The paradox of openness describes the fundamental tension between knowledge sharing and knowledge protection in open innovation. While sharing is vital for value creation, protecting is critical for value appropriation. Prior research has examined this paradox of openness from the perspective of the seeking firm, focusing on the firm-level challenges of inbound open innovation. In this article, we complement that research by illuminating the tensions between sharing and protecting in individual-level outbound open innovation, where we argue that the paradox of openness is most prevalent, yet much less well understood. Drawing on the experience of individual participants, or solvers, in intermediated crowdsourcing contests, we analyze textual data from 2,149 answers to five open-ended narrative questions embedded in a large-scale solver survey, as well as 43 in-depth interviews of solvers. Our findings indicate that individual solvers face fundamental sharing-protecting tensions that carry considerable economic and psychological costs. We also document how solvers attempt to navigate the paradox of openness by employing three formal and four informal value appropriation practices. They build elaborate configurations of these practices, which they tailor to the idiosyncrasies of each contest. They also dynamically adjust these configurations over time, as the contest and the interaction with the seeker unfold. We end by outlining how these findings contribute to a more multifaceted conceptualization and a richer understanding of the paradox of openness.
Published in Research Policy, Vol. 48, Issue 6, 2019, pp. 1323-1339.