioneers here, but there management literatures on modularity and other aspects of fit among organizational attributes are relevant too. (Here’s an example from outside the tech sector.) Milgrom and Roberts put it this way:
[C]hange in a system marked by strong and widespread complementarities may be difficult and . . . centrally directed change may be important for altering systems. Changing only a few of the system elements at a time to their optimal values may not come at all close to achieving all the benefits that are available through a fully coordinated move, and may even have negative payoffs. Of course, if those making the choices fail to recognize all the dimensions across which the complementarities operate, then they may fail to make the full range of necessary adaptations, with unfortunate results. At the same time, coordinating the general direction of a move may substantially ease the coordination problem while still retaining most of the potential benefits of change. Moreover, the systematic errors associated with centrally directed change are less costly than similarly large but uncoordinated errors of independently operating units.
In other words, when a system is characterized by strong complementarities, the diffusion and evolution of business practices requires simultaneous, coordinated changes among all complementary features within the system — technology, organizational form, strategy, and perhaps other elements as well. When simultaneous or coordinated changes occur within strongly complementary systems, business practices like contractual form will also tend to evolve, and to do so rapidly. By contrast, when simultaneous or coordinated changes within systems characterized by strong complementarities do not occur, organizational change will tend to be slow or uneven.
The rapid growth of the app economy might seem an exception to these principles, as the app market has exploded without (it appears) complementary changes in the contractual and organizational aspects of app production. As noted above, this may be because app design performs a signaling role independent of its ability to generate profits. If this becomes less important over time — perhaps because clever programmers find more effective ways to signal ability — then getting the compensation system right will be critical to ensure the success of this particular business model.
| Peter Klein |
Via John Hagel, a chart from Mary Meeker showing the percent of personal computing devices (including, today, phones and tablets) accessing the web from various operating systems. Joseph Schumpeter, call your office!
| Peter Klein |
An important contribution to the history of technology and the relationship between technology, organization, and strategy:
Gordon Winder’s The American Reaper is a solid and significant contribution to the history of American grain harvesting implements. Winder offers several revisionist challenges to standard accounts, both those that have treated Cyrus McCormick as a heroic inventor, as well as those that have touted the International Harvester Corporation (IHC, formed in 1902) as a path-breaking model of a vertically integrated and internationally dominant firm. . . . Reaper manufacturers forged licensing agreements, subcontracted with suppliers and branch factories, shared expert personnel and innovations, hired widely dispersed sales agents, and formed alliances to protect patent advantages in order to remain competitive.
Read the rest of the EH.Net review here.
| Dick Langlois |
I was saddened to hear today of the passing of Tom McCraw at the young age of 72. I didn’t always agree with him: he was a strong admirer of the Progressives, and even tried implausibly to suggest in Prophet of Innovation, his great biography of Schumpeter, that Schumpeter would have agreed with Progressive policies had he been alive today. But McCraw was a gentleman, a fine writer, and an important figure in business history. Prophet of Innovation is a terrific book. I wish I had written it.
| Peter Klein |
A new Milken Institute report purports to show that “[t]he benefit from every dollar invested by National Institutes of Health (NIH) outweighs the cost by many times. When we consider the economic benefits realized as a result of decrease in mortality and morbidity of all other diseases, the direct and indirect effects (such as increases in work-related productivity) are phenomenal.” There are so many problems with the study I hardly know where to begin. For instance:
1. The authors measure long-term benefit to society as real GDP for the bioscience industries. This is a strange proxy. It is well-known that one of the major impact of public science funding is higher wages for science workers. It is hardly surprising that NIH funding results in higher wages and profits for those in the bioscience industry. Moreover, even if industry activity were the variable of interest, don’t we care about the composition of that activity, not the amount? Which projects were stimulated by NIH funding, and were they the right ones?
2. The results are based on a panel regression of the following equation:
Real GDP for the bioscience industries = f (employment in bioscience industry, labor skill, capital stock, real NIH funding, Industrial R&D in all industries) + state fixed effects + error term.
They interpret the coefficient on NIH funding as the causal effect of NIH funding on bioscience performance. E.g.: “Preliminary results show that the long-term effect of a $1.00 increase in NIH funding will increase the size (output) of the bioscience industry by at least $1.70.” But all the right-hand-side variables are potentially endogenous. For instance, the positive correlation between the dependent variable and NIH funding could reflect winner-picking: the NIH funds projects that are likely to be successful, with or without NIH funding. (The authors briefly mention endogeneity but dismiss it as unimportant.)
This is a version of the basic methodological flaw I attributed to the the political scientists lobbying for NSF money. The issue in question — even assuming the dependent variable is a reasonable measure of social benefit — is what bioscience industry output would have been in the absence of NIH funding. (And, even more important, what would have been the direction of that activity.) Public funding could crowd out private funding, and almost certainly changes the direction of research activity, for good or ill.
3. There are a host of econometric problems, aside from endogeneity — no year fixed effects, no interactions between federal and private funds, the imposition of linear relationships, etc.
If I’m being unfair to the authors, I hope readers will correct me. But this looks to me like another example of special pleading, not careful analysis.
| Peter Klein |
Following up an earlier post on the longevity of obsolete technologies, as specialty markets: Francesco Schiavone has a nice paper, “Vintage Innovation: How to Improve the Service Characteristics and Costumer Effectiveness of Products becoming Obsolete,” reviewing the core theory and discussing the case of the analog turntable (little did I know, not being a club DJ, that you can by a “vinyl emulator” to go wacka-wacka-wacka on your MP3s). Francesco’s Vintage Innovation website has more examples. Check it out!
| Dick Langlois |
One of my longest-running interests has been the relationship between economic change, including technological change, and the boundaries of the firm. In broad strokes, my story is this: when markets are thin and market-supporting institutions weak, technological change, especially systemic change, leads to increased vertical integration, since in such an environment centralized ownership and control may reduce “dynamic” transaction costs; but when markets are thick and market-supporting institutions well developed, technological change leads to vertical disintegration, since in that environment the benefits of specialization and the division of labor outweigh the (now relatively smaller) transaction costs of contracting. This latter scenario is what I called the Vanishing Hand. I recently ran across a new working paper by Ann Bartel, Saul Lach, and Nachum Sicherman, called “Technological Change and the Make-or-Buy Decision,” that supports the Vanishing Hand idea empirically. Here is the abstract.
A central decision faced by firms is whether to make intermediate components internally or to buy them from specialized producers. We argue that firms producing products for which rapid technological change is characteristic will benefit from outsourcing to avoid the risk of not recouping their sunk cost investments when new production technologies appear. This risk is exacerbated when firms produce for low volume internal use, and is mitigated for those firms which sell to larger markets. Hence, products characterized by higher rates of technological change will be more likely to be produced by mass specialized firms to which other firms outsource production. Using a 1990-2002 panel dataset on Spanish firms and an exogenous proxy for technological change, we provide causal evidence that technological change increases the likelihood of outsourcing.
The Spanish dataset is based on questionnaires about outsourcing activities in various mechanical industries. The exogenous proxy is number of patents granted in the U. S. in each industry. So, basically, Spanish firms in industries in which there are a lot of American patents tend to outsource more ceteris paribus than Spanish firms in industries with fewer American patents. Although I always like empirical evidence that supports my own arguments, I also like to play the devil’s advocate. The incomplete-contracts literature (which for me is Coase and Knight as much as Hart and Moore) reminds us that it is harder to write contracts when knowledge is tacit and inchoate. Could it thus be that number of patents is a proxy for the importance of explicit versus tacit knowledge in the industry, and it is the prevalence of the explicit, rather than technological change per se, that makes contracting less costly? My money is still on the Vanishing Hand story.
| Peter Klein |
Joshua Gans’s Forbes piece on Stanford’s online game theory course brought up a larger point about higher education. I’ve been involved in various online, distance, web-based educational activities for many years. When designing an online course, the typical professor imagines each element of a traditional course, then creates a virtual equivalent. I.e., paper syllabus = html syllabus; books, articles, handouts = pdf files; classroom lecture = webcast lecture; office hours = chat session; pen-and-paper exams = online exams; and so on. The elements are exactly the same as before; only the method of delivery has changed.
This is almost certainly the wrong way to leverage the information technology revolution. The pedagogy is exactly the same. But isn’t this just what we would expect of entrenched incumbents? The record companies didn’t create iTunes. The online New York Times is pretty much like the paper New York Times; it took Google and Flipboard and other innovators to revolutionize the newsreading business. As we’ve noted before, isomorphism and stasis is exactly what we would expect from a protected cartel — disruptive innovation, in the Christensen sense, will almost certainly come from outside. (Hopefully after Yours Truly is comfortably retired.)
| Peter Klein |
The Darden Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research Conference is now underway in Charlottesville, Virginia. Keynote and roundtable sessions will be streamed on the conference website.
| Peter Klein |
It’s called “fractional scholarship.”
American universities produce far more Ph.D’s than there are faculty positions for them to fill, say the report’s authors, Samuel Arbesman, senior scholar at the Kauffman Foundation, and Jon Wilkins, founder of the Ronin Institute. Thus, the traditional academic path may not be an option for newly minted Ph.D.s. Other post-graduate scientists may eschew academia for careers in positions that don’t take direct advantage of the skills they acquired in graduate school.
Consequently, “America has a glut of talented, highly educated, underemployed individuals who wish to and are quite capable of effectively pursuing scholarship, but are unable to do so,” said Arbesman. “Ideally, groups of these individuals would come together to identify, define and tackle the questions that offer the greatest potential for important scientific results and economic growth.”
Given the level of relationship-specific investment many research projects require, this isn’t likely to work without some kinds of long-term commitments. But the model may be effective for other projects. And it beats the alternative.
| Lasse Lien |
An important selling point for the consulting industry is that consultants can presumably help a firm identify and implement “best practice.” Surely the consulting industry is an important channel for disseminating knowledge of better ways of doing things, but identifying what constitutes best practice for a given firm in a given situation is no trivial task, and even if the best practice could be identified, transferring it will be a significant challenge.
This begs the question of whether there is a best practice for identification and transfer of best practices, and whether the consulting industry has identified and adopted such a practice. According to this paper Benjamin Wellstein and Alfred Kieser, the consulting industry in Germany is nowhere near a best practice for best practice. This goes for for both inter- and intra-industry transfer. I’ll bet my hat that this finding holds everywhere.
Well, I guess as long as the consulting industry keeps finding better practices for transferring better practices, we shouldn’t be too disappointed that there is no best practice for best practice. (HT: E.S. Knudsen)
| Peter Klein |
What labor economists call “churn” is an important part of creative destruction, the combining and recombining of productive resources as business entities appear and disappear. New paper:
Hiring, Churn and the Business Cycle
Edward P. Lazear, James R. Spletzer
NBER Working Paper No. 17910
Issued in March 2012
Churn, defined as replacing departing workers with new ones as workers move to more productive uses, is an important feature of labor dynamics. The majority of hiring and separation reflects churn rather than hiring for expansion or separation for contraction. Using the JOLTS data, we show that churn decreased significantly during the most recent recession with almost four-fifths of the decline in hiring reflecting decreases in churn. Reductions in churn have costs because they reflect a reduction in labor movement to higher valued uses. We estimate the cost of reduced churn to be $208 billion. On an annual basis, this amounts to about .4% of GDP for a period of 3 1/2 years.