Innovation and R&D management in family firms

The systematic differences between the technological innovation processes of family and non-family firms has been well documented. However, further knowledge development in this domain is important as effective strategic and technological renewal is a principal determinant of the firm-survival prospects that underlie many of the owning family’s long-term (non)economic goals.

This track in the R&D Management Conference will consider a number of  themes including:

  • R&D (portfolio) management
  • absorptive capacity
  • new product development
  • collaborative innovation, and ambidextrous innovation strategies.
Jasper Brinkerrink

Jasper Brinkerrink

We asked track co-chair Jasper Brinkerink, a PhD candidate in the department of Organization and Strategy at Maastricht University for his views. His doctoral work centres on innovation in family owned SMEs.

1. What do you think are the most disruptive influences impacting developments in your track?

The first family firm innovation studies focused mainly on the main effects of family involvement and ownership on innovation inputs e.g., R&D and outputs e.g., patents, new products. More recently scholars have begun to theoretically and empirically examine more nuanced contingency models. This includes theory-driven attempts at uncovering mediation mechanisms to explain the different general tendencies of family and non-family firms as regards innovation.

Family firm innovation scholars are moving beyond an ‘innovation in isolation’ perspective, and increasingly consider the role of various non-family stakeholders in family firm innovation.

Additionally, more interest is being given to investigating how heterogeneity in, for instance, family values, family (non)economic goals, and family firm organizational cultures affects innovation choices and processes.

2. Can you describe some recent findings in this area that are of interest to you personally? 

A recent meta-analysis established that family firms are more efficient innovators – i.e., they achieve greater output with fewer inputs.

These finding sparked a broader effort of family business scholars to dig deeper into how family involvement affects the innovation process, and what ‘soft’ aspects of the ‘familiness’ of businesses may explain these established differences between ‘hard’ input and output figures.

Another interesting stream of research shows how family firms may use their rich traditions as a source of innovation, and as such excel at (re)combining temporally distant pieces of knowledge – i.e., they do “innovation through tradition”.

This could be one way in which family firms reach their high efficiency and resolve some of the paradoxical behaviours with respect to innovation (e.g., “ability and willingness paradox in family firm innovation”).

3. If someone was new to this topic what would you suggest they read to get a quick overview of the issues?

We refer those interested in the expanding knowledge on family firm innovation to the following review- and meta-analytical work that synthesizes recent findings: ·

  • Duran, P., Kammerlander, N., Van Essen, M., & Zellweger, T. (2016). Doing more with less: Innovation input and output in family firms. Academy of Management Journal, 59(4), 1224-1264.
  • De Massis, A., Frattini, F., & Lichtenthaler, U. (2013). Research on technological innovation in family firms: Present debates and future directions. Family Business Review, 26(1), 10-31.
  • Feranita, F., Kotlar, J., & De Massis, A. (2017). Collaborative innovation in family firms: Past research, current debates and agenda for future research. Journal of Family Business Strategy, 8(3), 137-156.
  • Chrisman J.J., Chua J.H., De Massis A., Frattini F., Wright M. (2015). The ability and willingness paradox in family firm innovation. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 32(3), 310-318
  • De Massis, A., Frattini, F., Kotlar, J., Messeni-Petruzzelli, A., Wright M. (2016). Innovation through tradition: Lessons from innovative family businesses and directions for future research. Academy of Management Perspectives, 30(1), 93-116

Proponents: Jasper Brinkerink; Joshua J. Daspit; Alfredo De Massis; Alessandro Minichilli

For more information about the R&D Management Conference.