Article | Organization Science

Marginality and Problem-Solving Effectiveness in Broadcast Search

by Lars Bo Jeppesen and Karim R. Lakhani

Abstract

We examine who the winners are in science problem-solving contests characterized by open broadcast of problem information, self-selection of external solvers to discrete problems from the laboratories of large R&D intensive companies, and blind review of solution submissions. We find that technical and social marginality, being a source of different perspectives and heuristics, plays an important role in explaining individual success in problem solving. The provision of a winning solution was positively related to increasing distance between the solver's field of technical expertise and the focal field of the problem. Female solvers—known to be in the "outer circle" of the scientific establishment—performed significantly better than men in developing successful solutions. Our findings contribute to the emerging literature on open and distributed innovation by demonstrating the value of openness, at least narrowly defined by disclosing problems, in removing barriers to entry to non-obvious individuals. We also contribute to the knowledge-based theory of the firm by showing the effectiveness of a market mechanism to draw out knowledge from diverse external sources to solve internal problems.

Keywords: Competition; Open Source Distribution; Knowledge Use and Leverage; Markets; Independent Innovation and Invention; Problems and Challenges; Research and Development; Gender Characteristics; Science;

Citation:

Jeppesen, Lars Bo, and Karim R. Lakhani. "Marginality and Problem-Solving Effectiveness in Broadcast Search." Organization Science 21, no. 5 (September–October 2010): 1016–1033.