Investigating the Impact of Knowledge Reuse on Online Open Innovation Platforms


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date16 Dec 2022


Online open innovation platforms such as Threadless, TopCoder, and Kaggle are increasingly becoming a popular approach for firms to seek ideas outside the organizational boundaries in recent years. The platforms allow users to share and distribute their generated knowledge and ideas. A distinguishing feature of the platforms is that users can reuse other members’ shared knowledge to create new knowledge. Reusing others’ shared knowledge for further innovation can not only affect users’ ideation process but also impact the value to the seeking firms in utilizing the wisdom of the crowd. This presents a pertinent and fundamental issue: does knowledge reuse influence the innovation outcomes on online open innovation platforms? If so, how to promote the positive effects of knowledge reuse and mitigate its negative effects, if any?

Two studies were conducted to examine the impact of knowledge reuse on online open innovation platforms. The first study (Study 1) aimed to address the issue of low product novelty on online open design platforms (OODPs). Specifically, the users on OODPs often make simple modifications to the readily available designs and reuse them in similar contexts. As a result, a vast majority of newly developed designs do not differ substantially from existing ones, engendering a low novelty problem. In particular, some OODPs enable users to build the modular structure of their designs, which can be decomposed into various components and reused for further innovations. To understand whether reusing modular designs can enhance the generation of novel products, Study 1 examined exaptation, which refers to the serendipitous discovery of new functions in existing artifacts, as an important source of novelty on OODPs. Using data collected from, the world’s largest OODP for 3D printing, Study 1 showed that the diversity of digital modules increases the likelihood of generating exaptations, whereas the high interdependence among digital modules reduces the likelihood of generating exaptations.

Given the negative effects of modularity, Study 1 further investigated the potential of digital technologies on OODPs for mitigating these effects. In particular, user toolkits on OODPs have been viewed as important digital technologies that empower users to modify modules in existing designs and visualize the design processes. With the support of user toolkits available on many OODPs, other users can reuse the existing modular designs for further innovations. To better understand whether the benefits of modularity can be fully realized, and its limitations can be mitigated, Study 1 further examined the role of a user toolkit. The analysis found that the support of a user toolkit strengthens the positive effects of modularity and weakens its negative effects on exaptation.

The second study (Study 2) aimed to address the issue of whether reusing others’ shared solutions can improve contestant performance on crowdsourcing contest platforms. Based on learning theory and using data collected from, Study 2 demonstrated that, in general, reusing others’ shared solutions deteriorates contestant performance. However, the subsequent analysis showed that overfocusing on using the shared solutions in depth through continual refinement and extension (i.e., exploitative reuse) is detrimental, whereas searching, discovering, and trialing a variety of shared solutions and hence using the shared solutions of great breadth (i.e., exploratory reuse) is beneficial. It also found that contestants’ self-development experience alleviates the negative impact of exploitative reuse but is detrimental to exploratory reuse. In contrast, time pressure is beneficial for exploratory reuse but exerts no impact on the outcome of exploitative reuse.

This thesis makes some key contributions. First, this thesis contributes to the information systems research on modularity and the innovation management literature by advancing the theoretical understanding of how the different characteristics of modularity influence exaptation on OODPs. It also advances modular systems theory by delineating a technological boundary condition under which the advantages of modularity are realized, and disadvantages mitigated on OODPs. Second, this thesis contributes to crowdsourcing contest literature by advancing the scholarly understanding of how knowledge reuse influences contestant performance and how contestants’ self-development experience and time pressure benefits and deteriorates knowledge reuse in crowdsourcing contests. The thesis also offers practical implications for practitioners about designing online open innovation platforms and making use of shared knowledge on the platforms.

    Research areas

  • digital innovation, open platform, open design, knowledge reuse, modularity, crowdsourcing