The two kinds of knowledge (the innovation conflict)

I am in the final phase of writing a textbook in Technology Entrepreneurship together with my good Irish colleagues Natasha Evers and James Cunningham. It will be published by Palgrave Macmillan this fall. Here is an excerpt from the chapter on innovation:

Scientific and technological inventions are mainly driven by the passion and curiosity of scientists and technologists (1). The same passion that inspires the inventor to search for the solution also drives the entrepreneur. However, many technology entrepreneurs have experienced how the idealism of science and the rigidity of scientific methods are necessarily compromised on the path from invention to commercialized innovation (2). This evolution is often confusing and frustrating for the entrepreneur. The business of transforming an invention into a commercialized innovation is a highly-pragmatic practice of drawing together the often diverse interests and practices of economic actors, as well as consumers and industrial partners, making compromises necessary (3). Hence, the encounter between the inventions of techno-science and the tough realities of business often produces the question of what will remain of the initial innovation in the end. Along with the question how will the innovation to be combined with existing business practices in order to find users, it is uncertain how the innovation will take part in changing standard practices. Increasing levels of uncertainty can produce insecurity within the team; therefore, strong leadership and confidence from the entrepreneur are needed to guide the team through times of struggle.

Sometimes it appears almost like the innovation process is at war with itself. Whereas mobilisation is directed towards aligning interests and reducing risks, exploration is directed towards formulating and testing propositions about reality (i.e., will the technology work, will users be interested, etc). While mobilisation seeks to converge and simplify the idea, exploration frequently leads to divergence of the innovation.

Entrepreneurs thus have to produce two different kinds of knowledge: first, a chain of arguments suited for convincing, mobilising, and maintaining network partners and their resources; and second, they need to produce testable propositions about reality (e.g., of how to make the technology work and what users have interest in such a product). 

Finally, the interaction between mobilisation and exploration processes often leads to controversies and compromises that may set the project off in new directions (5). This typically happens when the project has run out of money or time, and the entrepreneur has to go back to the different stakeholders. Preliminary results are presented, and new plans have to be negotiated, because the project has moved in different directions than anticipated initially. In these interactions, it is common to change the direction of the project, sometimes by doing smaller adjustments, and other times by making a pivot (6).

– – –

1: Karin Knorr-Cetina (2001) “Objectual practice” in Schatzki et al (eds) The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory, Routledge.

2,3,4,5: Thomas Hoholm (2011) The Contrary Forces of Innovation, Palgrave Macmillan

6: Eric Ries (2011) The Lean Startup, Crown Business


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, entrepreneurship, innovation process, technology entrepreneurship. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The two kinds of knowledge (the innovation conflict)

  1. Pingback: Entreprenørskap – nytt studieår « Entreprenørskapsbloggen

  2. Looking forward to read your book Thomas!

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