Henning Piezunka: publication in the Academy of Management Journal

Henning Piezunka, winner of the 2012 funding competition in computational social science, has published a second paper in the Academy of Management Journal. During the devastating Deepwater Horizon accident, British Petroleum (BP) reached out for suggestions on what to do, and received 120,000 suggestions. But which of these suggestions should they pay attention to? Henning Piezunka and Linus Dahlander address this question in their paper.

Of the 120,000 suggestions BP received, some included ideas from distant domains or ideas which BP could never have generated internally (e.g., genetically modifying bacteria to foster the breakdown of the spilled oil). Of course, BP’s story is far from unique; nowadays, many organizations reach out to large and diverse crowds and succeed in eliciting numerous suggestions. But which of these suggestions should the organizations pay attention to? In a recently published paper in the prestigious Academy of Management Journal, Stanford PhD student Henning Piezunka and Linus Dahlander (professor at ESMT Berlin) address this question. Analyzing more than 100,000 suggestions received by hundreds of organizations, they find that organizations tend to focus on suggestions with which they are already familiar, thus filtering out other, more distant ideas. This tendency is exacerbated as organizations elicit more suggestions. This finding reveals a paradox in the behavior of organizations, since their filtering out of distant suggestions counters their original intent to elicit suggestions they are not familiar with. The study has important implications for how organizations innovate and what they pay attention to. 


In their search for innovation, organizations often invite external contributors to make suggestions. Soliciting suggestions is a form of distant search, since it allows organizations to tap into knowledge that may not reside within their organizational boundaries. Organizations engaging in distant search often face a large pool of suggestions, an outcome we refer to as crowding. When crowding occurs, organizations, whose attention is limited, can pay attention to only a subset of suggestions. Our core argument is that crowding narrows organizations' attention; that is, despite organizations' efforts to reach out to external contributors to access suggestions that capture distant knowledge, they are more likely to pay attention to suggestions that are familiar, not distant. We test our theory with a unique longitudinal dataset that captures how 922 organizations responded to 105,127 crowdsourced suggestions from external contributors. After distinguishing between three different dimensions of distance (content, structural and personal), we find that (1) all three types of distance have independent negative effects on the likelihood of attention; (2) crowding amplifies these negative effects; and (3) there are differences among the effects' magnitudes. We elaborate on the broader implications of these findings for the literatures on attention, search, and crowdsourcing.