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Open Space Innovation Network. The origin of ideas over time.

Lukas Zenk, Danube University Krems, Austria, Filip Agneessens, University of Groningen, Netherlands, Giuseppe Labianca, University of Kentucky, USA,

As the contemporary business environment grows more global, competitive, and increasingly complex and turbulent, organizations are being forced to innovate faster in order to survive. Increasing complexity has placed a premium on individuals located in different knowledge pools, such as departments in an organization or organizations in an industry, to collaborate across these boundaries in order to drive quicker and better innovation (Cross, Parker & Borgatti, 2002; Burt, 2004). However, while there is a strong need for this crossboundary collaboration, there are strong pressures that keep individuals from reaching out to interact with new partners: there are organizational reasons that reinforce the creation and maintenance of boundaries for the sake of organizational consistency and reproducibility (Perrow, 1986), and there are interpersonal pressures to maintain contact with homophilous others (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001). These pressures are so pervasive that even in the absence of any formal boundaries, such as would occur in a mixer specifically oriented to helping people meet new partners from different knowledge pools, individuals tend to revert to maintaining 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 partners in this type of setting. Our interest here is in understanding how they are able to develop new ties, when this occurs, 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 social space that brings together participants for a short period of time (typically one ore more days) to discuss and work on specific project issues. Similar to the concept of open source software projects, participants are free to choose with whom they collaborate and on what project, which has the potential to create a swarm toward interesting new ideas (Gloor, 2006). Some of the participants are already familiar with each other prior to engaging in the open space exercise, which allows us to explore how new ties develop over the course of the exercise. Seventy students from a university course in computer science were brought together in an open space exercise at Vienna University of Technology for a day. Their only task was to exchange ideas how to use an open source software technology that was provided to them. There was no other formal structure imposed on the participants. 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 to continue for the remainder of the semester and beyond if the students continued to be interested in the project. We administered questionnaires to the students before the exercise (e.g., who they knew prior to commencing 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, but whether there were different individual trajectories to networking that might be identified. For example, some 1

individuals might have immediately begun by reaching out to new individuals, but then gone back to working with a small group of others they knew previously; others might have begun with those they already knew, then reached out to new partners; and still others might have chosen only to work with new partners or old partners. These egocentric network trajectories are worthy of study in their own right (e.g., Kilduff & Tsai, 2003) and might be linked to better or worse idea generation.

Proposed length of paper: 10 pages