Broken Paths or Path Breaking Failures?

On Thursday, I presented some of my latest research — “Legitimation Spillovers and Piggybacking: How Distributed Successes and Failures Move Market Categories” — at the West Coast Research Symposium on Technology Entrepreneurship. Co-authored with J.-F. Soublière, the paper develops and tests a set of novel theoretical predictions about the role of prior successes and failures on the legitimation of new ideas and products (i.e., the extent to which they garner the attention and support of key audiences).

We test our hypotheses by examining 182,358 new ideas and products pitched within 165 categories during a six-year period on Kickstarter, one of the most important crowdfunding platforms. Figuratively speaking, we show that new ideas and products can “piggyback” off the collective “legitimation spillovers” that both successful and failed legitimation efforts may generate. Contrary to binary views of legitimacy, which consistently highlight the benefits of acquiring legitimacy or the downsides of failing to do so, this paper offers a nuanced understanding of both successes and failures. Although legitimation may be straightforward for individual ideas and products, viewed collectively, both successes and failures can have counterintuitive effects on subsequent ideas and products.