One of the key distinguishing features of digital technology is its generativity. Simply put, it is how the people do things that you as the original creator never thought about doing. Zittrain popularized the concept by analyzing the growth of PC and the Internet. In an ISR article that I wrote with Ola Henfridsson and Kalle Lyytinen, I proposed the notion of layered modular architecture as the technical underpinning of such generativity of digital platform ecosystems.
Despite its importance, there is not enough empirical research looking at the patterns of generative evolution of digital platform ecosystem. One such ecosystem is the platform that I am now using to write my blog. WIth the generous support from the National Science Foundation, my former student, Sungyong Um, and I have been looking at the evolution WordPress since its inception in 2004. Sungyong has collected every plug-in written for WordPress and analyzed their source codes to find out which APIs they use. We found out that plug-in developers mix both APIs developed by WordPress and those by others (such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook). In January 2004, there were 86 plug-ins using 40 APIs by WordPress and 4 by others. A decade later (December 2014), there were 23,218 plug-ins using a pool of 443 APIs, only 99 of which were created by WordPress and the remaining 344 APIs coming from other large and small web service providers.
We characterized each plug-in as a combination of APIs, which allowed us to build a dynamic network of APIs to understand the generative evolution of the entire ecosystem. Below is an animation that shows the dynamic growth of WordPress. In the animation, blue dots are APIs built by WordPress. A line connecting two APIs indicates that those two APIs are being used to build a plug-in. If two APIs are repeatedly used, the lines become thicker. The animation is a bit jittery as the software changes the angle for different years.
The full manuscript is in the final stage (we hope) of the review process. What you will see from the animation is the important role that certain outside APIs play as the network grows over time. We are in the process of analyzing the history of R ecosystem. I will share the results here soon.
An HRB article I wrote with Kyungmook Kim, entitled “How Samsung Became A Design Powerhouse”, stirred up rather strong reactions from some of the readers. I feel that it is important respond to those criticism. Below is the reply that I posted on the HBR site.
The purpose of the article we wrote for HBR was to show how — and why — Samsung Electronics made a difficult and remarkably successful transition, in a short span of time, from a low-cost OEM maker to a consumer-focused company with design-centered thinking at its core. The details of this transition, including how Samsung built design expertise in-house and how designers overcame resistance from engineers, are relevant for any emerging-market company or engineering-centric company seeking to find its way out of the low-margin world of the commodities supplier.
True, both my coauthor, Kyungmook Kim, and I have connections with Samsung, but it was our connections that gave us an inside view of the transition. Over the past three years, we talked to former and current designers, managers, and executives at Samsung, as well as some of its suppliers, and heard about Samsung’s struggles to make design the driving force of innovation. Design in this context is far more than just a product’s look and feel; it is a human-centered mind-set. Far from being a puff piece, the article chronicles those struggles and shows that as software comes to dominate consumer products, further serious challenges lie ahead for Samsung.
Our HBR article isn’t intended to compare Apple and Samsung. Instead it’s aimed at showing how an emerging-market company with little initial design knowledge can become truly design-centric and thereby compete with developed-market design powerhouses like Apple.
I have noticed that scholarly journals are increasingly making their articles available for free if the authors pay certain fees. The fees can be quite expensive (several thousand dollars). I was told that making the article available online for free certainly increases its exposure and thus potentially increase its citation number. As an author, I want my work to be read widely. But this practice of paying for open access does raise a question. Can it create a situation where the work by the authors who cannot afford these fees will not be read and cited as much as those who can afford? What will be the long-term consequence of the nature of scientific inquiries, if we primarily read the work that are convent to find and download, because the authors could afford the price of making them “open”?
This is an interview I did for Canadian Innovation Centre. I was asked to describe my research in the domain of innovation. I mostly talked about my current work on the evolutionary sciences of the digital artifacts, focusing on its implication on design and platform strategy.
The work reflected in the interview was funded in part by National Science Foundation and CIGREF.
I am conducting a lab-based study to explore user attitudes toward a new mobile phone application. You may be eligible to participate in this study if you have a part-time/full-time job and use a smartphone. Participants will firstly be introduced to the new mobile application that is being developed and then asked to complete a survey. The whole session is expected to last about an hour. All participants will receive a $50 Amazon gift card at the end of the session.
Please hurry up! Seats are limited. If you have any questions concerning the study, please contact Ermira Zifla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Back in October, I made a short radio recording for for Academic Minute, a program made by WAMC – Northeast Public Radio. Last week, my show was finally aired. You can listen to the show and read the transcript here.
The research that was mentioned in this show was funded by in part by Fox School of Business, National Science Foundation (grant # 0943010 and 1120966) as well as a grant from CIGREF. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of mine and do not necessarily reflect the view of the funders.
Recently, New York Time had an article on evasive nature of value of IT investments in classroom. Kyrene School District in Arizona spent roughly $33 million since 2005 on various forms of information technology in classroom. Yet, the reports says, scores in reading and math have stagnated in the district, while the statewide scores have risen. The articles goes on to offer several different perspectives as to why it might have happened. One perspective says that technology spending for education is waste. Another perspective says that we have wrong measures. The third perspective is that we need to change other things to see the impact of IT spending.
This feels almost like deja vu. This is exactly the question that the entire MIS community has been trying to answer in the business context. It was called IT productivity paradox. There were people who believed that it was a matter of better technology. They believed that if we designed the system better, we would see the impact. Then, there were people who believed that it was a matter of user acceptance. They believed that individual users needed to be convinced about the usefulness of the tool so that they would accept the tool. Other believed that we needed to implement it better. They believed that if we had more user engagement, top management support and better training, we would see the value from IT investment. Out of this, we had so-called “change management” consulting practice. Then, there were people who believed that it was about changing the organizational routines and organizational structures. They believed that we needed to mangers need to pay closer attentions to existing norms and rules as they tried to bring technology into the organizations. Finally, there were people who believed that the measurement was the problem. In other words, they felt that simply if we could measure the outcome better, we would see the improvements in business performance through IT investment. All of these provided very rich understanding of how IT may or may not help organizations improve their performance.
Perhaps, people who are trying to solve this paradox can read this very rich body of research before they start spending their time and efforts to understand what is going on here. I am pretty sure we can learn a lot from just reading them.
With Kalle Lyytinen, Veeresh Thummandi, and Aaron Weiss, I wrote a paper that analyzes the unbounded nature of digital innovation, drawing on the history of digital camera. It was a fun paper to write and I am glad that it was accepted for a presentation at the Academy of Management this summer.
Yesterday, on my Facebook I posted a quote from a recent article by Lamar Alexander published on Newsweek. Among other things, he points out that tenure system in American universities is not working. Here’s what he wrote:
Within academic departments, tenure, combined with age-discrimination laws, make faculty turnover—critical for a university to remain current in changing times—difficult. Instead of protecting speech and encouraging diversity and innovative thinking, the tenure system often stifles them: aspiring professors must win the approval of established colleagues for tenure, encouraging likemindedness and sometimes inhibiting the free flow of ideas.
To this post, my former colleague at Case, Susan Helper whom I respect a lot, posted the following comments:
tenure may discourage some small innovations, but also protects the development of big, unpopular ideas (imho!). As Dick Boland has said, every academic should, at least once in their career, do something they would have not been able to do without tenure!
To this I responded:
I totally agree with Dick. The challenge is that human mind is habitual. It is very hard to break away from the pattern of behavior that you acquired while you are working very hard to get tenured.
Today, I explored what it means to be a management scholar with my doctoral students. One of the questions I asked them is why do we see this quandary of being in two different worlds: practice and academia. Several theories were suggested as to why we have it. And few suggestions were offered as to what to do about it. Of course, this is a quandary that will not go away as by definition, we (management scholars) are caught in between these two worlds. In a way this is precisely where we need to be. Sometimes, we put a convenient blind so that we can focus on one while ignoring the other. Sometimes, we tend to do better in one than the other. Therefore, no answer will be satisfying and that is good. We don’t want to exactly figure out his problem: the moment we think we figure it out, we will be stuck in that moment, while the world around us is moving on.