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. Overview

    My broad research goal is to develop an in-depth empirical and theoretical understanding of the social fabric of innovation and knowledge creation. In particular, I am interested in exploring how the ability to innovate is being transformed by the Web and the information age, as well as the challenges and opportunities it entails. To that end I study the micro foundations of innovation. I study the underlying processes, roles and social dynamics that are the foundation of innovation initiatives in organizations. While most of the literature about Web-based innovation models investigates online communities, my focus is on their influence on organizations, on the intersection of these two seemingly contrasting worlds. This research interest is fueled by the possibility that innovation today is on the verge of fundamental shifts in the mechanisms used and the capabilities developed for knowledge creation. The qualities of this shift are not yet well understood and its true impact still requires precise observation. This period of transition is fertile ground for researching the institutions that are affected by these changes. My research papers focus on a few instantiations of this phenomenon. Thematically they all have organizational elements impacting innovation in common, but are nonetheless diverse. They shed light on important pieces of the innovation puzzle: R&D organizational members, the R&D process, and the organization.

    Keywords: Organizational Theory; Technological and Scientific Innovation; organizational boundaries; Sociology of knowledeg and Science; identity;

  2. “Shifting Loci of Innovation: A Study of Knowledge Boundaries, Identity and Innovation at NASA” (Dissertation)

    My dissertation is based on an in-depth longitudinal field study of NASA’s experimentation with opening knowledge boundaries through Web platforms and communities. In the first paper, I illustrate the co-evolving relationship between knowledge boundary work, identity work, and innovation. Focusing on R&D organizational members as the unit of analysis, I triangulated multiple types of data sources: observation, interviews and internal surveys and documents. The second paper focuses on the R&D process and the emergence of cross-boundary problem formulation. In this paper the unit of analysis is the R&D problem and I analyze both quantitative and qualitative data from NASA and the online platforms to investigate the impact problem formulation has on the solutions reached. The third paper is a theoretical piece that provides an evolutionary model of dynamic R&D paths with shifting loci of innovation. This organizational level model is inspired by the increased complexity in managing R&D when organizational boundaries are changing throughout the various phases of the process. We model this complexity and suggest how organizations might navigate this process.

  3. “From Problem Solvers to Solution Seekers: The Co-evolving Knowledge Boundary and Professional Identity Work of R&D Organizational Members at NASA” (Job market paper, in preparation for submission to Administrative Science Quarterly)

    Scholars have long examined the organizational knowledge creation processes related to innovation. Many of these studies have investigated the relationship between knowledge boundary crossing mechanisms and innovation outcomes. A separate group of scholars have studied how innovation outcomes are shaped by identity of organizational members. Based on an in-depth longitudinal field study of NASA’s experimentation with opening knowledge boundaries through Web platforms and communities, I illustrate the co-evolving relationship between knowledge boundary work, identity work, and innovation. The opening of knowledge boundaries produced important scientific breakthroughs rapidly and with few resources. This opening of knowledge boundaries, however, challenged both the fundamental way these engineers and scientists worked as well as their professional identity. Prior literature on knowledge boundary work and professionalism predicts a boundary protection reaction to such a challenge; I observe this reaction but I also find a powerful contrasting reaction: boundary dismantling. Indeed some organizational members did act to protect their knowledge boundaries and professional identity as “problem solvers,” but others deliberately dismantled their knowledge boundaries and reconstructed their professional identity from “problem solvers” to “solutions seekers.” This was a significant transformation both in the R&D knowledge creation process and the members’ professional identity and capabilities. I discuss implications of these findings for theories on knowledge and innovation and suggest directions for future research.

  4. “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.

    Keywords: problem solving; "Problem Formulation," Innovation, Distant Search, Cognitive Diversity;

  5. “Innovating How to Innovate: Evolutionary Model of Dynamic R&D Paths with Shifting Loci of Innovation

    Until recently, the prevailing consensus among various streams of theoretical and empirical literature in strategy, economics and organizational theory has been that innovation does and should take place within the boundaries of the firm. However, growing empirical evidence and emergent theoretical work suggests that the locus of innovation is shifting beyond the boundaries of the firm. A growing number of organizations currently experiment with changing and opening the boundaries of their R&D processes to various degrees. As a result, the complexity of managing R&D systems has increased and our theoretical models and terminology are inadequate. This paper suggests an organizational evolutionary model that captures the changing organizational boundaries of innovation. The analysis suggests the conditions in which organizations will close or open of these boundaries. For each phase of the innovation process—variation, selection, and retention—we identify the drivers shifting the loci of innovation. We suggest that task decomposition is a critical strategic capability and a choice that determines the boundaries of the innovation process. We build on the existing knowledge theory of the firm and the evolutionary perspective streams of literature with extended examples from Apple, NASA, and IBM. The resulting model captures the rising complexity of managing R&D in organizations across various boundary modes and has important implications for organizational boundaries, capabilities, design, and identity.

    Keywords: "Managing Innovation, Organizational Boundaries, Knowledge theory of the firm, R&D process, Evolutionary perspective on Stratgic Management;