Working Paper | 2013

From Problem Solvers to Solution Seekers: The Co-evolving Knowledge Boundary and Professional Identity Work of R&D Organizational Members at NASA

by Hila Lifshitz - Assaf

Abstract

The capacity to innovate has always been the Holy Grail for R&D organizations. Recently scholars have argued for shifting the locus of knowledge creation and innovation outside the boundaries of the traditional processes, naming this approach "open", "peer production" or "distributed" innovation. Organizations are experimenting with these approaches yet there is little research on how organizational members open these boundaries: shift the locus of innovation and the ensuing impact. Prior literature on knowledge, identity and professionalism predicts a fierce rejection of this approach. Through an in-depth longitudinal field study of NASA's experimentation with opening knowledge boundaries, I develop the concept of "knowledge boundary work", capturing the change in R&D work, and illustrate the mechanism of shifting the locus of innovation as a co-evolution of knowledge boundary work and professional identity work. I find that organizational members who dismantled their knowledge boundaries expanded and even reconstructed their professional identity from "problem solvers" to "solutions seekers". This entailed a significant transformation both in the R&D knowledge creation process and the members' professional identity and capabilities. This enabled, in turn, further boundary dismantling. I suggest future research directions and discuss the theoretical contributions of these findings on innovation and knowledge, identity, and technology, work, and organizations.

Keywords: innovation; knowledge boundary work; professional identity; identity work; open innovation; Knowledge Sharing; Identity; Innovation and Invention;

Citation:

Lifshitz - Assaf, Hila. "From Problem Solvers to Solution Seekers: The Co-evolving Knowledge Boundary and Professional Identity Work of R&D Organizational Members at NASA." Working Paper, October 2013. (Job market paper, in preparation for submission to Administrative Science Quarterly.)