Balancing breadth and depth of expertise for innovation : a 3M story
Boh, Wai Fong
Date of Issue2013
College of Business (Nanyang Business School)
This study examines how inventors’ breadth and depth of expertise influence innovation in 3M, a company renowned for sustained innovation for over a century. While prior research tends to examine a single indicator – the technical success achieved by the inventor – our study differentiates between three indicators of a successful inventor: (1) the number of inventions generated; (2) the extent to which the inventor has a significant impact in his or her technical domain; and (3) the inventor's career success, in terms of the commercial value they have brought by converting their inventions into products that generate sales for commercial organizations. We found that breadth of inventor expertise relates to the generation of many inventions, but not necessarily to those that are technically influential. Depth of inventor expertise enables individuals to generate technically influential inventions, as measured by patents granted. However, both breadth and depth of expertise are required for innovators to be deemed highly valuable, based on their records of effectively converting inventions into commercially successful products. Our study extends prior research on innovation in two ways. We provide a comprehensive view of how inventors’ expertise influences innovation and also show how inventors with different expertise profiles can contribute in unique ways to their organization.
© 2013 ELSEVIER. This is the author created version of a work that has been peer reviewed and accepted for publication by Research Policy, ELSEVIER. It incorporates referee’s comments but changes resulting from the publishing process, such as copyediting, structural formatting, may not be reflected in this document. The published version is available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.respol.2013.10.009 .