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Stefano Brusoni is Professor of Technology and Innovation Management at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH Zürich). He coordinates the TIMGROUP - the new Chair of Technology and Innovation Management at the Department of Management, Technology, and Economics (D-MTEC).

About me

I joined ETH Zürich in June 2011 as Professor of Technology and Innovation Management. Previously, I was Associate Professor of Applied Economics at Bocconi University, where I was also a fellow at KITeS (Knowledge, Internationalization and Technology Studies). I hold a DPhil in Science and Technology Studies from SPRU at the University of Sussex (UK). Prior to entering academia, I worked as a firefighter (which I enjoyed tremendously) and as many other things that I have happily left behind. I am now being continuously surprised by my three kids Enrico, Pietro and Teresa (all faithful FC Inter supporters without any pressure from my side) and struggling to live up to their expectations.

Research Interest

Over the years, I have looked at the emergence of alternative product architectures and how they explain firms’ evolutionary dynamics, in terms of their vertical boundaries and long-term viability. The collaboration with Andrea Prencipe has generated a number of papers on modularity, its causes and strategic consequences (see my CV below for a publication list). Together, we investigated how firms can leverage on modularity to rely on strategic outsourcing without loosing their ability of introducing new product architectures.

More recently, I have started studying how individual-level differences matter to explain where new architectures or, more generally, new set of rules (procedures, routines) come from. Here, joint work with Daniella Laureiro-Martinez and Maurizio Zollo is being fundamental to help me make sense of this new area of work (though I doubt I am actually reciprocating their contribution of insights, hard work and humour). Also, work with Anja Schulze here at ETH intends to understand how managerial systems (e.g. lean management techniques) work and evolve over time, and the extent to which they support innovation and change. Lean techniques represent an instance of a 'process architecture' for managerial decision making and thus naturally extends the work on product and technological architectures on the one side, but also provide the organizational context in which individuals take decisions and evaluate their consequences.

Methodologically, I consider qualitative methods as my home turf, despite my original training (ah! The things that people do when they are young!) in economics. Recently, I have begun learning a bit about neuro-psychological techniques to observe individuals’ cognitive characteristics. Brain imaging is also something I have become very curious about. I am very much interested in understanding the extent to which these techniques can be used in social sciences. They carry tremendous potential, but also very serious methodological problems and ethical implications.

Supervised Dissertations

List of the dissertations supervised by Prof. Dr. Stefano Brusoni

Other Activities

Journal articles

Ramus, T., Vaccaro, A., & Brusoni, S. Forthcoming. Institutional complexity in turbulent times: formalization, collaboration, and the emergence of blended logics. Academy of Management Journal

This paper explores how organizations dealing with institutional complexity manage internal tensions triggered by environmental turbulence. Based on a longitudinal, comparative study, we extend previous research that has identified collaboration and formalization as possible mechanisms to reconcile organizational tensions in such situations. We show that neither of these mechanisms is sufficient in itself to resolve tensions. Rather, it is the structured interaction between collaboration and formalization that allows organizations to successfully blend logics and reconcile their conflicting demands. On the basis of our findings, we develop a process model that explains how organizations change in response to environmental turbulence.

Tata, A., Laureiro Martinez D., Garcia D., Oesch A., Brusoni, S. 2017. The Psycholinguistics of Entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 7 (June 2017): 38 - 44

We compare data across 24,624 Twitter users to examine differences between entrepreneurs and the general population. Our analyses reveal that entrepreneurs manifest more positive and fewer negative emotions than the general population. Entrepreneurs also communicate more about work, and less about aspects related to personal life. Interestingly, during the early phases of a venture, positive emotions and work concerns increase, while negative emotions and life concerns decrease. Counterintuitively, work and negative emotions are negatively associated. Entrepreneurs express negative emotions 2.26 times less, and these negative emotions reduce by 8% after successful fundraising. Our work has implications for the understanding of work-life balance and of emotions in entrepreneurial contexts.

Brusoni, S. & Vaccaro, A. 2016. Ethics, Technology and Organizational Innovation. Journal of Business Ethics
Laureiro-Martinez, D., Brusoni, S., & Canessa, N. 2015. Cognition and Emotions in Exploration: A Deeper Look Into the Microfoundations of Strategic Change. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2015(1)
Laureiro-Martínez, D., Brusoni, S., Canessa, N., & Zollo, M. 2015. Understanding the exploration-exploitation dilemma: An fMRI study of attention control and decision-making performance. Strategic Management Journal, 36:3: 319-338

This paper studies the cognitive processes that enable decision makers to switch between exploitation and exploration. We use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a sample of expert decision makers to make two main contributions. First, we identify and contrast the specific brain regions and cognitive processes associated with exploitation and exploration decisions. Exploitation activates regions associated with reward seeking, which track and evaluate the value of current choices, while exploration relies on regions associated with attentional control, tracking the value of alternative choices. Second, we propose and test the idea that stronger activation of the brain circuits related to attentional control allows individuals to achieve better decision-making performance as a result. We discuss the implications of these results for strategic management research and practice. Video abstract:

Ramus, T., Vaccaro, A., & Brusoni, S. 2015. Addressing Institutional Complexity: The Role of Formalization and Collaboration. Academy of Management proceedings, 2015(1): 11350
Rittiner, F. & Brusoni, S. 2015. The empire strikes back. Academy of Management Proceedings, 2015(1)
Brusoni, S., & Rosenkranz, N. A. 2014. Reading Between the Lines: Learning as a process between organizational context and individuals’ proclivities. European Management Journal, 32(1): 147-154

Critical firm-level results, such as strategic renewal and sustainable firm performance are recurrently attributed to organizational learning. Yet, many scholars claim that this firm-level phenomenon has not been sufficiently broken down and connected with lower level activities. Consequently, this paper intends to focus on two nascent conceptual bridges for linking macro- and micro-level structures and processes in the organizational learning literature: (organizational) identity and (organizational) attention. We first briefly review these two approaches, trying to show their complementarities. We shall argue that research on identity and attention is delivering results useful to establish suitable foundations to the organizational learning literature; that both can be scaled up from the individual level to do justice to the multilevel nature of learning and finally that both lend themselves to the analysis of the seemingly unsolvable tension between exploitation and exploration in organizational learning.

Brusoni, S., & Prencipe, A. 2013. The organization of innovation in ecosystems: Problem framing, problem solving, and patterns of coupling. Advances in Strategic Management, 30: 167-194

This chapter adopts a problem-solving perspective to analyze the competitive dynamics of innovation ecosystems. We argue that features such as uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, entail different knowledge requirements which explain the varying abilities of focal firms to coordinate the ecosystem and benefit from the activities of their suppliers, complementors, and users. We develop an analytical framework to interpret various instances of coupling patterns and identify four archetypical types of innovation ecosystems.

Cirillo, B., Brusoni, S., & Valentini, G. 2013. The Rejuvenation of Inventors Through Corporate Spinouts. Organization Science

This article focuses on corporate spinouts as a strategy that can rejuvenate the inventive efforts of inventors with a long tenure in the same company. We rely on an unbalanced panel of 5,604 inventor-year observations to study a matched sample of 431 inventors employed by the Xerox Corporation and find evidence in support of three predictions. First, inventors who join a spinout increase the extent of exploration in their inventive activities. Second, they decrease the extent to which they rely on the parent organization's knowledge. Third, because long-tenured employees, through socialization, tend to progressively adopt more exploitative behavior than short-tenured members, they benefit relatively more from the spinout experience. These results are robust to several econometric specifications that try to account for the endogeneity of the inventors' decision to join the spinout, for the fact that spinouts' inventive activity may be intrinsically different from that of the parent company, and for the possible presence of novel external stimuli for those who join spinouts. The data provide large-sample evidence consistent with the idea that socialization reduces opportunities for organizational learning; we discuss the implications for theory and practice.

Laureiro-Martínez, D., Canessa, N., Brusoni, S., Zollo, M., Hare, T., Alemanno, F., & Cappa, S. F. 2013. Frontopolar cortex and decision-making efficiency: comparing brain activity of experts with different professional background during an exploration-exploitation task. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7: 1-10

An optimal balance between efficient exploitation of available resources and creative exploration of alternatives is critical for adaptation and survival. Previous studies associated these behavioral drives with, respectively, the dopaminergic mesocorticolimbic system and frontopolar-intraparietal networks. We study the activation of these systems in two age and gender-matched groups of experienced decision-makers differing in prior professional background, with the aim to understand the neural bases of individual differences in decision-making efficiency (performance divided by response time). We compare brain activity of entrepreneurs (who currently manage the organization they founded based on their venture idea) and managers (who are constantly involved in making strategic decisions but have no venture experience) engaged in a gambling-task assessing exploitative vs. explorative decision-making. Compared with managers, entrepreneurs showed higher decision-making efficiency, and a stronger activation in regions of frontopolar cortex (FPC) previously associated with explorative choice. Moreover, activity across a network of regions previously linked to explore/exploit tradeoffs explained individual differences in choice efficiency. These results suggest new avenues for the study of individual differences in the neural antecedents of efficient decision-making.

Schulze, A., & Brusoni, S. 2013. How to switch from idea generation to materialization: A case study of set based concurrent engineering. APROS - Asia Pacific Researchers in Organization Studies
Schulze, A., & Brusoni, S. 2012. Knowledge integration within firms: modular and set based strategies to organize for New Product Development, in: Symposium Integrating Knowledge about Knowledge Integration. Panelist with Robert Grant, Stefano Brusoni, Fredrik Tell . SMS 2012 Conference
Schulze, A., & Brusoni., S. 2012. Knowledge integration across parallel projects: A case study of set based concurrent engineering. 3rd Advanced KITE Workshop on Knowledge Integration and Innovation
Adams, P., Brusoni, S., & Malerba, F. 2011. Knowledge, Supply and Demand in Industrial Development: A sectoral system perspective. Innovation and Development, 1(2): 167–185

Economic development is centered around the learning processes of firms, the mastering of knowledge, and the accumulation of capabilities. This article builds upon these core elements by looking at how the knowledge boundaries of firms, the division of innovative and productive labor, and the governance of knowledge have evolved over time in the advanced industrialized countries in order to provide a historical and evolutionary context to the patterns of knowledge dynamics and innovation that are present in economic development and in emerging markets nowadays. It adopts the theoretical lenses of the sectoral system literature to discuss how the interplay of the supply and the demand side affects firm boundaries. The article shows that, over time, the knowledge boundaries for innovation, production and commercialization have greatly expanded, often to reach beyond the legal boundaries of firms or even the conventional definition of industries. The division between production and innovative labor has also increased. At the same time, the role of industrial users and of consumers as a source of useful knowledge has grown significantly. As a consequence, knowledge integration capabilities have increasingly become core competences for firms competing on world markets. These trends will have important implications for leading companies in emerging economies.

Brusoni, S., & Prencipe, A. 2011. Patterns of modularization: The dynamics of product architecture in complex systems. European Management Review, 8(2): 67–80

Building on the research tradition that understands organizations as problem solving institutions, this paper focuses on the micro processes that underlie problem framing and solving. The paper compares the developmental efforts of the three world's leading aircraft engine manufacturers, and their suppliers, to single out the strategic and organizational elements that may – or may not – lead firms to identify the critical interdependencies underlying a technical problem. We argue that firms that are able to frame and re-frame problems successfully are those equipped with systems integration capabilities, namely, a set of routines and heuristics that enable firms to explore and experiment alternative patterns of problem decomposition.

Vaccaro, A., Brusoni, S., & Veloso, F. M. 2011. Virtual Design, Problem Framing, and Innovation: An Empirical Study in the Automotive Industry. Journal of Management Studies, 48(1): 99-122

This paper studies how problem framing by research and development groups, in particular the extent of problem decomposition, impacts knowledge replication processes conducted through the use of virtual simulation tools (VSTs). It presents the results of a comparative study of two research and development groups working on the design of hybrid propulsion systems. The research contributes to the literature on strategy and innovation in four ways. First, we identify three organizational and strategic factors affecting the problem framing decision. Second, we analyse the impact of problem framing on the use of VSTs and the related effect on knowledge replication processes. Third, we show the emergence of a new VST-driven knowledge replication process, i.e. functional replication. Fourth, we explain how VST-driven knowledge replication processes can attenuate the dangers related to the adoption of modular design strategies and address the replication vs. imitation dilemma.

Laureiro-Martínez, D., Brusoni, S., Zollo, M.,. 2010. The Neuroscientific Foundations of the Exploration-Exploitation Dilemma. Journal of Neuroscience, Psychology, and Economics., 3(2): 95-115

Books / Book chapters

Laureiro-Martínez, D., Venkatraman, V., Cappa, S., Zollo, M., & Brusoni, S. 2015. Cognitive Neurosciences and Strategic Management: Challenges and Opportunities in Tying the Knot, 32, 351-370, ISSN: 0742-3322. Advances in Strategic Management: Cognition and Strategy

This chapter discusses the practical challenges and opportunities involved in merging the two fields of cognitive neurosciences and strategic management, starting from the premise that the need to marry them is justified by their complementarities, as opposed to the level of analysis on which they both focus. We discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks of using methods borrowed from cognitive neurosciences for management research. First, we argue that there are clear advantages in deploying techniques that enable researchers to observe processes and variables that are central to management research, with the caveat that neuroscientific methods and techniques are not general-purpose technologies. Second, we identify three core issues that specify the boundaries within which management scholars can usefully deploy such methods. Third, we propose a possible research agenda with various areas of synergy between the complementary capabilities of management and neuroscience scholars, aiming to generate valuable knowledge and insight for both disciplines and also for society as a whole.

Rittiner, F., & Brusoni, S. 2013. Out of the garbage can? How continuous improvement facilitators match solutions to problems, 114. Towards Organizational Knowledge: The Pioneering Work of Ikujiro Nonaka

This chapter builds upon and extends the discussion about knowledge management processes in New Product Development (NPD). We refine Nonaka’s (1994) SECI model by focusing on what and – more specifically – who triggers the transition across the different learning modes, i.e., socialization, externalization, combination and internalization. To do so, this study integrates Nonaka’s distinction between different forms of knowledge – tacit vs. explicit – with Davenport’s (1993) distinction in terms of knowledge content – process knowledge (the knowledge of how to develop products) vs. improvement knowledge (the knowledge of how to improve business processes). To oversimplify a bit, we look at process knowledge as the stock of ‘problems’ waiting for a ‘solution’, stored in improvement knowledge. Process knowledge provides the specific issues, imbalances or errors, which enable engineers to focus their attention on specific problems and start looking for a possible solution that fits their needs. Improvement knowledge provides a stock of possible solutions to such problems. Both process and the improvement knowledge exist in different forms at different places within the organization, or outside. Both can be partly stored and made available in explicit forms through manuals and checklists, and partly mastered in tacit form by the employees or memorized in organizational routines (Nonaka & Toyama, 2003). While the explicit forms of knowledge are typically available to most organizational members, tacit knowledge is managed by heterogeneous and often distant actors. Improvement knowledge is very often available in codified forms through external sources of knowledge: consultants, academics, or professional associations.

Working papers / Conference papers

Rittiner, F., Schulze, A., & Brusoni, S. Process management from a knowledge brokering perspective. ETH Zürich – YNU Research Seminar, 2012