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USF study reveals exploring inventors thrive in workplace with open communications

TAMPA -- A new organizational design study from researchers at the University of South Florida sheds light on the ideal work environment inventors need in order to succeed and thrive when they venture into new knowledge domains.

The study revealed that “explorers,” or inventors who go outside their area of expertise whether in technologies, disciplines or industries, are most productive when they are working in an organization that supports cross-company communications, versus a top-down, hierarchical approach.

The decompartmentalized communication creates a more nurturing environment where inventors know their inventions are valued, where there is more cross-unit project collaboration, and greater managerial support as they work on something new, according to the study.

“Our research deepens our understanding on the roles that explorers play in innovation,” said Lin Jiang, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the USF Muma College of Business. “The research also helps us understand what is the desirable work environment that we should provide for explorers to succeed.”

Jiang’s co-authored article, “Overcoming the challenge of exploration: How decompartmentalization of internal communication enhances the effect of exploration on employee inventive performance,” was published online in August in Technovation, an interdisciplinary journal on technological innovation.

Other major takeaways include:

  • Exploring new domains does not improve an inventor’s inventive performance, in terms of patenting quantity and quality, unless the inventors work for an organization that facilitates the decompartmentalization of internal communication.
  • Research and development employees who explore other domains can best succeed if they are in an organization that encourages and facilitates openness in internal communication. The two-way communication nurtures cross-unit interactions, meetings, collaborations, and managerial feedback.

Researchers conducted the study by utilizing a unique survey sent to 2,331 inventors located in the U.S. in 2013. With an effective response rate of 16.5%, the study’s final analysis was based on 321 inventors from 231 companies.

The study’s co-authors also included Brent Clark from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Daniel Turban from the University of Missouri.

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