Marginality and Problem-Solving Effectiveness in Broadcast Search

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1. Introduction

The paper “Marginality and Problem-Solving Effectiveness in Broadcast Search” written by Lars Bo Jeppesen and Karim R. Lakhani in 2010 primarily addresses the question which kinds of external solvers are able to generate successful solutions within an innovation contest when problem information is revealed widely and contest participation is unconstrained. For that purpose the authors distinguish between solvers who possess deep knowledge and experience in the problem domain and individuals who are “marginal” and have knowledge or approaches from analogous domains that may create effective solutions. The authors’ overall objective is to show that the latter – the marginality of external solvers – is a statistically important predictor of problem-solving process. In addition they postulate two distinct ways of being marginal in problem solving, namely technical and social marginality. The former describes the distance between the solvers` field of expertise and the focal field of the problem, whereas social marginality is associated with being female, as women have been shown to be less involved in high-status science careers (Jeppesen and Lakhani 2010, Cole and Zuckerman 1984). On these basic principles the authors develop two hypothesises, which are the object of research in this paper. On the one hand they claim that successful solution generation in a broadcast search context will be positively associated with increasing technical marginality. And on the other hand they hypothesize that being a woman, i.e. social marginality, will lead to effective and winning solutions (Jeppesen and Lakhani 2010). Whereas the academic literature of innovation contests is primarily focused on issues such as the optimal tournament design, incentives for participation, award size, entry criteria or the optimal size of the solver pool, there still exists a high lack of scientific knowledge about what determines who will be a successful solver and who not (Jeppesen and Lakhani 2010). Another driver that motivates the authors to conduct this study results from research which has shown that individuals who possess high experience and strong knowledge in the problem domain and who are close to the problem often encounter difficulty in solving novel problems (Allen 1970, Duncker 1945, Lovett and Anderson 1996, Luchins 1942, Sørensen and Stuart 2000). By identifying some general characteristics of problem solving Marengo et al. (2000) argue, that differences in perspectives (internal representation of the problem) might turn out to be an even more powerful problem-solving strategy than the decomposition of a problem. In addition, high variances in perspectives among problem solvers lead to similar high variances in the heuristics used by the solvers. As a result, the potential of finding novel solutions increases dramatically and the advantage of marginality arises (Jeppesen and Lakhani 2010). This view is also supported by research studies in the sociology of science literature that have shown that inventions are usually generated by marginal individuals or so called outsiders (Ben-David 1960). Subsequently, this research paper is encouraged by two main drivers: a lack of scientific studies about how the characteristics of a problem solver impact on the chances of winning the respective innovation tournament, on the one hand, and empirical evidence that marginality increases the chances of reaching breakthrough innovations, on the other hand. Prior research in economics suggests that having many solvers work on an innovation problem will lead to a lower equilibrium effort for each solver, which is undesirable from the perspective of the seeker. Consequently, the same authors argue that it is optimal to restrict the number of participants to reduce this effect (Terwiesch and Xu 2008). Based on this academic progress, Jeppesen and Lakhani (2010) derive an additional benefit of open up the external innovation process by...
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