Robert Laubacher

My current research at the Center for Collective Intelligence looks at how the Internet is allowing people to work together at a scale and in a manner that was previously inconceivable.

In the Collective Intelligence Genome project, my colleagues and I have examined more than 200 examples of web-enabled collective intelligence and identified the underlying building blocks—which we call genes—that get mixed and matched to create these systems.

In the Climate CoLab project, we seek to harness the collective intelligence of large numbers of people, from all around the world, to develop and gain support for creative new ideas to address climate change. In conjunction with this effort, we’ve built a novel web-based platform and recruited online community of more than 4000 members. We have also brought to the project more than two dozen leading world experts on climate science and policy, a cadre of more than fifty volunteers with varying levels of expertise to run the CoLab’s online contests, and an extensive network of policymakers, business executives, and officials and non-profits/nongovermental organizations.

I came to MIT in the late 1990s to join the Initiative on Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century (21C). My work with the Initiative looked at how information technology was transforming business organizations and how those changes were reshaping the employment contract.  Articles based on this research, on such topics as such as e-lancing and the prospects for 21st-century guilds, are listed below, and these ideas were have been featured in pieces on National Public Radio and in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company. After 21C was completed, I co-edited a collection of articles based on the initiative, Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century (MIT Press, 2003). 

After 21C, I worked with the MIT Center for Coordination Science and Center for Digital Business on projects that examined the mechanisms by which information technology was reshaping business processes and generating organizational benefits and links between the structure of social networks—both face-to-face and electronically-enabled—and the performance of work groups.

During my time at MIT, I’ve taught classes and organized and led numerous workshops for corporate research sponsors. Several of these workshops have involved the use of scenario planning to help companies think about the potential future evolution of their industry and their organization. 

Prior to coming to MIT, I was with JSA International, a strategy consulting firm that assisted Global 1000 firms with market/competitive positioning and partner/acquisition searches. JSA primarily served European and U.S. corporations active in high technology industries. While I was at JSA, it was acquired by EDS Management Consulting Services, and EDS’s consulting group subsequently merged with A.T. Kearney. 

Before working as a consultant, I was the head researcher for The Prize, a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the international oil industry that served as the basis for a six-part PBS series.  I was also a tutor at Harvard College and a case writer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. 

During my time at MIT, I served as Executive Producer of Home Before Dark, which was named best American independent film at the 1997 Hamptons International Film Festival and was critically acclaimed in Variety, the New York Times and Boston Globe, and numerous other media outlets. After its U.S. theatrical release, Home Before Dark aired on Showtime, WGBH, and television stations in over 20 foreign countries. I subsequently served as Executive Producer of another independent feature film, American Wake (2003) and I was the author of Lens on the Bay State (Alliance of Independent Motion Media, 2006), a study of the recent history and future prospects of Massachusetts film production industry.

I have an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in American Studies, an interdisciplinary program involving work in history, economics, and social anthropology.  I earned a Master’s Degree in Modern History from Harvard, where I also completed doctoral coursework. 

Contact Information

Robert Laubacher
MIT Sloan School of Management
245 First Street, E94-1509
Cambridge, MA 02142

Directions to MIT Sloan School

Journal Articles, Conference Presentations, & Working Papers

Articles in Management Journals & Book Chapters

  • Thomas W. Malone, Robert Laubacher, and Tammy Johns. The Age of Hyperspecialization. Harvard Business Review, July-August 2011.
  • Thomas W. Malone, Robert Laubacher, Chrysanthos Dellarocas. The Collective Intelligence Genome. Sloan Management Review, Spring 2010.
  • Thomas W. Malone, Robert Laubacher, Michael S. Scott Morton, eds. Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century. MIT Press, 2003.
  • Robert Laubacher and Thomas Malone. Retreat of the Firm and the Rise of Guilds: The Employment Relationship in an Age of Virtual Business, chapter 16 in Malone, Laubacher, and Scott Morton, eds. Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century. MIT Press, 2003. Also available as MIT 21st Century Initiative Working Paper #033, August 2000.
  • Thomas Malone and Robert Laubacher. The Dawn of the E-Lance Economy. Harvard Business Review, Sept-Oct 1998. Also appears as chapter 5 of Malone, Laubacher, and Scott Morton, eds. Inventing the Organizations of the 21st Century. MIT Press, 2003.

Op-Ed Pieces & Interviews

  • Robert Laubacher, Can the “College premium” withstand hyperspecialization? HBR blog network, August 2011.
  • Robert Laubacher. Beyond the downturn—Independent workers and guilds. Working Today News, 2002.
  • Robert Laubacher. Guilds and the future of learning. LiNE Zine (Learning in the New Economy e-Magazine), Summer 2001.
  • Robert Laubacher. Go for the Guilds. Purple Squirrel, June 2001
  • Jill Rosenfeld. Free Agents in the Olde World. Fast Company, May 2001 (interview).
  • Thomas Malone and Robert Laubacher. Viewpoint: The Rebirth of the Guild. Boston Globe, August 24, 2000.
  • David Molpus. E-Work. All Things Considered, National Public Radio, August 24, 2000.  
  • Robert Laubacher. Viewpoints: Which way will it go? Exec: The Executive’s Guide to Electronic Business Solutions, November 1999
  • Thomas Malone and Robert Laubacher. All change for the e-lance economy. Financial Times, March 1, 1999.