Vaughn Tan


Vaughn Tan is an Assistant Professor (Lecturer) in the Department of Management Science and Innovation. His research focuses on the inter- and intra-group processes that help individuals and groups who work in ambiguous and rapidly changing environments become adaptable and innovative.


Vaughn spends time with individuals, groups, and communities to understand how they become adaptable and innovative. Adaptability is the continuous ability to detect the environment as it changes, and change appropriately in response; adaptability is especially important and difficult when the external environment is ambiguous and thus changes both rapidly and unpredictably.

His research shows how groups can become more adaptable by increasing ambiguity in the internal processes by which they work and select new members, and offers specific strategic and tactical recommendations for practitioners designing and managing innovative and adaptable groups and communities

Vaughn's current research focuses on adaptability and innovation in small groups working in highly ambiguous environments. He uses interviews with high-end culinary workers and ethnographies of nine internationally renowned culinary R&D teams to explain how—contrary to previous research—ambiguous group goals and member roles enhance a group's adaptability and ability to innovate.

His future research aims to extend these findings with experiments in using intentional ambiguity to design innovative and adaptable organizations, spaces, and communities. He is currently developing a longitudinal experiment in a major American city in which ambiguity-increasing selection and removal criteria are applied to incoming tenants in a large mixed-use real estate portfolio, to investigate whether intentional ambiguity can enhance the innovation potential of a space, enrich the social network that forms around that space, and make it more responsive to environmental and demographic change.