Conversations and idea generation: Evidence from a field experiment

Working paper

(with Rembrand Koning)

Why do some people generate better ideas than others? We conducted a field experiment at a startup bootcamp to evaluate the impact of informal conversations on the quality of product ideas generated by participants. Specifically, we examine how the personality of an innovator (their openness to experience, capturing creativity) and the personalities of her randomly assigned conversational peers (their extraversion, measuring willingness to share information) affects the innovator’s ideas. We find that open innovators who spoke with extroverted peers generated significantly better ideas than others at the bootcamp. However, closed individuals produced mediocre ideas regardless of with whom they spoke, suggesting limited benefits of conversations for these people. More surprisingly, open individuals, who are believed to be inherently creative, produced worse ideas after they spoke with introverted peers, suggesting individual creativity’s dependence on external information. Our study demonstrates the importance of considering the traits of both innovators and their conversational peers in predicting who will generate the best ideas.

Helpful thirds and the durability of collaborative ties

Working Paper

(with Sampsa Samila and Alexander Oettl)

We explore whether helpful behavior makes collaborative networks more resilient to decay. Using a novel research design, we study whether research collaborations among 11,000 pairs of research immunologists persists after the unexpected loss of a third collaborator. We find that dyads whose departed third collaborator was helpful—as indicated by acknowledgments in journal articles—continue to collaborate after the death of their third. In contrast, dyads who lost a non-helpful third experienced a 5-12%-point decline in their probability of repeat collaboration. The effect of third-party helpfulness was particularly strong when they were high status and when the treated dyad did not have a prior history of helpful behavior. Our results speak to the central role that helpfulness plays in shaping the collaborative relationships that underpin science and innovation.

iSPIRT: M&A Connect (Part A)

Stanford GSB Cases

(with Sarah Rosenthal)

Part A of the case describes the founding of the Indian Software Product Industry Roundtable (iSPIRT, pronounced “ispirit”), a nonprofit organization formed in 2012 by a small group of Indian entrepreneurs and technology professionals who believed that India’s tremendous engineering talent could be harnessed to transition the country from its role as the “back office of the world” into a “product nation” in its own right.  Led almost entirely by volunteers, the group identified three major obstacles blocking the path of entrepreneurship and innovation in India: 1) obstructive government regulations and policies; 2) entrepreneur readiness (or lack thereof); and 3) the process by which potential acquirers/partners could “discover” Indian startups.  Though iSPIRT engaged in numerous initiatives to address these challenges, it is the challenge of “discovery” that provides the focus of Part B of the case.

Learning Objective

 

The learning objective of the case is to provide students with an opportunity to apply social network theory to a real life business challenge. As Rao, students are asked to navigate the challenges and opportunities and determine a pathway forward for launching M&A Connect based on limited financial resources and numerous constraints. What personal and professional networks should he tap into, what resources can he use, what value can he bring to the respective audiences with whom he is speaking? Once students learn the details around how Rao actually launched the program, they are then asked to evaluate the next steps in Part B. How can he overcome the dual challenge/opportunity that iSPIRT’s status as a nonprofit brings? What new challenges does he face as he attempts to identify the “top” entrepreneurs throughout India while at the same time trying to establish credibility with the top tier technology firms in the U.S.? As Rao refines his model, how can he go about scaling it such that iSPIRT can have

iSPIRT: M&A Connect (Part B)

Stanford GSB Case Study

(with Sarah Rosenthal)

Part B explores the launch of M&A Connect, a one-man initiative led by Sanat Rao, to serve as a matchmaker between viable, high-potential Indian startups and U.S.-based acquirers such as Google, AutoDesk, and Intel.  Students learn how Rao approached the challenge of finding inroads into the corporate development departments of these American companies in order to connect them with virtually unknown Indian startups.  While he has achieved success, the process is ongoing and the future of M&A Connect continues to unfold. Also see Part A.

 

Learning Objective

 

The learning objective of the case is to provide students with an opportunity to apply social network theory to a real life business challenge. As Rao, students are asked to navigate the challenges and opportunities and determine a pathway forward for launching M&A Connect based on limited financial resources and numerous constraints. What personal and professional networks should he tap into, what resources can he use, what value can he bring to the respective audiences with whom he is speaking? Once students learn the details around how Rao actually launched the program, they are then asked to evaluate the next steps in Part B. How can he overcome the dual challenge/opportunity that iSPIRT’s status as a nonprofit brings? What new challenges does he face as he attempts to identify the “top” entrepreneurs throughout India while at the same time trying to establish credibility with the top tier technology firms in the U.S.? As Rao refines his model, how can he go about scaling it such that iSPIRT can have