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‘Exploring’ Inventors Thrive in Workplaces with Open Communications

Cross-company communication, versus a top-down, hierarchical approach, creates a more nurturing environment

by University of South Florida
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TAMPA, FL — A new organizational design study from researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) sheds light on the ideal work environment inventors need in order to succeed and thrive when they venture into new knowledge domains.

The study revealed that “explorers”—inventors who go outside their area of expertise whether in technologies, disciplines, or industries—are most productive working in organizations that support cross-company communications versus a top-down, hierarchical approach.

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This kind of decompartmentalized communication creates a more nurturing environment in which inventors know their inventions are valued and where there is more cross-unit project collaboration and greater managerial support as they work on something new, according to the study.

“Our research deepens our understanding on the roles that explorers play in innovation,” said Lin Jiang, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the USF Muma College of Business. “The research also helps us understand what is the desirable work environment that we should provide for explorers to succeed.”

Jiang’s co-authored article, was published online in Technovation, an interdisciplinary journal on technological innovation.

Other major takeaways include:

  • Exploring new domains doesn’t help inventors increase the quantity or quality of patents unless they work for an organization that decompartmentalizes internal communication.
  • Research and development employees who explore other domains are most successful in organizations that encourage and facilitate openness in internal communication. The two-way communication nurtures cross-unit interactions, meetings, collaborations, and managerial feedback.

Researchers surveyed 2,331 US-based inventors in 2013. With an effective response rate of 16.5 percent, the study’s final analysis was based on 321 inventors from 231 companies.

The study’s co-authors also included Brent Clark from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Daniel Turban from the University of Missouri.

- This press release was provided by the University of South Florida