UCL School of Management

Vaughn Tan

Lecturer (assistant professor)
Phone number
(0)20 3108 6045
(internal 56045)
Office location
Level 38, 1 Canada Square
Rm W4


I’m an assistant professor at University College London’s School of Management and a fellow of the Institute for Data-driven Design. I received a PhD in Organizational Behaviour from Harvard University in 2013.

Previously, I was an infantry signals logistician in the Republic of Singapore Army, then worked at Google on advertising, Earth, Maps, spaceflight, and Fusion Tables. In May 2008, I left Google to become a minion in the wood and sculpture program at the Anderson Ranch Art Foundation. I sometimes contribute to The Atlantic and am occasionally useful to the Guanacaste Dry Forest Conservation Fund and the Área de Conservación Guanacaste.


I use ethnography and other methods to study how open-ended structures and processes allow individuals, groups, organisations, and communities to effectively monitor the environment as it changes and adapt in response. Such adaptability is especially important and difficult when the external environment is uncertain. This research offers specific strategic and tactical recommendations about open-ended organization for practitioners designing and managing innovative and adaptable groups and communities.

My current work focuses on adaptability and innovation in nine internationally renowned culinary R&D teams. A recent paper in Administrative Science Quarterly based on this research (titled “Using negotiated joining to construct and fill open-ended roles in elite culinary teams”) analyses interview and ethnographic data from these groups to show how—contrary to previous research—ambiguous group goals and member roles enhance a group’s adaptability and ability to innovate.

Other work now in progress includes field experiments in the transmission of non-explicatable knowledge and formal modelling of agent decisions under conditions of external uncertainty.

Research projects

Open-ended organization

Explains how open-ended organizational structure and processes allow organizations to adapt to uncertain environments.
Selected publications
Tan, V. Y. H. (2015). Using Negotiated Joining to Construct and Fill Open-ended Roles in Elite Culinary Groups. Administrative Science Quarterly, 60 (1), 103-132. doi:10.1177/0001839214557638 [link]