Getting New Things Done
Networks, Brokerage, and the Assembly of Innovative Action
David Obstfeld


Contents and Abstracts
chapter abstract

The Introduction provides an overview of the book's action model. Actors engage in specific social processes to mobilize networks and knowledge to drive both organizational innovation and growth, and many other efforts to get new things done. Innovation takes both more-routine and nonroutine forms, and a particular form of nonroutine action, the creative project, is emphasized as an undertheorized source of innovation in the modern world. Innovation, at the individual level, has four key explanatory variables: (1) brokerage network structure; (2) brokerage process—the action by which a strategic actor leverages his or her network; (3) the strategic actor's stock of knowledge, whether rooted in experience or education; and (4) the strategic actor's knowledge articulation skill with which he or she communicates that knowledge for the purposes of engaging or enlisting others. The BKAP model (Brokerage, Knowledge Articulation, Projects) is introduced.

1 Brokerage in Action
chapter abstract

This chapter addresses social network structure and process to explain how brokerage functions to get new things done. First, innovative action is described as often unfolding in triads through brokerage. Second, the chapter explains how network structure sets the context for action, emphasizing the distinction between open and closed social network structures. Third, the chapter distinguishes between brokerage as action and brokerage as structure. Fourth, the chapter considers the brokerage process, first by defining it and then by proposing three fundamental brokerage orientations or behaviors: conduit, tertius gaudens, and tertius iungens. Finally, the chapter revisits Fligstein's idea of social skill, or the ability to induce cooperation, to argue that inducing cooperation to get new things done is achieved by strategically combining the three brokerage orientations toward action.

2 Knowledge Articulation
chapter abstract

This chapter examines the essential role of knowledge articulation in enabling brokers to mobilize and coordinate others' actions to get new things done. First, the chapter examine the tacit/explicit conceptualization of knowledge and its implications for knowledge articulation. Second, the chapter revisits Carlile's 3T model (knowledge transfer, knowledge translation, and knowledge transformation) and how it bridges between brokerage and knowledge articulation. Third, the chapter focuses on three initially dyadic processes for articulating knowledge: mutual intelligibility, persuasion, and enlistment. Then the chapter turns to ethnographic data to illustrate knowledge articulation in terms of five practices or communicative dimensions: moving between back stage and front stage; moving between complex and simple; moving among the past, present, and future; balancing familiarizing and defamiliarizing; and establishing credibility by laying down markers. Finally, the chapter revisits the relationship between brokerage processes and knowledge articulation in getting new things done.

3 Creative Projects
chapter abstract

A theory of the creative project—the underexamined, nonroutine trajectory for getting new things done—is the focus of this chapter. First, the chapter draws on insights from pragmatist philosophy with respect to the interplay of routine and nonroutine action. Next, the chapter summarizes the organizational literature's treatment of routine and nonroutine innovative action and their expression in the learning-curve construct. The chapter next introduces a conceptual framework for action trajectories in project-based and routine-based innovation. The chapter then explores the role of brokerage and knowledge articulation in creative projects. This is followed by a brief examination of meta-routines and meta-trajectories. Next, the chapter provides exploratory criteria for making distinctions between innovation in creative projects and innovation in organizational routines. Finally, the chapter concludes with a hypothetical case of the Apple Watch to illustrate the concepts introduced here.

4 Mobilizing for Routine-based Innovation: NewCar's Manual Shifter Redesign Initiative
chapter abstract

This chapter illustrates the BKAP model with an extended ethnographic case to show how network and knowledge processes interact to produce routine-based innovative action over time. The chapter first provides relevant context for the automotive design process, after which the author walks through the extended case in three phases of activity and analysis: the first phase involves disruption of the existing design routine and the initial challenges experienced by the manual shifter "crunch team" in its efforts to respond to that disruption; the second and third phases contrast two pairs of actors (two engineers and two sets of designers) who attempt to mobilize support for innovation. In both phase two and phase three, successful innovation advocates mobilized action through brokerage and knowledge articulation to get new things done.

5 Mobilizing to Advance Creative Projects: NewCar's Prototype Parts Purchasing Activity
chapter abstract

This chapter illustrates the BKAP model through an extended ethnographic case to show how network and knowledge processes interact to produce project-based innovation. An ethnographic case study in the same automotive setting found in Chapter 4 illustrates the emergence of creative projects launched in pursuit of innovation. Specifically, this chapter depicts how an automobile manufacturer's prototype parts purchasing routine contrasts with two creative projects undertaken to redesign it. The chapter elaborates how trajectory strategy, consisting of the trajectory projection and scheme, and trajectory management, consisting of knowledge articulation, brokerage activity, and an additional category emerging from the author's field data—contingency management—impact the two projects' adoption. To lay the groundwork for how the two creative projects emerged, the author describes the "cowboy culture" presented in the Introduction, a culture imprinted within NewCar that gave rise to behaviors through which creative projects were pursued.

6 A Deeper Examination of Social Skill
chapter abstract

The relational astuteness that underlies brokerage process and knowledge articulation is the major focus of this chapter. One's ability to encode a communication has to work hand in hand with the ability to read one's audience, in order to shape the knowledge that is to be articulated and manage relationships. The chapter first examines the social astuteness that underpins a dyadic exchange, drawing on Mead's symbolic interactionist perspective and the communication practices of role taking, self as object, imaginative rehearsal, and behavioral adaptation. The chapter then extends that approach to the triadic perspective emphasized in this book. The chapter next explores perspective articulation in greater depth and then turns to riffing—another facet of social skill—where actors draw on the voice or lived-in experience of another individual or category of individuals to drive innovation. The chapter concludes with field observations to capture the influential program manager's social skill.

7 Additional Applications and Implications
chapter abstract

This chapter applies the BKAP model of action to a number of important theoretical and empirical puzzles that have been confronted by organization theorists in particular and by social scientists more generally. Specifically, the chapter explores the applicability of the BKAP model to central issues in artistic movements with a case study of the Ballets Russes in early twentieth-century France, entrepreneurship theory, and collective action. The chapter then turns to several other issues related to organizing and strategy and the individual and firm level, including dynamic capability, microfoundations of organizing, supply chain management, sensemaking, ambidexterity, transactive memory systems, emotional intelligence, and job crafting. From there the chapter turns to implications for mobilizing action across the analogue-digital divide, and for education, social inequality, and social mobility. The chapter concludes by relating the author's approach to de Tocqueville's "science of association."