Andrew Boysen

Opportunity into focus


My research spans the boundaries between technological innovation and strategy, with particular attention to how demand-side factors like buyer preferences can point to strategic opportunity based on an understanding of how offerings compete in the marketplace, and how that competition evolves over time. The foundation of my research is the formalization of theory around these forces, through analytical and computational modeling, to identify strategic opportunity in the unstated assumptions of, or gaps between, existing theories. While a strong believer in the value of formalized theory, I also work to test these theories to whatever extent possible, looking for inconsistency between theory driven predictions and empirical evidence. Inconsistencies, or falsification where identification is possible, provides further insight into the continued refinement of theory. The latest version of my job market paper can be found here.

Dissertation Research

Where Have all the disruptions gone? Co-adoption of partially substituting technologies. My dissertation research explores strategic opportunity in partial substitutability, starting with the derivation of mechanisms underlying my theory using value-based analytic modeling, to show how bundles of offerings might create more value than any single offering, creating a tension between maximizing standalone value or value as part of a combination, as investments that most increase one may be suboptimal for the other. This research identifies necessary and sufficient criteria for the co-adoption of partial substitutes. Practically, this research points to the value of considering combinations of offerings in addition to dyadically comparing competing substitutes. For example, the tablet computer is unlikely to be the single most valuable computing technology for buyers constrained to single choice adoption, but this technology often makes sense when used for particular needs, as part of a combination with one or more other substitutes, such as desktops and laptops. This research has been recognized with the Robert J. Litschert Best Doctoral Student Paper Award at the Academy of Management, and has been published in abbreviated form in the AOM best paper proceedings.

Out of focus: Competitive dynamics of partial substitutability. The model above is extended in my job market paper, which explores a mechanism which can create opportunity and drive adoption that depends on the existence of a partial substitute – indirect complementarity. Through this mechanism, the introduction of a technology can increase the added value of a more distant substitute. Under certain circumstances this can also lead to preference reversal, where the buyer adopts an offering from a particular technology category only because of their prior adoption of a partial substitute. This can occur when one technology is preferable to another in isolation – such as a buyer that would prefer a compact camera over an SLR, given their range of needs – but where those preferences are reversed conditional on the adoption of a third technology, such as a smartphone. As long as the conditional value of the SLR remains positive, adoption may occur. This is an example of indirect complementarity between smartphones and SLR cameras, which would appear to be partial substitutes if considered dyadically.

An essential element of this research was the creation of a novel dataset, using the metadata from 100,000,000 photos uploaded to a popular photo-sharing site to identify individual-level use and adoption of technologies over time. By observing photos uploaded by individuals over time, I can observe the nature of their interests, in terms of content (subject matter) and performance attributes (focal lengths, shutter speeds, etc.). I can also observe the order and timing of adoption decisions (the first use of a device) as well as co-use (whether a camera is used even after the adoption of a smartphone) over time. This allows me to confirm the initial insight, that partial substitutes can’t always be treated as mutually exclusive. This data also allows me to test predictions derived from the model, in particular with respect to preference variance and prior smartphone adoption as predictors of co-adoption.

A key contribution of this research is the recognition that not all technology competition involves the displacement of an incumbent technology in the face of innovation (or the failure of the new technology), but that opportunity can exist in the supplementation of one technology with another, despite partial substitutability between them. While particularly relevant for technology competition, this approach also provides a useful relaxation of assumptions around substitute competition more broadly, which is often treated as a simple extension of direct competition.

My committee members are Dan Levinthal (Chair & Supervisor), Lori Rosenkopf, Luis Rios, and Anoop Menon.

Other Working Papers

Entrepreneurship rates and health insurance dependent coverage mandates. This paper looks at the relationship between health insurance dependent coverage mandates, where young adults are allowed to remain on a parent’s insurance, and rates and types of entry into self-employment, whether incorporated or unincorporated. Consistent with “job lock” theory in labor economics, which insurance access is associated with reduced and less intensive labor market participation, dependent coverage mandates are associated with a decrease in incorporated and an increase in unincorporated entry into self-employment. An abbreviated version of this paper was published in the Babson entrepreneurship conference best paper proceedings.

Painting a Clear Picture While Seeing the Big Picture: How Cognitive Reconfiguration Helps Leaders Craft Performance-Enhancing Visions. This paper, with lead author Andrew Carton, argues that concrete thinking - but not abstract-thinking - leaders who are paired with an individual responsible for overseeing day-to-day operations (akin to a COO) will redirect their attention to broad, long-term challenges without sacrificing their ability to think concretely. This positions them to communicate concretely about long-term organizational goals, driving strategic change. This research combines an experiment with organizational managers and an archival study of CEOs in the technology industry, to test the resulting predictions. An abbreviated prior version of this paper was published in the 2015 Academy of Management best paper proceedings. This paper is under review at Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

Future Work

Socio-cognitive drivers of technology decision sets. I believe my dissertation work only scratches the surface of what is possible in refining our understanding of competition between partial substitutes once the assumption of mutual exclusivity is relaxed. One key component, missing from my dissertation work, is the consideration of how buyer perceive competing alternatives within their decision space. To get at this aspect of competition, I have obtained a proprietary data set of the complete forums of a popular digital photography site (Digital Photography Review, an Amazon subsidiary) through early 2016. While data has been obtained, theory development needs to be done before analysis of this rich text data begins.

Jack of all trades versus master of one: Search with endogenous complexity in multifunctional competitive space. This project is intended to explore the nature of competition between multifunctional devices, such as smartphones, and more specialized devices, such as cameras, camcorders, and GPS devices. While my dissertation work focuses on a single category, and treats smartphone adoption as exogenous, this paper seeks to better understand how complex technologies can compete where the degree of interdependence is endogenously determined by technological form – specialized or multifunctional. An NM model (a variant of NK) is developed where complexity exposure is partially determined by endogenous scope choices (longer or shorter strings). Preliminary results have been obtained, but additional work is required prior to finalizing theoretical predictions. My plan to test these predictions makes use of a dataset of all Amazon reviews from May 1996 through July 2014, across product categories. While smartphones have incorporated the functions of many different devices, the effect on those categories has not been universal. Though compact camera sales have been decimated, the camera industry has held up well in comparison to other categories, such as portable music players, portable navigation systems, and camcorders.

The demand side of the supply side: Organizational advantage through purpose. This project, with Rebecca Henderson, is in the very earliest idea stage. This project seeks to answer the question of how organizational purpose drives advantage, and under what circumstances this advantage is general (competing organizations can all benefit by adopting a behavior) or competitive (competing organizations benefit by adopting a unique behavior). One element of this project considers employee preference structure heterogeneity, where employees, as suppliers to organizations, have preferences beyond compensation. This introduces strategic choice for firms that must decide how to allocate their resources to the “production of purpose” in addition to offering something valued by their customers. This choice is complicated by time compression diseconomies, where purpose cannot be produced instantaneously.