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The double-edged sword of recombination in breakthrough innovation


Strategic Management Journal


Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Publishing details

Strategic Management Journal 2015 October Vol 36:10 p 1435-1457

Authors / Editors

Kaplan S;Vakili K


Publication Year



We develop a text-based measure of novel ideas in patents by identifying those patents that originate new topics in a body of knowledge using a computer science technique called topic modeling. This measure allows us to distinguish inventions that are novel – they introduce new language and therefore new ways of thinking – from inventions that are useful (as typically measured by the citations these inventions receive). In our analysis of 2,826 nanotechnology patents, we find that, counter to creative theories of recombination, patents that originate new topics are more likely to be associated with local search, while the most useful (highly cited) patents are the product of broader recombinations. This analysis may help organizations address the conflicting effects of recombination in driving novelty and usefulness.


breakthrough innovation; patents; creativity; topic modeling; text analysis; nanotechnology

Publication Notes

Best Paper Proceedings of the AOM Conference 2012 and Winner of the Best Paper Award at the DRUID Conference 2012

Available on ECCH


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