Research

Award winning paper on how small-scale social settings can generate big ideas

Award-winning research from Cass Business School, City University London looks at how informal social clubs and settings frequented by people from differing institutional fields can provide a climate for innovative thinking and practices. The research entitled "Interstitial Spaces: Microinteraction Settings and the Genesis of New Practices Between Institutional Fields" by Dr Santi Furnari, Senior Lecturer in Strategy, has won the prestigious award for Best Paper from the Academy of Management Review.

Interstitial Spaces can be places such as hobby clubs, workshops, or hangouts. The defining feature of these spaces is that they are where social interactions between individuals positioned in different fields occur. A striking example of such a space was the Homebrew Computer Club that emerged in Silicon Valley during the mid-1970s. The group has been described as "perhaps the oddest of cultural and technical intersections", yet from it arose significant entrepreneurs and technical practices. It could even be said that without this club there may have never been an Apple Computers.

However, although the informality and diversity of interstitial spaces generate new ideas, they can also by their very nature hinder the constitution of these ideas into firm practice. The paper identifies two conditions that these "interstitial spaces" need to meet in order to be able to generate innovation. First, they need to be designed in a way to facilitate informal and occasional interactions, because people are more motivated to experiment with new ideas when they feel that there is "less at stake". Second, these spaces need to have one or more "catalysts"-people who sustain others' interactions over time by keeping the level of energy high and by not imposing their own views on others. The paper describes the role of catalysts in detail, providing fine-grained illustrations and examples of how interstitial spaces work in practice.

The Academy of Management Review (AMR) is the highest ranked and most frequently cited academic journal in field of business research in the world. The AMR Best Paper Award recognises the most outstanding article published in AMR in a given year for original ideas that are provocative and make an important contribution to the field of management research. With regards this paper, the AMR awarding committee commented: "This article showed perhaps the broadest reach in terms of relevance and implications. We found this paper really insightful. We learned about new practices at interstitial spaces. It has the potential to impact both research and practice."

A draft version of this paper is available for download at the link below.

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