The Renaissance Man is not dead! the role of generalists in teams of inventors Articles uri icon

publication date

  • February 2015

start page

  • 154

end page

  • 167


  • 1


  • 44

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0048-7333

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1873-7625


  • Is there a role for the multifaceted Renaissance Man in modern team-intensive innovation activities? This paper argues that generalist inventors, holding a broad knowledge set, make an especially valuable contribution to innovation teams in uncertain contexts. For a given level of team knowledge variety, the presence of generalists in an innovation team enables a more effective recombination of knowledge and attenuates the typical barriers affecting team-working processes. On the other hand, the lack of specialized contributions in such teams may hamper the process of adapting each recombined component in the search for an innovative solution. Thus, we expect teams including generalists to perform better than otherwise comparable teams in contexts where there is not a well-defined path to combine knowledge and the advantage of specialized contributions plays only a secondary role. We analyze the role of generalists in teams of inventors in the electrical and electronics industry by tracking the trajectories of individual members and the performance of their teams through their patenting activity. Our findings are consistent with the proposition outlined above.


  • teams of inventors; generalists; knowledge recombination; patents