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A Test of a Model of Discovery by Technically Trained Employees
The Babson-Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Research Conference (2002)
  • James Fiet, University of Louisville
  • William I. Norton, Georgia Southern University
  • Van G.H. Clouse, University of Louisville
Principal Topic

This research extends work by Fiet and colleagues, which has provided evidence of the effectiveness of constrained, systematic search as a way to discover valuable entrepreneurial opportunities. It uses technically trained employees as subjects in a controlled experiment to pit this approach against the dominant alertness approach. Informational economics suggests that subjects who possess a high level of specific knowledge should manifest a very strong training effect. This research found the expected results. We report a special case of constrained, systematic search because its technically trained subjects were selected on the basis of possessing prior specific knowledge. Their selection was important because Fiet and Migliore (in press) found that a person’s occupational experience consisting of general knowledge was unrelated to any discoveries. In contrast, as predicted by informational economics, they found that a person’s specific knowledge was apparently the most important factor in making a discovery. In other respects, this research follows the same protocols as their study. This more targeted approach should provide a stronger test than the generic one obtained by testing MBA students, all else being equal.


We collected data at a publicly held, Midwestern company specializing in providing support services for other companies nationwide. It has 2,000 employees, most of whom are information technology professionals. We worked with the firm’s top management to create a sample in which all participants were similar in training, skills and task orientation. We reasoned that such technically trained subjects would possess specific knowledge that facilitates discovery and exploitation of wealth generating ideas. The study was an experiment in which we randomly assigned sixty subjects to either a control group for alertness training or a treatment group for training in systematic search. It finished with twenty-six subjects in the control group and twenty-eight subjects in the treatment group (n = 54).

Results and Implications

Although the results of the training demonstrate its effectiveness are nearly 3 times as effective as received theory,, they are not nearly as definitive as those found by training MBA students previously. On average, the subjects in both groups devoted considerably less time to searching than did the MBA students. They even devoted less time to searching than a concurrent study of the working poor, which we report in the same session of the this conference. The technically trained subjects, who theoretically should have generated the most ideas, based on their possession of specific knowledge, apparently did not act as vigorously as those who did not possess their informational advantages. For example, during the course of the eight-week study, 70% of the time, subjects in the treatment group did not search for a venture idea. In the control group, there was less inactivity at 49%. We examined some of the possible causes of their lack of activity in an exit survey. Although these views are self-reported, they indicate how much more complicated it must be to study discovery in an organizational context.
  • Technically trained employees,
  • Employees,
  • MBA,
  • Students
Publication Date
June, 2002
University of Colorado
Citation Information
James Fiet, William I. Norton and Van G.H. Clouse. "A Test of a Model of Discovery by Technically Trained Employees" The Babson-Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Research Conference (2002)
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