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Getting New Things Done

I am a social scientist with a passion for helping students and leaders innovate in a rapidly changing world by leveraging networks and knowledge in new ways. Welcome to the conversation.

“Getting New Things Done illuminates the invisible, relational work of orchestrating knowledge and network processes central to innovation. Taking no shortcuts, Obstfeld’s scholarly tour de force is eminently readable and truly practical. It is a must-read for academics and professionals who are interested in audacious innovation.”

~Amy Edmondson,

Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School

ABOUT THE BOOK

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How Networks Create Innovation

Our networks—and how we orchestrate them— create vital ties that generate innovation. Organizations recognize and reward this fact by leaning ever more heavily on collaboration, particularly when it comes to getting new things done. This book offers a framework that explains how innovators actively manage networks to translate knowledge and mobilize action.

Creative Projects

Innovation often takes the form of creative projects distinguished by entirely new action. An entrepreneur launches a business. A company rolls out a new product line. Two firms form a partnership. These instances and many other creative projects like them are reshaping today’s business landscape. And yet, we understand little about the social dynamics underlying these creative projects.

Innovative Outcomes

Professor Obstfeld elaborates how actors with diverse interests, expertise, and skills innovate by leveraging their personal and intellectual connections. He asserts that successful exploitation of network processes involving connecting, separating and knowledge transfer between actors can directly influence the outcomes of innovative endeavors.

BOOK REVIEWS

“For too long students of networks and innovation have focused on structure at the expense of understanding process. This book offers a major correction. It lays out a compelling theory of brokerage and demonstrates how not only structure, but also skills around knowledge transfer and articulation, are essential for innovation in creative projects.”

Paul Leonardi

Duca Family Professor of Technology Management, UC Santa Barbara

“Building on the award-winning work for which he is best known, Obstfeld explains how tertius iungens and knowledge articulation drive innovation in the presence — and absence — of organizational routines. This book’s novel theory — rooted in already impactful organizational scholarship — deepens our understanding of networks and brokerage in particular.”

 

Philip C. Anderson

The INSEAD Alumni Fund Chaired Professor of Entrepreneurship; Academic Director of the Rudolf and Valerie Maag INSEAD Centre for Entrepreneurship (ICE), INSEAD

“Getting New Things Done illuminates the invisible, relational work of orchestrating knowledge and network processes central to innovation. Taking no shortcuts, Obstfeld’s scholarly tour de force is eminently readable and truly practical. It is a must-read for academics and professionals who are interested in audacious innovation.”

~Amy Edmondson,

Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School

“In this wonderfully textured blend of ethnography and analytics, Obstfeld lays out a rich foundation for knowledge articulation and powerful extensions to our understanding of networks and brokerage. Both advances are more relevant than ever as we are increasingly moving to the project-based work Obstfeld describes in our networked, fast-paced world. This work establishes a crucial conceptual foundation for understanding the new world of exponential changes we are now navigating.”

 

John Seely Brown

Co-author The Social Life of Information and Pragmatic Imagination, Former Chief Scientist, Xerox Corporation

“This is a fascinating, elegantly written book — its prodigious novelty demonstrates Obstfeld’s unique ability to teach us about innovation. It is exceptionally rich in the way it combines multiple intellectual traditions and grounds them in close ethnographic observation. The focus on process alongside network structure is cutting edge and sets a new research agenda for those interested in getting new things done.”

Ted Baker

Professor and George F. Farris Chair in Entrepreneurship, Rutgers Business School

Bio

David Obstfeld is Associate Professor of Management at The Mihaylo College of Business and Economics, at California State University, Fullerton, and an Affiliated Research Scientist at the USC Center for Effective Organizations. Prior to joining California State University, Fullerton, he was on the faculty of New York University’s Stern School of Business and the University of California, Irvine’s Merage School of Business.

Through multi-method fieldwork, interviews, and surveys, Professor Obstfeld examines how innovators orchestrate networks and knowledge to create new products, launch entrepreneurial startups and initiate social and artistic movements. With several thousand citations in Google Scholar, Professor Obstfeld is among the most highly cited researchers in organizations and social networks. He has published in such journals as Administrative Science QuarterlyOrganization ScienceStrategic Management JournalResearch in the Sociology of Organizations, and Industrial and Corporate Change. The American Sociological Association gave him the W. Richard Scott Award in recognition of his work’s outstanding contribution to the organizational discipline over the preceding three years.

He has received a major grant from the National Science Foundation and current research with collaborators in Europe and the US exploring the micro-mechanisms of brokerage-based innovation just received a three-year, 480,000 EUR Academy of Finland grant. His most recent research applies his social network and social capital focus to improve the educational success of first generation and underrepresented minority students.

Professor Obstfeld has taught entrepreneurship and strategy courses to undergraduates, MBAs, and executives. He has developed and introduced two new courses on lean startup entrepreneurship, and student social capital and career success. Professor Obstfeld received his A.B. from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Before entering academia, he served as Director of Training and Development at The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae).

Professor Obstfeld’s new book, Getting New Things Done: Networks, Brokerage, and the Assembly of Innovative Action, was published by Stanford University Press in 2017.

SOCIAL NETWORK CONCEPTS

“When innovators innovate, they are building knowledge and network bridges.”

What is the tertius iungens?

I termed the tertius iungens (pronounced TAHR-SHahS YUNG-gains) to describe a social phenomenon with which everyone is already familiar: the social process of introducing one person to another, central to innovation and community. I formally define the tertius iungens process as: “a strategic behavioral orientation toward connecting people in their social network by either introducing disconnected individuals or facilitating new coordination between connected individuals.” As such, it might involve introducing people who haven’t previously met or, alternatively, re-connecting people who already know one another to pursue a new collaboration.

Why the fancy name?

A famous early German sociologist, Georg Simmel, who greatly influenced the development of social network theory, coined the term, tertius gaudens, which is Latin for the “third who enjoys.” Simmel used this term to describe when a person standing between two others—a broker—plays one person off against the other, to the broker’s own advantage. Consequently, I followed Simmel’s lead and employ the Latin term, tertius iungens, to denote where the agent brings people together rather than keeping them at odds.

I get that tertius means “third” but where does “iungens” come from?

Iungens comes from the Latin verb “iungo” which means to join, unite, or connect. In early Latin context it references connecting in the phrase “to throw a bridge over a river.” In later Latin, it is used in a more metaphorical sense, “to unite” or “to form” as in a friendship. For example, the great Roman statesman Cicero used the term to refer to “forming a friendship or alliance with another.”

SELECTED PUBLICATIONS

  • Grosser, Travis, David Obstfeld, Emily Choi, Meredith Woehler, Virginie Lopez-Kidwell, Joe Labianca, and Steve Borgatti. Forthcoming. “A sociopolitical perspective on employee innovativeness and job performance: The role of political skill and network structure.” Organization Science.
  • Kauppila, Olli-Pekka, Lorenzo Bizzi, and David Obstfeld. 2017. “Connecting and creating: Tertius iungens, individual creativity, and strategic decision processes.” Strategic Management Journal.
  • Obstfeld, David. 2017. Getting New Things Done: Networks, Brokerage and the Assembly of Innovative Action. 2017. Stanford University Press.
  • Teckchandani, Atul and David Obstfeld. 2016. “Leveraging students as consultants.” Industrial Management, 58(3): 22-26.
  • Kauppila, Olli-Pekka, Kristiina Mäkelä, Lorenzo Bizzi, and David Obstfeld. 2014. “Connecting and creating: Tertius iungens, individual creativity, and strategic decision processes.” Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings.
  • Obstfeld, David, Stephen Borgatti, and Jason Davis. 2014. “Brokerage as a process: Decoupling third party action from social network structure.” In S. P. Borgatti, D. J. Brass, D. S. Halgin, G. Labianca, and A. Mehra (Eds.) Research in the Sociology of Organizations. Cambridge, MA: Emerald Group Publishing.
  • Obstfeld, David. 2012. “Creative projects: A less-routine approach to getting new things done.” Organization Science, 23: 1571 – 1592.
  • Browning, Larry D., Greene, Ronald W., Sitkin, Sim B., Sutcliffe, Kathleen D., and Obstfeld, David. 2009. “Constitutive complexity: Military entrepreneurs and the synthetic character of communication flows.” In A. Nicotera & L. Putnam (Eds.), Building Theories of Organization: The Constitutive Role of Communication. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Adler, Paul and David Obstfeld. 2007. “The role of affect in creative projects and exploratory search.” Industrial and Corporate Change, 16:19-50.
  • Obstfeld, David. 2005. “Social networks, the tertius iungens orientation, and involvement in innovation.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 50: 100-130.
    • Featured in ASQ’s Editor’s Choice Collection on Knowledge and Networks
    • W. Richard Scott Award from the American Sociological Association’s Organizations, Occupations and Work (OOW) section for outstanding contribution to the discipline in an article published within the last three years.
  • Weick, Karl, Kathleen Sutcliffe, and David Obstfeld. 2005. “Organizing and the process of sensemaking.” Organization Science, 16: 409-421.
    • Reprinted in P. Nutt & D. Wilson (Eds.) 2010. Handbook of Decision Making. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, LTD.
  • Obstfeld, David. 2002. “Knowledge creation, social networks, and innovation: An integrative study.” Academy of Management Best Paper Proceedings.
  • Browning, Larry D., Sitkin, Sim B., Sutcliffe, Kathleen D., Obstfeld, David, and Greene, Ronald W., 2000. “‘Keep ‘em flying’: The constitutive dynamics of an organizational change in the U.S. Air Force.” Electronic Journal of Communication/La Revue Electronique de Communication, Vol 10 (1).
  • Weick, Karl, Kathleen Sutcliffe, and David Obstfeld. 1999. “Organizing for high reliability: Processes of collective mindfulness.” In B. Staw and R. Sutton (Eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 21. Stanford: JAI Press.
    • Reprinted in A. Boin (Ed.) 2008. Crisis Management: Volume III. London, England: SAGE.
  • Baker, Wayne and David Obstfeld. 1999. “Social capital by design: Structures, strategies, and institutional context.” In Corporate Social Capital and Liability. R. Th. Leenders and S. M. Gabbay (Eds.), Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Research Citing My Work

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