Dr. Hila Lifshitz-Assaf

Associate Professor of Information, Operations and Management Sciences


About Me

Academic Background

Doctor of Business Administration, Management
Harvard University, Harvard Business School

MBA, Magna Cum Laude
Tel-Aviv University, Recanati Business School

LLB in Law, Magna Cum Laude
Tel-Aviv University, Buchman Law Faculty 

BA in Management, Magna Cum Laude
Tel-Aviv University, Recanati Business School

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf is an Associate Professor of Information, Operations and Management Sciences atNew York University Stern School of Business. She is also a faculty associate at Harvard University, at the Lab for innovation Science.

Professor Lifshitz-Assaf’s research focuses on developing an in-depth empirical and theoretical understanding of the micro-foundations of scientific and technological innovation and knowledge creation processes in the digital age. She explores how the ability to innovate is being transformed, as well as the challenges and opportunities the transformation means for R&D organizations, professionals and their work. She conducted an in-depth 3-year longitudinal field study of NASA’s experimentation with open innovation online platforms and communities, resulting in a scientific breakthrough. This study received the best dissertation Grigor McClelland Award at the European Group for Organizational Studies (EGOS) 2015, Best Administrative Science Quarterly (ASQ) paper based on dissertation (2018) and Best published paper elected by organizational communication and information systems division of Academy of Management (2018).

She investigates new forms of organizing for the production of scientific and technological innovation such as crowdsourcing, open source, open online innovation communities, Wikipedia, hackathons, makeathons, etc. Her work received the prestigious INSPIRE grant from the National Science Foundation and has been presented and taught at a variety of institutions including MIT, Harvard, Stanford, INSEAD, Wharton, London Business School, Bocconi, IESE, UCL, UT Austin, Columbia and Carnegie Mellon. Her work was recognized to have a strong impact on the industry; She received the Industry Studies Association Frank Giarrantani Rising Star award and the Industry Research Institute grant for research on R&D.

Prior to academia, Professor Lifshitz-Assaf worked as a strategy consultant for seven years, specializing in growth and innovation strategy in telecommunications, consumer goods and finance.

Professor Lifshitz-Assaf earned a doctorate from Harvard Business School, an MBA from Tel Aviv University, magna cum laude, a BA in Management and an LLB in Law from Tel Aviv University, Israel, both magna cum laude.

Research Interests

  • Scientific and technological Innovation
  • Digitizing the innovation process : Open innovation & crowdsourcing, artificial intelligence, accelerating innovation (3D printing technologies), open source and peer production (Wikipedia).
  • Organizational theory : technology, work and organizations
  • The changing role of experts and expertise
  • Knowledge boundary work for innovation
  • Professional identity work in disruption period
  • Team coordination for innovation
  • Problem formulation and problem-solving processes
  • History & sociology of science and Knowledge

Selected Publications

Is AI ground truth really “true”? The dangers of training and evaluating AI tools based on experts’ know-what

Lebovitz S., and Levina N. Lifshitz-Assaf H. (2021)

Management Information Systems Quarterly, Forthcoming.

Organizational decision-makers need to evaluate AI tools in light of increasing claims that such tools outperform human experts. Yet, measuring the quality of knowledge work is challenging, raising the question of how to evaluate AI performance in such contexts. We investigate this question through a field study of a major US hospital, observing how managers evaluated five different machine-learning (ML) based AI tools. Each tool reported high performance according to standard AI accuracy measures, which were based on ground truth labels provided by qualified experts. Trying these tools out in practice, however, revealed that none of them met expectations. Searching for explanations, managers began confronting the high uncertainty of experts’ know-what knowledge captured in ground truth labels used to train and validate ML models. In practice, experts address this uncertainty by drawing on rich know-how practices, which were not incorporated into these ML-based tools. Discovering the disconnect between AI’s know-what and experts’ know-how enabled managers to better understand the risks and benefits of each tool. This study shows dangers of treating ground truth labels used in ML models objectively when the underlying knowledge is uncertain. We outline implications of our study for developing, training, and evaluating AI for knowledge work.

Minimal and Adaptive Coordination: How Hackathons’ Projects Accelerate Innovation without Killing it

Lifshitz-Assaf H., Lebovitz S., and Zalmanson L. (2020)

Academy of Management Journal, in- press.

The innovation journey of new product development processes often spans weeks or months. Recently, hackathons have turned the journey into an ad hoc sprint of only a couple of days using new tools and technologies. Existing research predicts such conditions would result in failure to produce new working products, yet hackathons often lead to functioning innovative products. To investigate this puzzle, we closely studied the product development process of 13 comparable projects in assistive technology hackathons. We find that accelerating innovation created temporal ambiguity, as it was unclear how to coordinate the challenging work within such an extremely limited and ad hoc time frame. Multiple projects worked to reduce this ambiguity, importing temporal structures from organizational innovation processes and compressing them to fit the extremely limited and ad-hoc time frame. They worked in full coordination to build a new product. They all failed. Only projects that sustained the temporal ambiguity – by working with merely a minimal basis for coordination and let new temporal structures emerge – were able to produce functioning new products under the intense time pressure. This study contributes to theories on innovation processes, coordination, and temporality.

Scaling Up Analogical Innovation with Crowds and AI

Kittur A., Yu L., Hope T., Chan J., Lifshitz-Assaf H., Gilon K., Ng F., Kraut R.E., and Shahaf D. (2019)

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116 (6), 1870-1877.

Analogy—the ability to find and apply deep structural patterns across domains—has been fundamental to human innovation in science and technology. Today there is a growing opportunity to accelerate innovation by moving analogy out of a single person’s mind and distributing it across many information processors, both human and machine. Doing so has the potential to overcome cognitive fixation, scale to large idea repositories, and support complex problems with multiple constraints. Here we lay out a perspective on the future of scalable analogical innovation and first steps using crowds and artificial intelligence (AI) to augment creativity that quantitatively demonstrate the promise of the approach, as well as core challenges critical to realizing this vision.

Dismantling Knowledge Boundaries at NASA: The Critical Role of Professional Identity in Open Innovation

Lifshitz-Assaf H. (2018)

Administrative Science Quarterly, 63(4), 746–782.

Using a longitudinal in-depth field study at NASA, I investigate how the open, or peer-production, innovation model affects R&D professionals, their work, and the locus of innovation. R&D professionals are known for keeping their knowledge work within clearly defined boundaries, protecting it from individuals outside those boundaries, and rejecting meritorious innovation that is created outside disciplinary boundaries. The open innovation model challenges these boundaries and opens the knowledge work to be conducted by anyone who chooses to contribute. At NASA, the open model led to a scientific breakthrough at unprecedented speed using unusually limited resources; yet it challenged not only the knowledge-work boundaries but also the professional identity of the R&D professionals. This led to divergent reactions from R&D professionals, as adopting the open model required them to go through a multifaceted transformation. Only R&D professionals who underwent identity refocusing work dismantled their boundaries, truly adopting the knowledge from outside and sharing their internal knowledge. Others who did not go through that identity work failed to incorporate the solutions the open model produced. Adopting open innovation without a change in R&D professionals’ identity resulted in no real change in the R&D process. This paper reveals how such processes unfold and illustrates the critical role of professional identity work in changing knowledge-work boundaries and shifting the locus of innovation.

Neither a Bazaar nor a Cathedral: the Interplay between Structure and Agency in Wikipedia’s Role System

Arazy O., Lifshitz-Assaf H., and Balila A. 2018.

Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 70(1), 3-15.

Roles provide a key coordination mechanism in peer-production. Whereas one stream in the literature has focused on the structural responsibilities associated with roles, the another has stressed the emergent nature of work. To date, these streams have proceeded largely in parallel. In seeking to enhance our understanding of the tension between structure and agency in peerproduction, we investigate the interplay between structural and emergent roles. Our study explored the breadth of structural roles in Wikipedia (English version) and their linkage to various forms of activities. Our analyses show that despite the latitude in selecting their mode of participation, participants’ structural and emergent roles are tightly coupled. Our discussion highlights that: (I) participants often stay close to the “production ground floor” despite the assignment into structural roles; and (II) there are typical modifications in activity patterns associated with role-assignment, namely: functional specialization, multi-specialization, defunctionalization, changes in communication patterns, management of identity, and role definition. We contribute to theory of coordination and roles, as well as provide some practical implications.

The Art of Balancing Autonomy and Control: What Managers Can Learn from Hackathon Organizers about Spurring Innovation

Lifshitz-Assaf H., Lebovitz S., and Zalmanson L. (2018)

MIT Sloan Management Review, 60(2), 1–6

Today, managers recognize that innovation requires a high level of work autonomy for their employees. This encourages curiosity, enables independent thinking, and provides an environment in which employees can experiment and test new problem-solving approaches with minimal fear of failure. At the same time, top-level management and shareholders expect managers to innovate at an increasingly demanding pace, putting top-down pressure on employees to channel this autonomy into productivity. The challenge for managers becomes figuring out how to balance autonomy and control in order to achieve organizational goals without jeopardizing innovation.

Turbulent Stability of Emergent Roles: The Dualistic Nature of Self-Organizing Knowledge Co-Production

Arazy O., Daxenberg J., Lifshitz-Assaf H., Nov O., and Gurevych I. (2016)

Information Systems Research, 27(4), 792–812.

Increasingly, new forms of organizing for knowledge production are built around self-organizing co-production community models with ambiguous role definitions. Current theories struggle to explain how high-quality knowledge is developed in these settings and how participants self-organize in the absence of role definitions, traditional organizational controls, or formal coordination mechanisms. In this article, we engage the puzzle by investigating the temporal dynamics underlying emergent roles on individual and organizational levels. Comprised of a multi-level large-scale empirical study of Wikipedia stretching over a decade, our study investigates emergent roles in terms of prototypical activity patterns that organically emerge from individuals’ knowledge production actions. Employing a stratified sample of a thousand Wikipedia articles, we tracked two hundred thousand distinct participants and seven hundred thousand coproduction activities, and recorded each activity’s type. We found that participants’ role taking behavior is turbulent across roles, with substantial flow in and out of co-production work. Our findings at the organizational level, however, show that work is organized around a highly stable set of emergent roles, despite the absence of traditional stabilizing mechanisms such as pre-defined work procedures or role expectations. This dualism in emergent work is conceptualized as “Turbulent Stability”. We attribute the stabilizing factor to the artifact-centric production process and present evidence to illustrate the mutual adjustment of role taking according to the artifact’s needs and stage. We discuss the importance of the a↵ordances of Wikipedia in enabling such tacit coordination. This study advances our theoretical understanding of the nature of emergent roles and self-organizing knowledge coproduction. We discuss the implications for custodians of online communities, as well as for managers of firms engaging in selforganized knowledge collaboration.

“Open Innovation and Organization Design.

Tushman, M., Lifshitz-Assaf H., and Lakhani K. (2012)

Special Issue on Future of Organizational Design, Journal of Organization Design, no. 1: 24–27. (SSRN’s Top Ten download list for Organizational Structural Designs, Innovation & Product Development)

Abernathy’s (1978) empirical work on the automotive industry investigated relationships among an organization’s boundary (all manufacturing plants), its organizational design (fluid vs. specific), and its ability to execute product and/or process innovations. Abernathy’s ideas of dominant designs and the locus of innovation have been central to scholars of innovation, R&D, and strategic management. Similarly, building on March and Simon’s (1958) concept of organizations as decision making systems, Woodward (1965), Burns and Stalker (1966), and Lawrence and Lorsch (1967) examined relationships among organizational boundaries, organization structure, and innovation in a set of industries that varied by technology and environmental uncertainty. These and other early empirical works have led a diverse group of scholars to develop theories about firm boundaries, organization design, and the ability to innovate.

Featured Work & Videos

On Accelerating Innovation

Harvard Business Review

Harvard Business Review shared how according to Prof Lifshitz-Assaf’s research on accelerating innovation, new teams under pressure should embrace a little chaos and coordinate only in a minimal and adaptive manner:

Academy of Management Insights

Academy of Management Insights selected Prof Lifshitz-Assaf’s research on accelerating innovation to offer insights for managers how to build urgently needed products in tight time frames


Prof Lifshitz Assaf research on how to accelerate innovation is described as the path to innovate under time pressure, such as experienced in the Covid pandemic.

On COVID and accelerating innovation:

Prof Lifshitz-Assaf mentors Stern MBA students to help small business devise new digital strategies to deal with the COVID crisis (The small business hackathon)

EU vs. Virus success stories panel: How can academia, business and private sectors work together?

Prof Lifshitz-Assaf shares the success story of how academics helped in the EU vs. Virus hackathon to help solve COVID related problems

Faculty Insights: Covid-19 and NYC Video Seminar Series

Prof Lifshitz-Assaf gives a talk at “NYU responds” seminar series on how the innovation process is impacted by Covid-19

MIT Sloan Review

Profs Lifshitz-Assaf, Sarah Lebovitz and Lior Zalmanson share what managers can learn from hackathon organizers on balancing employees autonomy with managerial control for the innovation process. This is particularly important when managing innovation remotely

On Open Innovation at NASA and beyond

Harvard Business Review

Harvard Business Review shares how to overcome barriers to adopting open innovation, according to Prof Lifshitz-Assaf’s research with NASA

The Wall Street Journal

Prof Hila Lifshitz-Assaf is interviewed on why and how companies offer prize money to solicit breakthrough ideas


Dismantling knowledge Boundaries: Dr. Hila Lifshitz-Assaf’s talk at the Collective Intelligence Conference

How Open Innovation Creates New Professional Identity: Dr. Hila Lifshitz-Assaf’s Key note speaker at the Industrial Research Institution member convention

Harvard Business School Doctoral Program

Prof Lifshitz-Assaf is featured in this video on the various doctoral programs Harvard business School offers

Podcasts and Radio Interviews

BBC Future Proofing Podcast

Timandra Harkness interviews Prof Lifshitz-Assaf on what are the opportunities the future holds