What do Academics Know About Innovation?

What can the most recent academic research tell us about managing innovation? That is the main topic of today's column on What's up in innovation management. Learn more about the types of social networks different phases of innovation require, on how to design business experiments and of the relation between differentiation strategies and vertical integration.
Marcus’s favorite link this time around: The 5 Reasons Why You Need a Muse

Some of you might like this one. HBR has this terribly normative, yet strangely seductive, blog post about “the three, and only three, models for organizing innovation.” Although of course a simplified argument because of the shortness of the text, the funny thing is that the argument actually makes surprisingly much sense. With the exception of cannabalizing innovations, in which case mainstream theory insists it be should organized as a fairly independent venture.

Innovation Leadership Network has a good post summarizing recent research on the different network relationships used in the idea generation phase of innovation as compared to the idea validation phase. Although the pivotal role of social networks in innovation seems well-established, the news is that different phases seems to require different types of networks.

The crucial stages before idea generation

Speaking of innovation phases, and as the above paragraph is an exampel of, innovation is often viewed as a fairly straight-forward linear process. You start at the beginning, typically described by the metafor ‘search’, and continue to the stages ‘select’ and ‘implement’. Well, we all know there is of course much more to it. Here is a good post by Jeffrey Phillips, describing some of the crucial stages coming before idea generation or ‘search’.

Here are two good posts from one of my favorite strategic management professors, Don Sull. The first gives some advice on “spotting golden opportunities in turbulent markets“, and the second (and better) deals with how to design experiments to evaluate opportunities.

As a source of variation (innovation is much about variation and selection, by the way), I’ve decided to recommend a few more sciency links this time: here are two journal articles that describe interesting results from recent academic research.

Argyris and Bigelow have written an interesting article on vertical integration and product modularity in the journal Organization science. They show that, at least for the industry studied, increased modularization of products was related to decreased vertical integration among the industries firms. They also showed that firms pursuing a differentiation strategy tend to be more vertically integrated. Their theoretical explanation is that highly differentiated products often have less standardized components, implying more customized interface and architecture designs.

the Jolly Roger logo helps pirates avoid costly conflicts

Journal of Economic Behavior has a fun article on the economics of being a pirate, which is also an excellent application of the economics of signaling (something which can be important for e.g. environmental innovation). For example, the article explains how the Jolly Roger flag (logo) helps pirates avoid costly conflicts. It also explains how pirates publish advertisement of their “friendishness” while creating public displays of madness in order to reduce costly prisoner behaviors.

As an antidote to the total dominance of academic researchers linked from today’s column I recommend the following excellent piece on how reduce stress and improve productiviety of your own creative work, written by horror writer Matt Cardin: 5 Reasons Why You Need a Muse.

Finally, here are some practical suggestions of how to improve knowledge-worker productivity. While McKinsey Quarterly seem intent on listing all the possible barriers to knowledge-worker productivity, Scientific American provide a quicker solution: simply let employees decorate their own office space.

About Marcus Linder

Marcus LinderMarcus researches environmental innovation among industrial firms at Chalmers University of Technology. Focus areas include strategic rationale and the practical how-to of including environmental aspects in the innovation process. An important starting point is that profitable environmental innovation often requires more than just “quick-fixing” a firm’s existing offers. Theoretically, Marcus is grounded in the problem-solving perspective on management, a subset of the knowledge-based view of the firm. In terms of applied innovation management, his main passion lies in business model design. He is currently employed as a PhD student at Center for Business Innovation at Chalmers University of Technology. Before starting his PhD studies, Marcus successfully performed a business innovation project at CBI culminating in a new product concept now planned for market introduction by Göteborg Energi.
  • Heinz Essmann

    Thanks for the interesting information tips Marcus.

  • Ivan

    Hi Marcus! Thank you for an interesting post! I noticed you seem to average around one post a month so far this year, but after those fruitful links you provided on knowledge-worker productivity, I expect that average to increase notably during the last quarter. I look forward to reading the results!

  • Marcus Linder

    Thank you Heinz and Ivan! :-)

    Unfortunately I won’t be writing this column any more from now on. But I’ll make sure to share some interesting stuff on marcuslinder.com once I get it running properly.

    I’ll hopefully be back here at innovationmanagement.se in the future as well.