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NYU Stern Research Shows How Open-Innovation Business Models Spur Advancement and Maintain Productivity Levels

By Hila Lifshitz-Assaf

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf

By allowing employees to select their roles and their projects, similar to the model of contributors in open-source online communities, companies can achieve organizational stability and foster new innovations.

Organizations from Zappos to NASA are increasingly adopting self-management and open-innovation business models in an effort to spur greater technological advancement or productivity. But how can companies ensure effective production in an environment with so little traditional oversight? Using Wikipedia as a case study, NYU Stern Professor Hila Lifshitz-Assaf and co-authors demonstrate how open-innovation organizations organically develop work flows that ensure stable production, despite the lack of pre-defined procedures, established rules or roles.
 
In a first-of-its-kind series of studies over a ten-year period, the co-authors developed a machine-learning algorithm to analyze and categorize more than 700,000 revisions to a sample set of 1,000 articles posted to Wikipedia, one of the most notable examples of open-source online communities. Specifically, the authors find:
  • Although a large percentage of contributors may only engage in the community once, production at an organizational level is highly stable over time.
  • Individual contributors change roles over time, but, as a collective, they naturally cluster into activity patterns that respond to the work required at a particular point in time, ensuring consistent and reliable work flow.
  • These trends remain steady even when the organization goes through fundamental changes in structure and governance. 
This research has a number of implications for managers of online communities and traditional organizations alike. “These findings suggest an alternative approach to organizational structure and management,” explains Professor Lifshitz-Assaf. “By allowing employees to select their roles and their projects, similar to the model of contributors in open-source online communities, companies can achieve organizational stability and foster new innovations.”
 
The first paper in the series, “Turbulent Stability of Emergent Roles: The Dualistic Nature of Self-Organizing Knowledge Co-Production,” is forthcoming in Information Systems Research