Tan investigates how innovation groups form and what makes them more likely to succeed. His dissertation is an ethnography of five teams in Europe and North America working on haute cuisine research and development. Specifically, he explores how internal ambiguity promotes processes that help make these groups adaptable and successful in unpredictable environments. Tan grew up in Singapore, served in the Singapore Army as a logistician, and concentrated in social studies at Harvard College. Inexplicably hired by Google after college, he worked there on advertising partnerships, Google Maps and Earth, the Lunar XPRIZE, and structured data products. He moved to the Anderson Ranch Art Foundation in May 2008 before returning to Cambridge.