From margins to mainstream: Novel perspectives on outsider innovators

PRIN – Projects of Relevant Interest National

Funding Agency:  Italian Ministry of University and Research (MUR)

Funding Program: Projects of Relevant National Interest - PRIN 2022

This project aims to offer novel perspectives on the legitimation journeys of outsider innovators. While, in principle, markets must be open, that they create incentives for outsiders to challenge consolidated positions renewing mature systems, obstacles to this process result partly from the nature of fields’ institutional arrangements. As social and economic systems tend to reproduce the power and privileges of incumbents, outsiders’ chances of involving themselves meaningfully in the production of knowledge are slim.  

When establishing credibility, the odds are against outsiders because they are foreign to the field they seek to enter, they are disengaged from the centers of power, lack crucial markers of legitimacy, and have limited ties to insiders.

However, ‘outsiderness’ also equips actors with a distinctive outlook and idiosyncratic approach to problems. As outsiders are structurally distant from the influence of prevailing social norms, they are more likely to advance unusual ideas that challenge the status quo. In short, the very traits that make outsiders so disadvantaged within standard occupational structures and categorical systems are what is required for the pursuit of exceptional entrepreneurial achievements.

These characteristics may turn outsiders (individuals, groups, or organizations) into high-impact actors in terms of innovation and productivity. What processes allow outsiders to stake out some ground in the insiders’ terrain, especially when their claims to novelty clash with the status quo?

Under what conditions do outsiders become successful outliers? When successful, outsiders are portrayed as unambiguously positive forces in society. Yet, the same characteristics that render outsiders potentially formidable innovators can reveal a darker side characterized by misconduct. What processes lead promising outsiders to slide into morally questionable activities? Under what conditions do promising outsiders become non-virtuous examples of innovation? This project aspires to shed light on both the bright and dark sides of outsider innovators.

The project brings together theories and developments in entrepreneurship, innovation management, sociology, and social psychology. It examines such mechanisms through a multi-method, multidisciplinary research design that combines historiographic approaches, experimental design, and big data analytics to yield insights at multiple levels of analysis.

DiSA role: Principal Investigator

DiSA Team Leader: Leonardo Corbo

DISA Team members: Simone Ferriani, Elisa Villani

Project Partners: LUISS Business School

Total project cost:  237,798 €

Start date: 30/11//2023  - End date: 29/11/2025