I am an ethnographer who studies the changing nature of work inside established organizations experiencing the digital transformation of their industries. In my two ethnographic research projects to date I have studied situations in which historically dominant organization members with deep expertise in an industry remain critical, but must work across new boundaries and integrate new kinds of expertise in order to digitally transform their organizations. The first project focused on engineers and marketers in a carsharing company. The second project focused on creative professionals at the technical core of an advertising firm who had to learn to work with the crowd outside and digital colleagues inside the firm. Both studies shed light on the power struggles likely to occur in periods of technological change. The studies also highlight how working across new boundaries—both inside and outside the firm—can be facilitated, and how this affects important individual and organizational outcomes. My ethnographic approach allows me to uncover insights that may be lost when these phenomena are studied at a more macro level.
For my dissertation, I conducted a 24-month ethnographic study of an incumbent firm in the advertising industry—an industry, like many others, that was experiencing technological, economic and cultural upheaval in response to the Web and social media. My longitudinal examination of multiple areas of a single firm allowed me to identify key challenges faced by members at multiple levels of the organization as they attempted to transform their organization for the digital age. My dissertation is three papers. The first paper examines how work changes for professionals inside firms when they integrate the crowd into a historically “closed” production process, and how the crowd can be used effectively in these cases. The second paper is about digital employees inside established firms and how they can elicit cooperation from longstanding organization members at the firm’s technical core, despite resistance from them, to help adapt the firm’s offerings for the digital age. The third paper is about the top management team and examines the challenges of managing strategic paradoxes during digital transformation efforts. While these papers have different levels and units of analysis, they highlight the challenge of shifting power dynamics and reveal the mechanisms and processes by which longstanding organization members can come to exercise influence in new ways to work effectively across new boundaries both inside and outside the firm.
During my first two years at Sloan, I conducted an 18-month ethnographic study investigating how advances in digital technologies shifted power relations between engineers and marketers in a carsharing firm. This study resulted in a first-authored publication in Administrative Science Quarterly co-authored with Katherine Kellogg, entitled “The Radical Flank Effect and Cross-Occupational Collaboration for Technology Development During a Power Shift.” I am currently developing two additional papers that draw on data collected during this field work.
As an ethnographer, I specialize structured observation and interviewing as tools for understanding organizational dynamics as they unfold in real time, on the ground level. I design fieldwork to identify mechanisms and processes related to incumbent firm adaptation to digital transformation.