Can specialization foster creativity?: mathematics and the collapse of the Soviet Union


Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Publishing details

Social Sciences Research Network

Authors / Editors

Teodoridis F; Vakili K; Bikard M


Publication Year



Past research emphasizes that high levels of specialization can decrease creative performance because creative workers end up reusing familiar components in familiar ways. We argue that this view of specialization might be overly pessimistic. At times, knowledge domains evolve fast – that is, new components become rapidly available. In such situations, deep expertise places specialists in an advantageous position to identify emerging creative opportunities. To test our theory, we exploit the collapse of the Soviet Union as a natural experiment that suddenly moved the frontier in some domains of theoretical mathematics more than in others. We find that specialists in domains that advanced the most produced not only more publications but also more breakthroughs than their generalist colleagues did. Specialists also increased their rate of collaboration. Thus, specialization seems to be a particularly advantageous approach to creative work in fast-evolving knowledge domains.


Creativity; Knowledge creation; Specialization and diversification


Social Sciences Research Network