August 26, 2015

Nathan Rosenberg, 1927-2015

Economic historian Nathan Rosenberg died Monday. Although I never met him, his pioneering work and students shaped the field of innovation studies that I joined more than 20 years ago.

Although his festschrift issue of Research Policy was published in September 2014 — a few weeks before I started graduate school, I saw his shadow across the work that I studied, particularly through his ongoing collaborations with former student David Mowery. The influence on people like Mowery, Dick Nelson and Ed Steinmueller — people I did meet — was palpable.

These three wrote in their introduction to the special issue:
Rosenberg’s work has influenced economists and social scientists in a number of disciplines, as well as engineers, managers and policymakers. As participants in the November 1992 conference pointed out, Rosenberg numbers among his ‘students’ a much larger and more diverse scholarly population than is true of many of his contemporaries.

Rosenberg’s research in the economics of technological innovation has sought to ‘unpack’ this important economic process and peer inside the ‘black box’ of technology. He has emphasized the need to separate scientific from technological advances, recognizing the complex interaction be- tween these intertwined processes. Much of his historical research has addressed the changing relationship between scientific and technological advance in the industrial economies of the 19th and 20th centuries in such industries as machine tools, bridge design and construction, telecommunications, chemicals, and forest products.
Even though I never met him, it was clear that Rosenberg had legitimated economic history for people who came later — both in general, and in particular for those seeking to study innovation and technological change.

As Richard (Dick) Langlois wrote in his blog posting Tuesday at Organizations and Markets:
Nate was unarguably one of the most important economic historians and students of technological change of our era. He was also a one of the most important influences on my work.

I still regret that, out of ignorance, I didn’t take full advantage of all the resources available to me when I was a graduate student at Stanford. But Nate was a partial exception. I sat in on his course on history of economic thought; and when it came time to choose a thesis committee, he was kind enough to agree to be a member. I remember having a number of long conversations with him in his office in Encina Hall, although his greatest influence on me was through his writings. Nate had an eye for looking into — and theorizing about in a non-formal way — the micro structure of technology and innovation.

I think Nate’s influence shows through on the range of my own work, including that with Paul Robertson. … I was also fortunate to become part of the invisible college of technology economics of which Nate (along with Dick Nelson and others) was a dean, and I was fortunate to collaborate with other fellow Rosenberg students like David Mowery and Ed Steinmueller on policy-focused industry histories, another Rosenberg specialty.
Josh Gans offered his own obituary on Digitopoly.

I made a list of his most-cited works according to Google Scholar, each with over 1,000 cites (despite Google’s bias towards publications since 1994):
Interestingly, after his oft-cited book chapter, everything on this list is either a book or a Research Policy article. His next-most cited work [965] was How the West Grew Rich, a 1987 book with LE Birdzell that argues “ it is the political pluralism and the flexibility of the West's institutions — not corporate organization and mass production technology—that explain its unparalleled wealth.”

I looked at how I cited Rosenberg in my own work. The first citation (of Mowery & Nelson, 1979) came in the 2000 book chapter comparing the launch of cell phone service in Japan, Europe and the US. (This is what I salvaged from a dissertation topic that I had defended, then had to abandon when the data proved lacking for a proper economic history). The article would have been central in my dissertation: it laid out the tension of technology push vs. demand pull, which was crucial both to the U.S. cellphone story (a rare case where technology push succeeded beyond expectations) and the international comparison (trying to prove my proposition that expectations of demand were partly self-fulfilling.)

One thing that informed his first book was his early research on how technological change in machine tools impacted U.S. industrialization in the last half of the 19th century and first half 20th century. What’s old is new again: in the 21st century, additive manufacturing technologies (particularly 3D printing) will be transforming the production of tangible goods in the U.S. and other developed countries. I am studying this, as are OI scholars such as George Kuk, Tim Minshall, Letitizia Mortara and Frank Piller. His work will be instructive as to the importance of context and technological change in understanding the economic impacts of a new technology.

Rosenberg’s worked showed the subtle interplay between the technical and the economic, and set the standard for the economic historians studying technological change. While he is no longer with us, his work lives on and will continue to shape how we approach such problems.

Photo: from Rosenberg’s official SIEPR web page.

August 22, 2015

Next act for one-time Wunderkind

What do you do if you’re wunderkind innovation scholar, but then — after many (but not all) of your best papers are retracted and you lose your professorial credential — you are forced to negotiate a separation (with generous severance) from your plum chaired professorship?

If you’re only 37 and an multilingual expert in a hot area, your expertise should still be in high demand (except for the minor ethics problem). The two suggestions I heard were: 1) become a consultant or 2) teach in China.

Or how about become a consultant to China?
[Shanghai Business Review]
The START Procedure for Successful Collaboration
June 1, 2015

OVER THE past decades, Chinese businesses have primarily been known for their manufacturing competencies, but they have now turned their attention to innovation. This trend can be observed in light of a regulatory environment in China that strongly pushes innovation, which is a top priority on the government’s agenda. Further, selected Chinese firms aim at technology and market leadership worldwide. Lenovo became the world’s largest maker of computers in 2013, and Alibaba Group handles more transactions than Amazon and eBay combined.

These firms and many others see innovation as a core pillar of their competitive strategies, and they increasingly collaborate with foreign companies. … Nonetheless, many of the ideas for potentially fruitful innovation collaborations are not realised, despite the underlying business logic. With these realities in mind, this article presents a five-step procedure for successful innovation collaboration.

The importance of new technology and innovation continues to grow in Chinese firms. In this respect, the internal innovation projects of Chinese firms may be complemented by collaborations with Western companies. … For such collaborations, however, the support of an external consultant in selecting the right partner, entering the collaboration, and managing the ongoing work is critical. … The START procedure is thus a valuable guide and tool for enabling Chinese firms’ managers to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of innovation-related collaborations with Western partners.

About the Author: Dr. Ulrich Lichtenthaler is an innovation and strategy expert at Technology Excellence Consulting, Germany. Technology Excellence Consulting is a leading management consultancy specializing in the successful management of innovation and technology.
The TEC website does not list the name of their most famous consultant, but an article published earlier this year lists his address as:
Technology Excellence Consulting
Unternehmensberatung für Management von Innovation & Technologie
Carl-Feichtner-Ring 7
83714 Miesbach
My German geography isn’t very good, but Google says that Miesbach is 400 km (4 hours) from Mannheim — about 50 km south of München in Bavaria, near the Austrian border.

Hat tip: August 21 e-mail from Google Alerts

August 6, 2015

Researching Open Innovation @ AOM 2015

For a second year at #AOM2015, Marcel Bogers has organized a PDW on “Researching Open Innovation” to help OI researchers discuss and develop their open innovation research. Session #140 will be held Friday from 1:00-3:00 pm in Vancouver Convention Centre East. Room #001 looks like it will hold more than 120 people, which is fortunate given last year’s strong demand.

Last year, Marcel was at the U. Southern Denmark and organized the session with Ann-Kristin Zobel, then a postdoc with Henry Chesbrough at UC Berkeley. This year, Marcel (recently moved to the University of Copenhagen) organized the session with Agnieszka Radziwon (a PhD student at U. Southern Denmark) and Jonathan Sims (an assistant professor at Babson College).

As before, the strength of the program is the breadth of the mentors/discussion leaders running the discussions at the various tables. Here is the lineup for Friday:
  1. The role of individuals in open innovation: Linus Dahlander, Ann Majchrzak
  2. Open innovation & entrepreneurship: John Ettlie, Stefan Haefliger, Satish Nimbisan
  3. Strategy & business models: (see #2)
  4. Users & communities: Ian McCarthy, Joel West
  5. Crowdsourcing & crowdfunding: Allan Afuah, Cristina Rossi-Lamastra
  6. Open innovation in ecosystems: Sabine Brunswicker, Annabelle Gawer
  7. Industry / Regional Innovation Systems: Keld Laursen, Frank Piller
  8. Social/societal aspects of open innovation: Esteve Almirall, Dennis Hilgers
Unfortunately, neither Agnieszka and (at the last minute) Marcel will be able to make it. Frank Piller and I will be helping Jonathan execute on Marcel’s proven formula.

This looks to be one of the two most important open innovation sessions in Vancouver this summer (the other being the OI+business models session featuring Chesbrough, Lettl and Tucci on Sunday morning).

We look forward to seeing all our current (and future) OI colleagues tomorrow afternoon.