Bill Gates has recently promoted the notion of a "frictionless capitalism." But even if it were other than a myth, it would not be a good idea because it would mark the end of innovation. Friction can be productive when it helps us to be reflective about what we have taken for granted. Innovation occurs when generative friction stimulates reflexivity to recognize new recombinations.
Game Changer: The Topology of Creativity
In this paper, Mathijs de Vaan, Balazs Vedres, and I study the social sources of creative success in the video game industry. Teams are most creatively successful when they are composed of overlapping groups that are cognitively heterogeneous.
American Journal of Sociology, 120(4):1144-1194, January 2015.
The Sense of Dissonance
Search is the watchword of the information age, but in this study of innovation David Stark examines a different kind of search - when we don't know what we're looking for but will recognize it when we find it. Drawing on John Dewey's notion of collaborative inquiry, Stark uses ethnography to study the perplexing situations in which actors search for what's valuable. His cases include machine tool makers in Hungary, new media workers in Silicon Alley, and derivatives traders on Wall Street. In coping with uncertainty, organizations benefit from the friction of competing criteria of worth. The dissonance of diverse principles can lead to discovery.
Recombinant Property in East European Capitalism
Some years ago, when they were little kids, my children invented a hybrid game. Having left the houses and hotels of their Monopoly set at a friend's house, they started to use Lego building blocks (much preferred to the Monopoly pieces even after returned) to construct ever more elaborate structures in a game whose rules evolved away from bankrupting one's opponents and toward attracting customers to the plastic skyscrapers that towered over the Monopoly plain. This strikes me as a good metaphor for innovation and the process of social change. East European capitalism was not built on the ruins of communism but with the ruins of communism.
American Journal of Sociology, January 1996, 101(4):993-1027.
Pragmatist Perspectives on Valuation: An Introduction
Michael Hutter and I wrote this introductory chapter for an edited volume, Moments of Valuation: Exploring Sites of Dissonance (Oxford University Press, 2015). In making the case for a pragmatist perspective on valuation, we emphasize that valuation takes place in situations. Tastes can be put to test, and these tests are themselves contested. As situations, the contestations over valuation are spatially localized and temporally marked.
Moments of Valuation: Exploring Sites of Dissonance, Oxford University Press, 2015.
Ethnic Diversity Deflates Price Bubbles
In this paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sheen Levine and I (together with other co-authors) examine a prominent marekt failure: price bubbles. We propose that bubbles are affected by ethnic homogeneity in the market and can be thwarted by diversity. Using experimental markets in Southeast Asia and North America, we find that market prices fit true values 58% better in ethnically diverse markets. In homogenous markets, overpricing is higher and traders\' errors are more correlated than in diverse markets. The findings suggest that homogeneity promotes conformity. Price bubbles arise not only from individual errors or financial conditions, but also from the social context of decision making. Informing public discussion, our findings suggest that ethnic diversity disrupts conformity and leads to better information processing.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 18, 2014.
This essay is the concluding chapter for The Worth of Goods: Valuation and Pricing in the Economy, edited by Patrik Aspers and Jens Beckert (Oxford University Press, 2011). I start with an insight of John Dewey's that the terms price, prize, and praise all share a common Latin root. To this triplicate I add a fourth, perform, using these four concepts as a device to discuss the papers in the volume. In one section, I address the phenemon of Top Ten lists: On-line ratings and rankings by consumers now provide vast sources of data on prizing and appraising - new means to register value judgments in the economy.
Concluding chapter of The Worth of Goods: Valuation and Pricing in Markets, Patrik Aspers and Jens Beckert, eds. Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 319-338.
Researchers in science and technology studies have long-recognized that the design process is not completed when manufacturers ship out a new product. Instead, users complete the design process when they resist some uses inscribed in the product, identify other affordances, and modify the product. All products, and especially new and unfamiliar ones, entail considerable interpretive flexibility. The new user innovation communities make this insight a part of corporate strategy. Instead of a hit or miss approach, they actively foster communities of users and involve their participation at ever-earlier stages of the design process. This is search when you don't know what you're looking for, relying on the users to recognize it when they find it.
Society Online: The Internet In Context. Sage, 2003, pp. 173-88.
The Organization of Responsiveness: Innovation and Recovery in the Trading Rooms of Lower Manhattan
The September 11th attack on the World Trade Center destroyed the trading room where Daniel Beunza and I had been conducting ethnographic research. The traders invited us to witness their recovery, and so Daniel was with them already during the first week after they resumed trading on September 17th. This paper reports on our observations in their makeshift trading room in New Jersey. The breakdown of technology, we argue, is society made visible.
Socio-Economic Review 2003, 1(2):135-164.
Resolving Identities: Successive Crises in a Trading Room after 9/11
How do organizations cope with extraordinary crisis? In the second paper about the experiences of our Wall Street traders after September 11th, Daniel Beunza and I report on the process whereby they returned to their restored trading room in the World Financial Center. The trading room did not face one crisis – the immediate aftermath of September 11th – but many: anxiety about additional attacks, questions of professional identity, doubts about the future of the firm, and ambiguities about the future re-location of the trading room. A given crisis was resolved by restoring identities; but identities, once restored, redefined the situation and lead to new crises. That is, the successive waves of crisis were produced by each success in managing crisis.
Pp. 293-320 in Nancy Foner, Wounded City: The Social Impact of 9/11. New York, Russell Sage Foundation Press, 2005.
Crisis, Recovery, Innovation: Responsive Organization after September 11
On December 5, 2001, Columbia's Center on Organizational Innovation organized a roundtable discussion with senior executives and contingency planning specialists from key World Trade Center firms. This paper with John Kelly reports on that meeting and other interviews that our research team conducted in the early weeks after 9/11. It documents the importance of strong personal ties, lateral self-organization, and nonhierarchical relations in the recovery process. As a response to uncertainty, organizational factors that explain recovery are similar to those that generate innovation.
Environment and Planning A, September 2002, 34(9):1523-33.