As part of our profiles of TIM people, let us introduce Trey Cummings of John Hopkins University which is in Baltimore, Maryland, on the east coast of the the IS. Trey, you recently were nominated for a TIM award at the 2020 conference so…
What are your research interests right now?
I’m currently interested in how firm structure and processes affect the incentives and collaboration characteristics of innovation. This topic is interesting to me for a few reasons. We have witnessed multiple significant shifts along these dimensions in the last couple of decades such as the disappearance of many large centralized R&D laboratories (and possible signs of re-emergence), the general flattening of firm structure, and the increasing options for virtual collaboration. Each of these shifts are not only likely to be interconnected but also likely to affect the type, direction, and prevalence of innovation. These effects on innovation may be useful for some firms but potentially detrimental to others, providing the opportunity to generate real normative implications for management. More personally, the study of how structure and processes affect innovation also conforms to my early academic training as an engineer and time spent in the aerospace industry.
What do you think is your most exciting contribution to academia?
I’d like to envision that I contribute a few exciting aspects to the study of technology and innovation management. First, I hope that my work steers the conversation of innovative structures and processes to new directions and interesting settings. For instance, my dissertation investigated the effect of promotion structure on innovation at NASA. Second, my research tends to blur the lines between what is traditionally conceived as macro and micro research. Given the nature of innovation as a sort of marriage between individual innovator ability/motivation, innovative teams, and firm strategic objectives, I see the study of these “microfoundations” as especially important.
At the 2020 Conference you were runner-up for an award from TIM. Tell us about your dissertation and why you think its findings are important.
My dissertation explores multiple settings where I investigate the impact of firm governance on innovation through its effect on the ability, motivation, and/or collaboration characteristics of innovators, broadly termed the micro-foundations of innovation. For brevity, I will describe the first chapter. This chapter utilizes a unique NASA data set to investigate the impact of promotion structure—the potential financial reward for promotion to the next level and number of competitors for that promotion—on individual innovation prevalence, impact, and collaboration characteristics of NASA employees. From an empirical standpoint, this chapter is a first to provide evidence that promotion structure is likely to affect innovation outcomes. In particular, increasing promotion rewards is associated with increased innovation outcomes despite a decrease in internal collaboration. The chapter broadens the discussion of “structure” in the innovation literature and provides normative implications for the strategic management of innovation. Interestingly, the promotion competition seems to shift some collaborative effort from internal to external. Based on this result, the chapter opens a theoretical conversation about “push” mechanisms firms may employ to encourage open innovation.
Tell us something personal about yourself.
I love exercising in the great outdoors. I’ve cycled across my old home state of Missouri multiple times, run in a few half marathons and played some beautiful golf courses, including Pebble Beach and St. Andrews. I’m also a big kid at heart, which is perfect now that I have a toddler! We can go to the science center, aquarium, zoo, and sporting events together and both have a great time!
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