Cornell University

December 11 2013

Innovation Research

Burton exploring entrepreneurship and leading cross-campus project on how it drives prosperity

Diane BurtonYou're an organizational sociologist with an interest in human resources. How do these disciplines connect?

Early in my career, I became interested in technology and why organizations were resistant to technology and change. I was working with Silicon Valley companies, including a consulting gig at Apple, and I developed an even broader interest in employment practices in high-tech startups and entrepreneurial firms. I began to ask, does culture in these firms really matter? I'd say that I didn't really become an HR person until I got to ILR.

Why is the research you're doing on innovation important to organizations and to HR?

As we think about innovation, it's not just about what's new and novel, but what's useful. The traditional model of innovation is to build a lab and do internal research and development. But, we're moving to a place where boundaries matter less, where organizations are partnering with other organizations. HR has to get good at looking outside and move beyond thinking about issues like recruitment and selection with just an internal focus, to support innovation and change.

What are some of the questions you're exploring about entrepreneurship?

One basic question is, what is an entrepreneur? We don't have an agreed-upon definition, so how can you make policy about entrepreneurship when you can't even define it? Also, what kind of organizations are entrepreneurs creating? Entrepreneurial ventures can create new jobs, but are they good jobs?

Tell us more about the new project you're leading for the Cornell Institute of Social Sciences.

It's the Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Theme Project. It builds on the research agenda I've been pursuing. We're bringing together cross-campus talent from sociology, psychology, law, business, science and technology studies, and ILR to develop a social science perspective on entrepreneurship. We'll explore issues such as the role of innovation and entrepreneurship in driving economic prosperity. The project will likely produce several research projects, an academic conference and other outreach activities, and maybe even a first-ever textbook on the subject.

Why is ILR the ideal place for you, as an educator and researcher?

I'm thrilled to be at a school where I formally sit in an HR department, I have an Affiliation with ILR's Department of Organizational Behavior and I also have an appointment in the Cornell Department of Sociology. Very few people are studying what it's like to work in an entrepreneurial firm, and ILR is uniquely situated to do that. Advancing the world of work for entrepreneurs and innovators has to be a piece of what ILR is doing.