Publications

2011
Kevin J. Boudreau, Nicola Lacetera, and Karim R. Lakhani. 2011. “Incentives and Problem Uncertainty in Innovation Contests: An Empirical Analysis.” Management Science, 57, 5, Pp. 843-863. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Contests are a historically important and increasingly popular mechanism for encouraging innovation. A central concern in designing innovation contests is how many competitors to admit. Using a unique data set of 9,661 software contests, we provide evidence of two coexisting and opposing forces that operate when the number of competitors increases. Greater rivalry reduces the incentives of all competitors in a contest to exert effort and make investments. At the same time, adding competitors increases the likelihood that at least one competitor will find an extreme-value solution. We show that the effort-reducing effect of greater rivalry dominates for less uncertain problems, whereas the effect on the extreme value prevails for more uncertain problems. Adding competitors thus systematically increases overall contest performance for high-uncertainty problems. We also find that higher uncertainty reduces the negative effect of added competitors on incentives. Thus, uncertainty and the nature of the problem should be explicitly considered in the design of innovation tournaments. We explore the implications of our findings for the theory and practice of innovation contests.

Karim R. Lakhani. 2011. InnoCentive.com (A) (TN). Harvard Business School Teaching Notes. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Teaching Note for HBS Case 608-170

InnoCentive.com, a firm connecting R&D labs of large organizations to diverse external solvers through innovation contests, has to decide if it will enable collaboration in its community. Case covers the basics of a distributed innovation system works and the advantages of having external R&D. Links how concepts of open source are applied to a non-software setting. Describes the rationale for participation by solvers in innovation contests and the benefits that accrue to firms. Raises the issue if a community can be shifted to collaboration when competition was the basis of prior interaction.

Karim R. Lakhani and Eric Lonstein. 2011. InnoCentive.com (B). Harvard Business School Case Supplement. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

InnoCentive.com enables clients to tap into internal and external solver networks to address various business issues. In 2008, InnoCentive introduced "InnoCentive@Work" (lC@W), which recognized clients' reluctance to share problems and solutions with an external network. Instead, IC@W enabled clients to foster open collaboration amongst its own employees. IC@W became the fastest growing product in InnoCentive's portfolio. In 2010, InnoCentive added "team project rooms" which allowed small groups of solvers from InnoCentive's community to openly add posts and discussion threads after agreeing to the confidentiality and IP transfer requirements of the client. The case raises the questions of how the team room concept could be improved and how clients could be convinced of its benefits.

Karim R. Lakhani and Eric Lonstein. 2011. InnoCentive.com (C). Harvard Business School Case Supplement. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

InnoCentive.com enables clients to tap into internal and external solver networks to address various business issues. This case focuses on the outcome of InnoCentive's decision to post challenges related to environmental issues created by the Gulf Oil Spill. It reviews lessons learned from this experience and asks students to consider whether InnoCentive should post challenges in response to the nuclear crises resulting from the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

Paul R. Carlile and Karim R. Lakhani. 2011. Innovation and the Challenge of Novelty: The Novelty-Confirmation-Transformation Cycle in Software and Science. Harvard Business School Publishing. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Innovation requires sources of novelty, but the challenge is that not all sources lead to innovation, so its value needs to be determined. However, since ways of determining value stem from existing knowledge, this often creates barriers to innovation. To understand how people address the challenge of novelty, we develop a conceptual and an empirical framework to explain how this challenge is addressed in a software and scientific context. What is shown is that the process of innovation is a cycle where actors develop a novel course of action and, based on the consequences identified, confirm what knowledge is necessary to transform and develop the next course of action. The performance of the process of innovation is constrained by the capacities of the artifacts and the ability of the actors to create and use artifacts to drive this cycle. By focusing on the challenge of novelty, a problem that cuts across all contexts of innovation, our goal is to develop a more generalized account of what drives the process of innovation.

Challenge_of_Novelty.pdf
Karim R. Lakhani. 2011. Myelin Repair Foundation: Accelerating Drug Discovery Through Collaboration (TN). Harvard Business School Teaching Notes. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Teaching Note for HBS Case 610-074.

This case presents the Myelin Repair Foundation's accelerated research collaboration model for drug discovery. It highlights the challenges of building a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research collaboration that is attempting to create a treatment for multiple sclerosis based on a novel scientific approach. The case provides details on how norms of academic research and intellectual property had to be updated to enable collaboration. The current dilemma facing the CEO and COO of the foundation relates to setting strategic priorities for research so that a treatment for MS can be ready in the next ten years. The strategic choices need to account for the complexities of drug discovery, the uncertainty of commercial partners' interest in the therapeutic approach and the constrained donor-based fundraising environment.

Anat Bracha, Michael Menietti, and Lise Vesterlund. 2011. “Seeds to Succeed?: Sequential Giving to Public Projects.” Journal of Public Economics, 95, 5-6, Pp. 416-427. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The public phase of a capital campaign is typically launched with the announcement of a large seed donation. Andreoni (1998) argues that such a fundraising strategy may be particularly effective when funds are being raised for projects that have fixed production costs. The reason is that when there are fixed costs of production simultaneous giving may result in both positive and zero provision equilibria. Thus absent announcements donors may get stuck in an equilibrium that fails to provide a desirable public project. Andreoni (1998) demonstrates that such inferior outcomes can be eliminated when the fundraiser initially secures a sufficiently large seed donation. We investigate this model experimentally to determine whether announcements of seed money eliminate the inefficiencies that may result under fixed costs and simultaneous provision. To assess the strength of the theory we examine the effect of announcements in both the presence and absence of fixed costs. Our findings are supportive of the theory for sufficiently high fixed costs.

Seeds_to_Succeed.pdf
Karim R. Lakhani and Eric Lonstein. 2011. TopCoder (A): Developing Software through Crowdsourcing (TN). Harvard Business School Teaching Notes. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Teaching Note for HBS Case 610-032.

TopCoder's crowdsourcing-based business model, in which software is developed through online tournaments, is presented. The case highlights how TopCoder has created a unique two-sided innovation platform consisting of a global community of over 225,000 developers who compete to write software modules for its over 40 clients. Provides details of a unique innovation platform where complex software is developed through ongoing online competitions. By outlining the company's evolution, the challenges of building a community and refining a web-based competition platform are illustrated. Experiences and perspectives from TopCoder community members and clients help show what it means to work from within or in cooperation with an online community. In the case, the use of distributed innovation and its potential merits as a corporate problem solving mechanism is discussed. Issues related to TopCoder's scalability, profitability, and growth are also explored.

Karim R. Lakhani, Eric Lonstein, and Stephanie Pokrywa. 2011. TopCoder (B). Harvard Business School Case Supplement. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Metrology plays a key role in the manufacture of mechanical components. Traditionally it is used extensively in a pre-process stage where a manufacturer does process planning, design, and ramp-up, and in post-process off-line inspection to establish proof of quality. The area that is seeing a lot of growth is the in-process stage of volume manufacturing, where feedback control can help ensure that parts are made to specification. The Industrial Metrology Group at Carl Zeiss AG had its traditional strength in high precision coordinate measuring machines, a universal measuring tool that had been widely used since its introduction in the mid-1970s. The market faced a complex diversification of competition as metrology manufacturers introduced new sensor and measurement technologies, and as some of their customers moved towards a different style of measurement mandating speed and integration with production systems. The case discusses the threat of new in-line metrology systems to the core business as well as the arising new opportunities.

2010
Lars Bo Jeppesen and Karim R. Lakhani. 2010. “Marginality and Problem-Solving Effectiveness in Broadcast Search.” Organization Science, 21, 5, Pp. 1016-1033. Publisher's VersionAbstract

We examine who the winners are in science problem-solving contests characterized by open broadcast of problem information, self-selection of external solvers to discrete problems from the laboratories of large R&D intensive companies, and blind review of solution submissions. We find that technical and social marginality, being a source of different perspectives and heuristics, plays an important role in explaining individual success in problem solving. The provision of a winning solution was positively related to increasing distance between the solver's field of technical expertise and the focal field of the problem. Female solvers—known to be in the "outer circle" of the scientific establishment—performed significantly better than men in developing successful solutions. Our findings contribute to the emerging literature on open and distributed innovation by demonstrating the value of openness, at least narrowly defined by disclosing problems, in removing barriers to entry to non-obvious individuals. We also contribute to the knowledge-based theory of the firm by showing the effectiveness of a market mechanism to draw out knowledge from diverse external sources to solve internal problems.

Karim R. Lakhani and Paul R. Carlile. 2010. Myelin Repair Foundation: Accelerating Drug Discovery Through Collaboration. Harvard Business School Case. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This case presents the Myelin Repair Foundation's accelerated research collaboration model for drug discovery. It highlights the challenges of building a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research collaboration that is attempting to create a treatment for multiple sclerosis based on a novel scientific approach. The case provides details on how norms of academic research and intellectual property had to be updated to enable collaboration. The current dilemma facing the CEO and COO of the foundation relates to setting strategic priorities for research so that a treatment for MS can be ready in the next ten years. The strategic choices need to account for the complexities of drug discovery, the uncertainty of commercial partners' interest in the therapeutic approach and the constrained donor-based fundraising environment.

Kevin Boudreau. 2010. “Open Platform Strategies and Innovation: Granting Access vs. Devolving Control.” Management Science, 56, 10, Pp. 1849-1872. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper studies two fundamentally distinct approaches to opening a technology platform and their different impacts on innovation. One approach is to grant access to a platform and thereby open up markets for complementary components around the platform. Another approach is to give up control over the platform itself. Using data on 21 handheld computing systems (1990–2004), I find that granting greater levels of access to independent hardware developer firms produces up to a fivefold acceleration in the rate of new handheld device development, depending on the precise degree of access and how this policy was implemented. Where operating system platform owners went further to give up control (beyond just granting access to their plat- forms) the incremental effect on new device development was still positive but an order of magnitude smaller. The evidence from the industry and theoretical arguments both suggest that distinct economic mechanisms were set in motion by these two approaches to opening.

Karim R. Lakhani, David A. Garvin, and Eric Lonstein. 2010. TopCoder (A): Developing Software through Crowdsourcing. Harvard Business School Case. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

TopCoder's crowdsourcing-based business model, in which software is developed through online tournaments, is presented. The case highlights how TopCoder has created a unique two-sided innovation platform consisting of a global community of over 225,000 developers who compete to write software modules for its over 40 clients. Provides details of a unique innovation platform where complex software is developed through ongoing online competitions. By outlining the company's evolution, the challenges of building a community and refining a web-based competition platform are illustrated. Experiences and perspectives from TopCoder community members and clients help show what it means to work from within or in cooperation with an online community. In the case, the use of distributed innovation and its potential merits as a corporate problem solving mechanism is discussed. Issues related to TopCoder's scalability, profitability, and growth are also explored.

2009
Kevin Boudreau and Andrei Hagiu. 2009. “Platform Rules: Multi-sided Platforms as Regulators.” In Platforms, Markets, and Innovation, edited by Annabelle Gawer. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This paper provides a basic conceptual framework for interpreting non-price instruments used by multi-sided platforms (MSPs) by analogizing MSPs as "private regulators" who regulate access to and interactions around the platform. We present evidence on Facebook, TopCoder, Roppongi Hills and Harvard Business School to document the "regulatory" role played by MSPs. We find MSPs use nuanced combinations of legal, technological, informational and other instruments (including price-setting) to implement desired outcomes. Non-price instruments were very much at the core of MSP strategies.

2008
Joel West and Karim R. Lakhani. 2008. “Getting Clear About Communities in Open Innovation .” Industry and Innovation, 15, 2. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Research on open source software, user innovation and open innovation have increasingly emphasized the role of communities in creating, shaping and disseminating innovations. However, the comparability of such studies has been hampered by the lack of a precise definition of the community construct. In this paper we review prior definitions (implicit and explicit) of the community construct, and other suggestions for future research.
Karim R. Lakhani. 2008. InnoCentive.com (A). Harvard Business School Case. Harvard Business School. Publisher's VersionAbstract

InnoCentive.com, a firm connecting R&D labs of large organizations to diverse external solvers through innovation contests, has to decide if it will enable collaboration in its community. Case covers the basics of a distributed innovation system works and the advantages of having external R&D. Links how concepts of open source are applied to a non-software setting. Describes the rationale for participation by solvers in innovation contests and the benefits that accrue to firms. Raises the issue if a community can be shifted to collaboration when competition was the basis of prior interaction.

2007
Karim R. Lakhani and Lars B. Jeppesen. 2007. “Getting Unusual Suspects to Solve R&D Puzzles.” Harvard Business Review, 85, 5. Publisher's VersionAbstract
For even the toughest of R&D problems, there are often people out there with innovative solutions already on their shelves or in their back pockets. The trick for corporate executives is finding and gaining access to those individuals. Our research with a company that broadcasts technological problems into the ether—and gets back solid results—has given us a profile of the kind of people most likely to solve R&D puzzles. We wonder whether firms might be able to emulate this method to draw new insights from the talents and expertise of their own employees.
Karim R. Lakhani and Jill A. Panetta. 2007. “The Principles of Distributed Innovation.” Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, 2, 3. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Distributed innovation systems are an approach to organizing for innovation that seems to meet the challenge of accessing knowledge that resides outside the boundaries of any one organization. We provide an overview of distributed innovation systems that are achieving success in three different industries. We explore why people participate, the organizing principles of production, and the implications for intellectual property policy. Finally, the potential extensions and limitations of this alternative model of innovation are considered.
2003
Georg von Krogh, Sebastian Spaeth, and Karim R. Lakhani. 2003. “Community, Joining, and Specialization in Open Source Software Innovation: A Case Study.” Research Policy, 32, 7, Pp. 1217-1241. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This paper develops an inductive theory of the open source software (OSS) innovation process by focussing on the creation of Freenet, a project aimed at developing a decentralized and anonymous peer-to-peer electronic file sharing network. We are particularly interested in the strategies and processes by which new people join the existing community of software developers, and how they initially contribute code. Analyzing data from multiple sources on the Freenet software development process, we generate the constructs of “joining script”, “specialization”, “contribution barriers”, and “feature gifts”, and propose relationships among these. Implications for theory and research are discussed.
Karim R. Lakhani and Eric von Hippel. 2003. “How Open Source Software Works: "Free" User-to-User Assistance.” Research Policy, 32, 6, Pp. 923-943. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Research into free and open source software development projects has so far largely focused on how the major tasks of software development are organized and motivated. But a complete project requires the execution of “mundane but necessary” tasks as well. In this paper, we explore how the mundane but necessary task of field support is organized in the case of Apache web server software, and why some project participants are motivated to provide this service gratis to others. We find that the Apache field support system functions effectively. We also find that, when we partition the help system into its component tasks, 98% of the effort expended by information providers in fact returns direct learning benefits to those providers. This finding considerably reduces the puzzle of why information providers are willing to perform this task “for free.” Implications are discussed.

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