Karim R. Lakhani

Associate Professor of Business Administration

Karim R. Lakhani is an Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, the Principal Investigator of the Crowd Innovation Lab and NASA Tournament Lab at the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science and the faculty co-founder of the Harvard Business School Digital Initiative. He specializes in technology management and innovation.  His research examines crowd-based innovation models and the digital transformation of companies and industries. Professor Lakhani is known for his pioneering scholarship on how communities and contests can be designed and managed to achieve innovative outcomes. He has partnered with NASA, TopCoder and the Harvard Medical School to conduct field experiments on the design of crowd innovation programs. His research on digital transformation has shown the importance of data and analytics as drivers of business and operating model transformation and source of competitive advantage

Professor Lakhani’s research has been published in Harvard Business Review, Innovations, Journal of Organization Design, Management Science, Nature Biotechnology, Organization Science, RAND Journal of Economics, Research Policy and MIT Sloan Management Review.  He is the co-editor of two books from MIT Press on distributed innovation models including Revolutionizing Innovation: Users, Communities and Open Innovation (2016) and Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software (2005). His research has been featured in BusinessWeek, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc., The New York Times, The New York Academy of Sciences Magazine, Science, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Wired.  

Professor Lakhani’s research has been recognized on several occasions, including as one of three finalists for the best paper published in operations management in Management Science (2010-2012), as runner up for the Harvard Business Review-McKinsey Award (2013) and as the winner of the Production and Operations Management Award by The Case Centre in 2015. The totality of his research output was recognized by the Technical University of Munich’s Peter Pribilla Foundation Prize for Research in Innovation in 2008 and by the University of Innsbruck’s Innovation Management Partner Award for Excellence in Innovation Research in 2011.

Professor Lakhani has taught extensively in Harvard Business School’s MBA, executive and doctoral programs.  He co-developed a new course on Digital Innovation and Transformation for the elective MBA curriculum and co-chairs the executive program on Competing with Big Data and Business Analytics.  

He serves on the Board of Directors of Mozilla Corporation and Local Motors.

Professor Lakhani was awarded his Ph.D. in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also holds an SM degree in Technology and Policy from MIT, and a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and Management from McMaster University in Canada. He was a recipient of the Aga Khan Foundation International Scholarship and a doctoral fellowship from Canada's Social Science and Humanities Research Council. Prior to coming to HBS he served as a Lecturer in the Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship group at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.  Professor Lakhani has also worked in sales, marketing and new product development roles at GE Healthcare and was a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group.  


Press / Media

Can America Invent Its Way Back?

BusinessWeek, by Michael Mandel, 12 Sept. 2008

Today, researchers are focusing on ways to make those undertakings more efficient. "Innovation is not just exerting effort and spending money, it's problem-solving," says Karim Lakhani, a professor at Harvard Business School. Lakhani has been studying what is called distributed innovation, in which solutions to a business or technical problem are solicited from a wide variety of people. Open-source software or companies like InnoCentive, which encourages outside researchers to work on corporate problems, are good examples. By contrast, most companies are unwilling to draw on outside expertise. "It's the broadcast of the problem that is important," argues Lakhani. "By publicizing a problem, we can get access to better ideas."

If You Have a Problem, Ask Everyone

New York Times, by Cornelia Dean, 22 July 2008

The idea that solutions can come from anywhere, and from people with seemingly unrelated work, is another key. Dr. Lakhani said his study of InnoCentive found that "the further the problem was from the solver's expertise, the more likely they were to solve it," often by applying specialized knowledge or instruments developed for another purpose.

The Customer is the Company

Inc., by Max Chafkin, June 2008

Whether it's called user innovation, crowdsourcing, or open source, it means drastically rethinking your relationship with your customers. "Threadless completely blurs that line of who is a producer and who is a consumer," says Karim Lakhani, a professor at the Harvard Business School. "The customers end up playing a critical role across all its operations: idea generation, marketing, sales forecasting. All that has been distributed."

The Power of the Prize

Fast Company, by Anya Kamentz, 18 April 2008

Karim R. Lakhani, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, has conducted academic research into the power of prizes -- specifically, the value that diverse minds and experiences can supply. He analyzed 166 problems posted to the "crowdsourcing" marketplace InnoCentive. "Not only did the odds of a solver's success actually increase in fields outside his expertise," he says, such as mathematicians taking on chemistry or biologists looking at physics, "but the further a challenge was from his specialty, the greater the likelihood of success. That is very counterintuitive."

Science by the Masses

Science, by John Travis, 28 March 2008

InnoCentive has drawn a diverse crowd of scientists and engineers into its virtual work force. About 40% of those who register to see challenge summaries have Ph.D.s. Karim Lakhani of Harvard Business School in Boston, who was given access to InnoCentive's data on challenges from 2001 to 2004 and also surveyed about 350 of its solvers, has found that curiosity and pride motivate them as much as the prize money. He suggests that the company's crowd-sourcing approach reflects a "broader trend of democratization of science." As the United States and Europe churn out Ph.D.s, and countries such as China and India dramatically expand their scientific capabilities, more and more people with science training exist outside the traditionally elite research universities. "Many people have the skills and talents to solve science problems," says Lakhani.

T-Shirt Maker's Style, Drawn from Web Users

Washington Post, by Alan Sipress, 18 June 2007

The trend is gaining pace as corporate executives embrace the openness of the Web. Analysts said the promising gains in productivity will ultimately benefit the wider economy. "It's a way to access the distributed knowledge that is out there on the Web," said Karim R. Lakhani, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the trend. "You can now basically focus on your core business." This approach exploits the vast human wisdom and expertise available via the Internet. But crowdsourcing is less of a collaborative endeavor than a means of finding individuals with the right skills for the right price.

How To Educate Your Business Leaders About IT (Without Alienating Them)

CIO Magazine, by Michael Fitzgerald, May 2007

“Businesses are confused about technology,” says Karim R. Lakhani, an assistant professor in technology and operations management at Harvard Business School. He says that many businesspeople suffer from—and tolerate—IT ignorance in part because IT discussions have traditionally focused on the technology itself rather than on how the product of IT—information—affects business operations. “CIOs should reduce the emphasis of the ‘T’ side and push the ‘I’ side,” he adds. It’s a forgotten part of the business in most organizations. The CIO has to step up—nobody else is thinking about it.”

The Wisdom of Crowdsourcing

PROFIT Magazine, by Rick Spence, March 2007

Karim Lakhani, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who studies crowdsourcing, says that open source has more than proven itself in software, with even Microsoft admitting it yields efficient products. But Cambrian's model is unique in trying to fuse open source to a traditional company format: "They've decided that the core market research, production and development functions can be done by the community." With Cambrian's compensation scheme and respect for member participation, Lakhani suspects that it has the right concept: "I think it's the most interesting model out there now."

Prizes for Solutions to Problems Play Valuable Role in Innovation

Wall Street Journal, by David Wessel, 25 January 2007

After examining 166 problems posted by 26 research labs on the InnoCentive site over four years, Karim Lakhani, a Harvard Business School professor, found 240 people, on average, examined each problem, 10 offered answers and 29.5% of the problems were solved.

Web T-Shirt Company Builds a Community, Business

National Public Radio, Morning Edition by Jenny Lawton, 11 December 2006

100,000 Heads are Better than One

Boston Globe, by Chris Reidy, 21 August 2006

InnoCentive can also point to successful outcomes. Karim R. Lakhani, now a Harvard Business School assistant professor, reviewed company results and found that 30 percent of challenges not solvable in-house were solved by an InnoCentive solver. What's important is that InnoCentive doesn't act as a matchmaker, Lakhani said. Instead, network scientists self-select the challenges they want to tackle.

The Rise of Crowdsourcing

Wired, by Jeff Howe, June 2006

Karim Lakhani: "The strength of a network like InnoCentive’s is exactly the diversity of intellectual background." Lakhani and his three coauthors surveyed 166 problems posted to InnoCentive from 26 different firms. "We actually found the odds of a solver’s success increased in fields in which they had no formal expertise," Lakhani says. He has put his finger on a central tenet of network theory, what pioneering sociologist Mark Granovetter describes as "the strength of weak ties." The most efficient networks are those that link to the broadest range of information, knowledge, and experience.