Radical innovation is when a technology breakthrough creates a new market opportunity and a long-term economic impact. A good example is the iPhone, one of the first mobile phones that was possible to use for more than making calls and sending texts. Now, fifteen years later, the smartphone is ubiquitous, providing people in remote geographies access to banking and health services, and creating impacts that couldn’t previously have been imagined.
Managing strategic and radical innovation requires a different skill set to new product developments based on incremental improvements, and this is being explored at the R&D Management Conference 2022. We asked Jacob Brix, Professor & Staff Manager at Aalborg University Business School, Denmark, co-chair of this track, why so few companies are embracing radical innovation?’
Organisations need to take the human side of strategic innovation seriously
Strategic and radical innovation requires different management skills, when compared to product and process improvements or to incremental innovation, such as the development of new products.
When looking at established companies – at the risk of being too normative – we see managers that are experts in incremental innovation, but often lack the experience, expertise, and competencies that are needed to identify new opportunities, for strategic and radical innovation, and to elaborate these into commercial successes.
So, very few organisations have been able to crack the ‘strategic innovation code’.
Radical innovation is high risk and uncertain. Studies often find that ambitious innovation projects are compromised by inappropriate decision-making. This happens when the leadership becomes impatient with the long time it takes to reduce the high degree of uncertainty, of different kinds, that are characteristic of a strategic innovation project.
Therefore, an important disruptor, as seen from my perspective, is to take the ‘human side’ of strategic innovation seriously and for established organisations to invest in competence development, not just for the innovation team members but also the leadership throughout the organisation.
Skills to move from exploration and exploitation – and back
I am interested in the different types of learning processes associated with exploration and exploitation that take place within and across boundaries when established organisations realise their strategic innovation potential.
Of particular interest are the transitions when an organisation’s members and managers move from modes of exploitation to modes of exploration and back again1.
Some of my personal favourite papers in this field are O’Connor and Rice’s2 paper on uncertainty, which starts to build a framework to understand different types and degrees of uncertainty in relation to radical innovation. Also Salerno’s3 paper which makes an important contribution, around how to choose the correct innovation process for the innovation project.
In addition to this, O’Connor’s book “Beyond the Champion”4 has imperative implications for established organisations. It defines the new leadership roles that are needed/required to process a strategic and/or radical innovation project, from the early stage to the later stages of commercialisation. This is the best research-based book to date on strategic and radical innovation.
I would without hesitation suggest that some new to this subject reads:
1: Brix, J. (2020). Building capacity for sustainable innovation: A field study of the transition from exploitation to exploration and back again. Journal of Cleaner Production, 268, 122381.
2: O’Connor, G. C., & Rice, M. P. (2013). A comprehensive model of uncertainty associated with radical innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 30, 2-18.
3: Salerno, M. S., de Vasconcelos Gomes, L. A., Da Silva, D. O., Bagno, R. B., & Freitas, S. L. T. U. (2015). Innovation processes: which process for which project?. Technovation, 35, 59-70.
4: O’Connor, G. C., Corbett, A. C., & Peters, L. S. (2018). Beyond the champion: institutionalizing innovation through people. Stanford University Press.
Track 2.14 Strategic / Radical Innovation Management
Track Chairs: Jacob Brix (Aalborg University Business School), Mario Sergio and Ana Paula Franco Paes Leme Barbosa (University of São Paulo, Polytechnic School, Production Engineering Department)