Doctoral Student

Hila Lifshitz - Assaf

Hila is a doctoral candidate in Management at the Harvard Business School, advised by Professors Mike Tushman (dissertation committee chair), Karim Lakhani and Michel Anteby. Her broad research goal is to develop an in-depth empirical and theoretical understanding of the social fabric of innovation and knowledge creation. In particular, she explores how the ability to innovate is being transformed by the Web and the information age, as well as the challenges and opportunities the transformation means for organizations. 

Hila has taught and facilitated courses on Innovation and entrepreneurship in the digital era, leading organizational change, Strategy, and authentic leadership development. Hila's teaching philosophy is fueled by her research on knowledge and innovation, leading to an emphasis on the importance of knowledge work processes, questioning assumptions and diversity.

Hila earned a BA in Management and an LLB in Law (specializing in antitrust law) from Tel Aviv University, Israel (both magna cum laude). She also holds an MBA (magna cum laude) from Tel Aviv University with an exchange program at NYU Stern, where she studied strategy & entrepreneurship.

Prior to the doctoral program, Hila was a strategy consultant for six years, specializing in growth and innovation strategy. She held related posts at a consulting firm and at a several corporate centers of large international firms in finance and telecommunications. 

  1. From Problem Solvers to Solution Seekers: The Co- evolving Knowledge boundary and Professional identity work of R&D organizational members at NASA

    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 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.

  2. Found in Translation: Decoupling Problem Formulation from Problem Solving and Opening the Solution Space

    We have long believed that the way a problem is formulated is crucial to the way it is solved, and that innovative solutions often steam from reframing the problem. However, since problem formulation and problem solving are two intertwined phases that have been all but impossible to tease apart, our knowledge of problem formulation proper has hardly advanced in the last few decades. Recently, a new setting, namely open and distributed innovation, has allowed us to shed light on the problem formulation process and its impact on problem solving. This new model, in a clear juxtaposition to the standard one, suggests a distribution of the innovation process by decoupling the problem formulation process from the problem solving one. Little is known of these processes and how they are different from the traditional coupled problem formulation and solving process. This paper explores the process that strategic R&D problems at NASA went through in both the coupled standard innovation process and the decoupled distributed one. I find a new process of “cross boundary problem formulation” that emerged in the decoupled model when R&D organizational members aimed to broaden the solution space outside their usual knowledge boundaries, to other disciplines and professions. Problems that went through cross boundary problem formulation had more successful solutions. Furthermore R&D members described the new process as the most important capability developed from their experiment with open and distributed innovation. This paper suggests a theoretical model of the cross boundary problem formulation process and implications on innovation.

  3. Tushman, Michael, Karim Lakhani, and Hila Lifshitz-Assaf. 2012 "Open Innovation and Organization Design." Special Issue on Future of Organizational Design, Journal of Organization Design 1, no. 1: 24–27

    This paper calls the organization design community to reconcile the divergent scholarly perspectives on the relationship between firm boundaries and the locus of innovation by moving beyond debates between open vs. closed boundaries and instead embracing the notion of complex organizational boundaries where firms simultaneously pursue a range of boundary options that include “closed” vertical integration, strategic alliances with key partners, and “open” boundaries characteristic of various open innovation approaches. The simultaneous pursuit results in organizations that can attend to complex, often internally inconsistent, innovation logics and their structural and process requirements.