Doctoral Student

Johnathan R Cromwell

Johnathan is a doctoral student in the Management program at Harvard Business School.  Before joining the program in 2012, he graduated from MIT with a degree in Chemical-Biological Engineering and conducted research with several faculty members in the Organizational Behavior Unit at HBS.  He made his transition from engineering to management research because he realized that technologies are created by and for people, and he always found himself drawn to questions about the human side of innovation.  In particular, he is interested in understanding the processes behind the creation and adoption of radical or disruptive innovations.  Today there are numerous new technologies that are all promising to change the way our economy operates or the way we carry out our everyday lives.  Artificial intelligence is changing the way we interact with technology; 3D printing is changing the way we manufacture goods; solar and battery technologies are changing the way we consume energy; and cloud computing is changing the way we conduct business and interact with each other.

Where do these radical innovations come from?  How do they get created?  Once they’re created, why do some radical innovations get adopted while others get rejected?  To approach these questions, his research explores the micro-dynamics associated with individuals and teams.  Currently, his research focuses on innovation in teams.  Recent studies have shown that experts are becoming increasingly specialized, meaning that people need to collaborate more often to solve problems and innovate.  While such collaboration increases the ability of teams to develop radical innovation and leads to more innovative solutions overall, the reality is that many teams are unsuccessful and break down for a number of reasons.  His research specifically explores how teams can take advantage of the positive effects of working in teams while avoiding the negative effects to increase their chances of successfully developing a radical innovation.  

  1. Overview

    by Johnathan R Cromwell

    1. High-Stakes Legal Innovation (preparing for submission): Collaborating with diverse or new team members can enhance innovative outcomes in teams, because they provide a valuable source of novel ideas during the innovation process. However, organizations must often innovate to avoid strategic or financial consequences, meaning that many teams inside organizations must innovate when the stakes are higher. Under these conditions, teams suffer from a variety of process losses that actually prevent diverse or new team members from contributing ideas. As a result, members who are most capable of improving innovation in teams are also the ones most likely to be ignored or overlooked when the stakes are higher. Using a dataset of law firms competing in an innovation contest, we investigate why some teams are more innovative than others under such pressures. Consistent with our theorizing, we found that teams collaborating with diverse or new team members were generally more innovative, but that higher-stakes situations negatively affected teams collaborating with new members. When the stakes were highest, collaborating with highly familiar members helped teams withstand many of the process losses associated with higher stakes situations, and these teams were actually more innovative than teams collaborating with new members. Contrary to our predictions, however, we found that higher-stakes situations did not negatively affect teams that were collaborating with diverse members.

    Keywords: innovation; innovation & entrepreneurship; Startups; Decision choice and uncertainty; teams; Team Process;