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  • Print publication year: 2018
  • Online publication date: January 2018

15 - Organizing Discovery: Wild Ducks Nested in Multilevel Ecosystems


This volume began with the question of whether the process (e.g., pace and cost) of discovery in the biomedical sciences, and those individuals who make the discoveries, can or should be “managed” (see Chapter 1). To many, management suggests an organizational context that involves the provision of resources, incentives, and even bureaucratic controls. Indeed, the French root for manage is manege – to put a horse through its paces. Yet as Rosabeth Moss Kanter, former editor of the Harvard Business Review, observed long ago the innovation process is uncertain (e.g., unpredictable, nonlinear), tacit and fragile (requiring both individual creativity and interactive learning), controversial and political (e.g., competition among ideas), and boundary spanning (involving multiple disciplines, new connections, and exploration into new domains).

This poses a seemingly paradoxical demand: while discovery and innovation are uncertain, tacit, political, and boundary-spanning processes they nevertheless somehow occur within a context of bureaucracy and managerial oversight. The paradox is easily resolved. Discoveries are made by individuals and groups, often (but not always) within and across organizations, and often supported and encouraged by those organizations – but not necessarily or typically controlled by those organizations. The micro-level processes and interactions that yield discoveries and innovations can be stimulated, facilitated, or enhanced by more macro-level departmental, company-wide, and inter-organizational actions and conditions – but only as long as these conditions take account of the entrepreneurial and disruptive nature of innovation. Such characteristics of innovation beg the question addressed in this volume of whether discovery can be managed.

According to this micro/macro perspective, discovery takes place within a multi-tiered ecosystem. The ecosystem contains actors and dynamics at several levels of analysis: the individual inventor, teams or groups, the departments in which these individuals and teams are housed, the firms that bring these individuals and teams together, and the regions of the country where these firms locate and interact with local academic and governmental institutions (also known as inter-organizational “economic clusters”). At each level, there are multiple circumstances and forces at play that serve to spur (or hinder) discovery.

Research on innovation in general, and discovery in the biomedical sciences in particular, has identified many of these forces.

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