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McGuire Center for Entrrepreneurship

Distinguished Scholar Series


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This year’s Distinguished Scholar Series is organized around the theme of networks and cross-sectoral collaboration in innovation.

Friday, January 31 2014

Atypical Combinations in Scientific Impact

By Brian Uzzi, Richard L. Thomas Distinguished Professor of Leadership at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

11:30-1:30 p.m. By invitation.

About the talk: Often purported but rarely tested is the claim that science is spurred on when atypical ideas are united, inspiring fresh thinking to problems. Yet, many scientific ideas and innovations intentionally build in convention, rather than remove it.   Similarly, the adage, an “idea ahead of its time” reflects the riskiness of ideas that embody knowledge far from conventional beliefs.  From this viewpoint, the relationship between atypical knowledge and conventional knowledge is critical to the link between innovativeness and impact.  However, little is known about the composition of this supposed balance.  Here, we analyzed all 17.9 million research papers in the web of science, circa 1945–2005 using a methodology that characterizes each paper’s conventional and novel combinations of prior work.  We find that the premium often expressed for papers with novelty is at odds with the reality that most scientific work typically draws on highly conventional, familiar mixtures of knowledge.  Especially virtuous combinations are not characterized by novelty or conventionality alone.  Rather, the highest impact papers interject novelty into otherwise unusually conventional combinations of prior work, and remarkably, are twice as likely to top the citation distribution.  Finally, teams are more likely than solo scientists to interject novel combinations into their papers, suggesting that the exceptionalism of teams is an ability to incorporate novelty.  Finally, these empirical regularities are largely universal, appearing across fields and decades, suggesting fundamental rules about creativity in science.  At root, our work suggests that creativity in science appears to be a phenomenon of two extremes.  At one extreme is conventionality and at the other is novelty.  Curiously, advancing to the frontier of science appears best served not by efforts along one boundary or the other but with efforts that reach toward both frontiers.

About the speaker: Brian Uzzi is a globally recognized scientist, teacher, consultant and speaker on leadership, social networks, and new media. He holds the Richard L. Thomas Distinguished Professor of Leadership at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. He also co-directs NICO, the Northwestern University Institute on Complex Systems, is the faculty director of the Kellogg Architectures of Collaboration Initiative (KACI) and holds professorships in Sociology and the McCormick School of Engineering. He has lectured and advised companies and governments around the world and been on the faculties of INSEAD, University of Chicago, and Harvard University. In 2007-2008, he was on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley where he was the Warren E. and Carol Spieker Professor of Leadership.  Additional information on Professor Uzzi may be found at

Past speakers

Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Lynda M. Applegate: Catalyzing Game Changing Innovation
11:30-1:30. By invitation.

Lynda M. Applegate is the Sarofim-Rock Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. We can learn a great deal from studying the stories of how visionary entrepreneurs have been able to link need with know-how and people with resources to create new industry segments and new business models that transform how we work, play, and learn. In the tech world we quickly think of Jeff Bezos at Amazon and Steve Jobs at Apple. In retailing we think of Jeff Bezos, again, and Howard Schultz at Starbucks. This session presents what we have learned from studying how entrepreneurs and the innovation catalysts who support them navigate the innovation lifecycle as they launch and grow innovative businesses that change the world. At the end of the session, I will spend time talking about Entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School and will leave time for interactive discussion.

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013
Roger Geiger: "The Past and Present of the Innovative University"

3:30-5 p.m. McClelland Hall, room 208A/208. Reception following

Roger Geiger, Distinguished Professor, The Pennsylvania State University. Professor Geiger is the leading historian of the American research university and its historical and contemporary role in economic development. He is the author of numerous books, including Tapping the Riches of Science: Universities and Economic Development (with Creso Sá); Knowledge and Money: American Research Universities and the Paradox of the Marketplace; To Advance Knowledge: The Growth of American Research Universities, 1900-1940; Research and Relevant Knowledge: The American Research Universities since World War II; and The Future of the American Public Research University.

Monday, Oct. 22, 2012
J. Peter Murmann: "The Co-development of Industrial Sectors and Academic Disciplines"
11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m. McClelland Hall, room 208A/208. Lunch reception following

J. Peter Murmann is the Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Academic Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Australian School of Business, and R. Graham Whaling Visiting Professor, The Wharton School. Professor Murmann is the Schumpeter Prize-winning author of Knowledge and Competitive Advantage: The Co-evolution of Firms, Technology, and National Institutions.

The Coevolution of Industries and Important Features of Their Environments

The Co-Development of Industrial Sectors and Academic Disciplines

More past speakers

Entrepreneurship and Innovation Seminar archives, 2007 to 2012


For additional information, please contact us.