As part of our profiles of TIM people, let us introduce Sam Macaulay, of University of Technology Sydney, in, you guessed it, Sydney, Australia. Sam, so…

What are your research interests right now?

In one way or another all my research springs from an interest in the way conflict and competition shape the production of knowledge. Right now, I am really interested in creative ways organisations respond when traditional intellectual property protection mechanisms prove ineffective. Dmitry Sharapov (Imperial College London) and I are working on the idea that the appropriability regime of a given innovation can be shaped through the use of what we call design mechanisms.

While prior work has considered legal, economic, and social ‘isolating’ mechanisms for securing knowledge-based competitive advantage, our contribution lies in identifying how organizations can achieve similar advantage by strategically manipulating knowledge manifestations (e.g., maps, blueprints, routines, prototypes). “Trap Streets” are a neat example of how such design-based mechanisms work. We theorize links between the use of design mechanisms and the protection of knowledge-based advantage by drawing on the competitive dynamics literature. This work enables us to evaluate the extent to which each type of mechanism has the potential to inhibit the awareness, motivation, or capability of a counterparty seeking to imitate the focal knowledge and the contingencies under which the benefits of using these approaches might outweigh their costs.

There is a growing recognition that appropriability regimes, previously assumed to be determined exogenously, may in fact be endogenously shaped by organizations (Gans and Stern, 2017; Pisano, 2006). Our paper provides a new channel through which this can happen and identifies a new family of tools organisations can use for securing knowledge-based advantage. It’s been a lot of fun.

What do you think is your most exciting contribution to academia?

With the exception of that time I donned a Mini-Mouse hat at the AoM conference in Orlando, it’s got to be the recent paper I wrote on organisational search and learning in non-benign environments with John Steen and Tim Kastelle (https://doi.org/10.1093/icc/dtx045). We draw on years of in-depth qualitative research to problematize March and Simon’s (1958) assumption that search happens within a benign environment and develop theory to explain why and when the search environment might be more malevolent. We still get excited by the implications because relaxing the assumption reveals new explanations for observed patterns of search. For example, actors observed to be searching nonlocally, such as searching for a solution in a distant organizational division, may in fact be motivated by a desire to avoid potential “harm” caused by competition in the local environment, instead of a desire to capitalize on a novel opportunity. This happens because search is a signal. Imagine a scientist who works in an organizational unit where R&D management processes are highly formalized and the act of “bootlegging” innovation is viewed with hostility. If the scientists view each other as competitors, the act of searching locally for input on one’s bootlegging project (e.g., advice; resources; collaborators) could expose one to harm (e.g., a rival reveals your clandestine activities to your manager). Searching beyond the organizational unit in such a setting might thus be less about making “exploratory” leaps and more about conducting one’s search in a comparably benign environment, where the scientist has no rivals and her actions are more difficult for competitors to monitor. We discuss how this dynamic is also likely to operate at the organisational level and the paper lays out how this new way of thinking about search has a wide range of implications for how we study and explain learning, innovation, and strategy.

What’s been your experience with the TIM Division?

Up until I did the Junior Faculty Consortium, I’d presented at the conference, gone to PDWs and so forth, but was probably more of a lurker. After the JFC, I was having lunch with Ammon Salter and he’d asked how it all went. I said that it’d been amazing. All of a sudden, I had people like Stefano Brusoni and Mary Tripsas giving me detailed advice on my work and career! Ammon said that this was great to hear and then asked me how I was going to contribute back to the Division. Good question I thought; so, I put my hand up to volunteer in a number of different roles and really enjoyed it.

Tell us something personal about yourself.

I like Twitter. My wife and I recently welcomed our first child into the world. His name is Håvard, or Howie for short (Yep, my wife is Norwegian). Australia is a long way away from most places so, up until now, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling for research (e.g. mine sites in Indonesian jungles) and conferences (e.g. 32hr flight to Boston anyone?!). These sorts of trips get so much harder with a little kid and so I’ve cut back on the conferences, which has left a bit of an information gap. Twitter has helped plug this by providing a way to keep up to date with what’s going on in the broader field. I’ve got no idea how I’d have done this back in the paper and pigeon era. But, with little Howie fast approaching one year old, it’s getting easier to slot a bit more travel back into the schedule and I’m looking forward to catching up with old and new friends on the conference circuit next year! Until then, I’ll see you on Twitter.

Thanks Sam!

If you (the reader) would like to be profiled for a TIM-troduction, or would like to nominate someone else, please contact us at: tim@aom.org.

(He even has some references)

Gans, J. S., & Stern, S. (2017). Endogenous Appropriability. American Economic Review107(5), 317-21.

Pisano, G. (2006). Profiting from innovation and the intellectual property revolution. Research policy35(8), 1122-1130.

MacAulay, S. C., Steen, J., & Kastelle, T. (2017). The search environment is not (always) benign: reassessing the risks of organizational search. Industrial and Corporate Change.