And now, another one of our ongoing profiles of TIM people. Be introduced to Elena Novelli, of Cass Business School at City, University of London, UK. Elena, so…
What are your research interests right now?
My research interests concern the scope of knowledge and the trade-offs associated with a broader knowledge scope. I have been looking at different dimensions of this topic: for instance, I have been studying the role of abstraction in the invention process; the generative value of inventions and its implications for value appropriation; the relationship between knowledge generality and vertical specialization; the relationship between firm scope and its performance.
This is a quite interesting issue in my view because the scope of knowledge defines the space of opportunities for a firm or individual. But, investing in broader knowledge scope is not a straightforward choice: expanding knowledge across domains most likely imposes a cost on performance in any given domain. This issue is becoming particularly relevant in the last few years. In parallel to the increasing digitization of knowledge, we are observing that many firms are changing their scope substantially, with some firms having largely expanded their scope (think about Google or Amazon for instance), while others having focused. Understanding the underlying logic of these changes is fascinating.
What do you think is your most exciting contribution to academia?
I don’t know whether others would find my contributions exciting, but what I find exciting about academic contributions in general is when a new theoretical lens enables us to “see” empirical regularities that were instead “hidden” when using previous lenses. For instance, when I was working on my research on patent scope, I was enthused to understand that taking into consideration both patents claims and patent classes as different dimensions of patent scope (as opposed to considering only one of them as did by previous research) might lead to a quite different interpretation of prior research results, showing that a patent classified in higher number of technological classes does not necessarily guarantee high appropriability to the inventing firm. Or, in my research on diversification with Gautam Ahuja, the use of a “micro-mechanisms” lens to look at previous empirical studies on diversification allowed us to draw a new picture on the relationship between diversification and performance. Another example relates to my research with Alfonso Gambardella and Raffaele Conti. We found that some firms choose to invest in higher knowledge generality as a way to increase their bargaining power when they choose to vertically specialize upstream. We called this strategy, overlooked by prior research, “specialization in generality”. We were able to see this when we reflected upon the fact that investment in knowledge generality and in downstream integration were two interdependent choices (compared to much prior research that had considered them as independent). These have all been exciting moments in my research activities.
Tell us something personal about yourself.
I am very passionate about the way in which businesses are run. When I was a kid, my family used to have a company in the knitwear design and manufacturing industry and I literally grew up within its walls. Every day there were decisions to be made about everything: which new designs to select, which suppliers to choose, how to price items, how to improve the production process, how to be competitive in the market. As I was experiencing all this, I became intrigued by one fundamental question: how do you know what are the right decisions to be made in these contexts? That’s what brought me to study the strategic management of innovation in the first place. Innovation is extremely important in fashion and in creative industries. Every new collection requires firms to innovate. More than in other industries, successful innovation requires a technically sophisticated design, but it also requires meeting the market taste and willingness to pay: this can be quite tricky. I am very fortunate to have the chance to research and teach in the areas I am passionate about. Building on my own research, I have recently launched an MBA course (Capturing Value from Innovation) centred around these issues. I carry this passion in my personal life as well. I can’t help pestering my family and friends with a “mini strategic analysis” on any business I interact with as a consumer, be it a hotel, or a retailer. Needless to say, they often joke about this obsession of mine.
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