Managing Ambiguity in Market-Based Projects

O’Mahony recently completed a paper titled, “Nexus Work: Managing Ambiguity in Market-Based Creative Projects,” coauthored with Elizabeth Long Lingo, research associate at the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy at Vanderbilt University. This collaborative work was recently recognized at the Fourth Annual Research Conference on “Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Organizations of the Future,” a Harvard Business School Centennial Colloquium on December 7-8, 2007. It was one of 10 papers out of 100 accepted into this elite colloquial series. In their work, the authors explored how music producers in Nashville manage ambiguity when bringing a creative project to market (e.g. a song, pitch package or album). As entrepreneurs, producers must integrate contributions from many different types of experts to create a coherent creative product without the benefit of hierarchy or the infrastructure that a single organization provides. Producers are at the hub of a network that includes musicians, engineers, song writers, publishers, artists and labels. With a field study, O’Mahony and Long-Lingo examined how producers accomplished this task and found that they frequently encountered three sources of ambiguity: 1) an ambiguous quality metric (what makes a hit?); 2) ambiguous occupational jurisdictions (who should do what?); and 3) an ambiguous production process (how should the work get done?). By examining the work practices producers used to respond to these sources of ambiguity, the authors build a theoretical framework to help understand how people in the nexus role bring a creative project to fruition in a market.