Wakes of Innovation in Project Networks: The Case of Digital 3-D Representations in Architecture, Engineering, and Construction

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/orsc.1070.0304

Changes in the technologies of representation in a heterogeneous, distributed sociotechnical system, such as a large construction project, can instigate a complex pattern of innovations in technologies, practices, structures, and strategies. We studied the adoption of digital three-dimensional (3-D) representations in the building projects of the architect Frank O. Gehry, and observed that multiple, heterogeneous firms in those projects produced diverse innovations, each of which created a wake of innovation. Together, these multiple wakes of innovation produce a complex landscape of innovations with unpredictable peaks and valleys. Gehry’s adoption of digital 3-D representations disturbed the ecology of interactions and stimulated innovations in his project networks by: providing path-creating innovation trajectories in separate communities of practice, creating trading zones where communities could create knowledge about diverse innovations, and offering a means for intercalating innovations across heterogeneous communities. Our study suggests that changes in digital representations that are central to the functioning of a distributed system can engender multiple innovations in technologies, work practices, and knowledge across multiple communities, each of which is following its own distinctive tempo and trajectory.

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