Alternative explanations to innovation success

All too long since updating the blog, but the moving from Oslo to Berkeley together with wife and four kids, and then handling all the bureaucracy and other things in this place where we will spend the next year has been demanding. Now things have started to get in order, and it is time to get back in business.

Today, I just wanted to mention something we probably should get back to more in-depth later. It is about explanations of success. In the social sciences it is most often easier to explain failures than successes. To identify barriers that hindered success, or to pinpoint the things that led to failure, is not often controversial. However, if someone claims to have the explanation to success in a complex social/technical/economic task of innovation, then there is good reason to be sceptic. Still, most of us like success stories, and would – if we are given a choice – prefer learning from success before learning from failure (just look at all the heroic success stories of innovators and entrepreneurs in business media and airport literature).

Today, we (me and three colleagues: Bjørn Erik Mørk, Margunn Aanestad and Eva Maaninen-Olsson) had the great message that we had an article accepted for the Human Relations journal. In this article we try to provide an alternative explanation to what many people have considered an impressive success story:

The Intervention Centre at Oslo University Hospital (...) has
received recognition, both nationally and internationally, for its capability to develop
and transfer new practices. The success of the Centre is often explained with the
availability of high-tech equipment and technical support, the personal relationships
between individuals working in physical proximity, motivated staff sharing a common
vision and their relatively sheltered role as a R&D department rather than a production
department. However, by analysing the Centre with a practicebased
framework we will provide yet other explanations (...)

Basically, we suggest that it is not (only) these commonly used explanatory factors that best can explain this success. Instead we develop a framework for analysing organizing practices at boundaries. We argue that innovation activity, by definition, will challenge and sometimes alter established boundaries, and that the ability to handle this is critical to succeed with innovation. This means that there are a set of relatively controversial and political activities going on in the realization of innovations, such as alliance building, disciplining of alliance partners, and cross-mobilization of support (using one partner to mobilize support from another, etc). While these are hardly practices that an innovator will put on the top of their organizational or personal CVs, they seem to be critical to innovation success.


About Thomas Hoholm

Associate Professor at BI Norwegian Business School. Researching and teaching organization, innovation and entrepreneurship. Also interested in music, film, and literature.
This entry was posted in controversy/tension/friction, innovation process, organizing, power. Bookmark the permalink.

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