Management and Policy

The evolution of industries and firms 

Industries and firms permanently evolve. However, it is poorly understood what drives that change, how decision makers can prepare for it, and what responses are appropriate at what time. I have empirically studied the evolution of industries and firms, drawing on global patent data. I developed new methods for analyzing patent portfolios which point to the importance of technology convergence processes. Understanding the nature of such processes allows executives to better position their firms with respect to their technology base and products and in view of evolving competitors, suppliers, and customer needs. It also informs policy makers concerned with regional and national competitiveness. Much of this work challenges market-focused theories of disruption (such as put forth by C. Christensen) and argues that to understand firm and industry dynamics, a sufficiently fine-grained, empirical consideration of technological change is required.

The evolution of technology

Related to the topic above but more upstream, I study the evolution of technology in general terms. I am particularly interested in the coming about of high-impact, transformative innovations such as the transistor, high-temperature superconductors, and nuclear fusion. I have systematically researched the processes that precede and follow what is often viewed merely as a singular discovery events. I found across cases remarkable consistency in the phases of discovery and in the division of labor that drives discovery. This line of work suggests that the lamented decline of high-impact innovation is not caused by a decline of innovation opportunity per se but rather by a lack of recognition of the underlying processes of high-impact discovery, and the lack of institutional and organizational support to promote them.

The role of integrators 

What stands out in both lines of research described above, is the role of integrators — on an institutional, organizational, and individual level. Integrators engage in interpretation, translation, and integration of ongoing developments that are driven by a wide range of stakeholders. They are the ones most able to deal with ambiguity, to engage with diverse communities and ideas, and to evaluate emerging opportunities and risks. On the firm level, typical integrator organizations I have studied are Bell Labs and Apple; on the institutional level DARPA. This line of work informs technology roadmapping and strategic decision making.