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Open Space Innovation Network. the Origin of Ideas Over Time

Open Space Innovation Network. the Origin of Ideas Over Time

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Published by: Coins on Aug 28, 2011
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Open Space Innovation Network. The origin of ideas over time.
Lukas Zenk, Danube University Krems, Austria, lukas.zenk@donau-uni.ac.at Filip Agneessens, University of Groningen, Netherlands, f.agneessens@rug.nlGiuseppe Labianca, University of Kentucky, USA, joelabianca@gmail.com
As the contemporary business environment grows more global, competitive, and increasingly complex andturbulent, organizations are being forced to innovate faster in order to survive. Increasing complexity hasplaced a premium on individuals located in different knowledge pools, such as departments in an organizationor organizations in an industry, to collaborate across these boundaries in order to drive quicker and betterinnovation (Cross, Parker & Borgatti, 2002; Burt, 2004). However, while there is a strong need for this cross-boundary collaboration, there are strong pressures that keep individuals from reaching out to interact withnew partners: there are organizational reasons that reinforce the creation and maintenance of boundaries forthe sake of organizational consistency and reproducibility (Perrow, 1986), and there are interpersonal pressuresto maintain contact with homophilous others (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). These pressures are sopervasive that even in the absence of any formal boundaries, such as would occur in a mixer specificallyoriented to helping people meet new partners from different knowledge pools, individuals tend to revert tomaintaining homophilous ties rather than crossing boundaries (e.g. Ingram & Morris, 2007).There are some individuals that are, however, able to overcome these pressures and engage with new partnersin this type of setting. Our interest here is in understanding how they are able to develop new ties, when thisoccurs, and whether this process leads to original ideas. Our hope is that by better understanding the process,we might be able to encourage greater future innovation. The setting is an open space (Owen, 2008) – a socialspace that brings together participants for a short period of time (typically one ore more days) to discuss andwork on specific project issues. Similar to the concept of open source software projects, participants are free tochoose with whom they collaborate and on what project, which has the potential to create a swarm towardinteresting new ideas (Gloor, 2006). Some of the participants are already familiar with each other prior toengaging in the open space exercise, which allows us to explore how new ties develop over the course of theexercise.Seventy students from a university course in computer science were brought together in an open space exerciseat Vienna University of Technology for a day. Their only task was to exchange ideas how to use an opensource software technology that was provided to them. There was no other formal structure imposed on theparticipants. They could decide freely how to use this software, with whom they wanted to exchange ideas,and with whom they would collaborate on these projects after that day. These projects were then going tocontinue for the remainder of the semester and beyond if the students continued to be interested in theproject. We administered questionnaires to the students before the exercise (e.g., who they knew prior tocommencing the exercise), at four time points during the exercise to capture longitudinal sociometric data(with whom they had communicated, with whom they had shared ideas, who they found to be inspirational)as well data on their attributes (e.g., gender, background), and the ideas that were being generated.This method allows us to examine not only whether new ties did indeed lead to more useful ideas, butwhether there were different individual trajectories to networking that might be identified. For example, some

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