John P. Walsh

Inventing while you Work: Knowledge Generality, Visibility, and Non-R&D Innovation

Date: September 18, 2015

Time: 2:00pm – 3:00pm

Room: Wells Library, Room 030


Intuition, judgment, creativity are basically expressions of capabilities for recognition and response based upon experience and knowledge (Simon, 1976).” Workers gain experience and knowledge in the course of their normal jobs. Therefore, innovative ideas can be generated from knowledge built from learning opportunities across the firm (not just the R&D lab). Employees working for different functions (R&D and outside of R&D) in an organization have different work practices and build their learning through different processes. Moreover, the relative effectiveness of learning by different work practices for innovation is contingent on nature of knowledge, characterized by generality (i.e., high mobility/transferability) and visibility (i.e., tighter links between actions and outcomes). Using multiple datasets combining public and private data and focusing on births of innovations, this study shows how nature of knowledge affects differences in the innovation productivity of R&D and non-R&D activity. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of these insights for innovation management and policy.


John P. Walsh is Professor of Public Policy at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech). His research interests are the study of innovation, sociology of science and the sociology of work and organizations. His work has been published in Science, Research Policy, Social Studies of Science, and Management Science. His work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science, the Matsushita Foundation and the Japan Foundation, and he has done consulting for the National Academy of Sciences, the OECD, the European Commission and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Northwestern University.