In the current globalized competitive arena, breakthrough innovations, defined as new products or services that create entirely new markets or radically change existing ones (like the Ipad), are a crucial (potential) source of competitive advantage for firms. They also are a fundamental mechanism to restore sustainable growth in advanced economies, which were severely hit by the global crisis.
Despite the many benefits touted by scholars, consultants, and managers, the accumulated evidence indicates that breakthrough innovations are rare and difficult to achieve. Established firms confront severe obstacles when engaging in the development of breakthrough innovations (Christensen, 1997; Henderson, 1993). In fact, the few available studies suggest that the typical internal organization of incumbents which is designed to assure efficiency in daily operations, is at odds with the pursuit of breakthrough innovation (O'Connor and De Martino, 2006). Consequently, in modern innovation eco-systems, start-ups are often considered the most natural engine of breakthrough innovation (Schneider and Veugelers, 2011), as they are loci of creativity and do not suffer from organizational inertia. Nonetheless, start-ups also encounter serious obstacles in rallying human talent and financial resources for developing breakthrough innovations, and assembling the complementary assets necessary for exploiting them (e.g., Carayannopoulos, 2009). As an alternative option, incumbents may leverage the creativity and flexibility of start-ups to radically innovate by acquiring them, allying with them or even promoting their creation (e.g. Von Krogh et al. 2012). However, alliance and acquisition strategies carry their own risks. Evidence shows that few acquisitions of start-ups are successful, and that post-acquisition integration of the acquired operations often leads to the deterioration of the performance of acquired inventors. Similarly, alliances between large incumbents and start-ups involve high transaction costs and substantial moral hazard and adverse selection problems, when their aim is to develop breakthrough innovations.
The aim of this special issue “Organizing for breakthrough innovation: Taking inspiration from the organization of science” is to examine what organizational arrangements are most conducive to breakthrough innovation. We are especially interested in investigating to what extent and under what conditions principles and guidelines applied in the organization of scientific projects which led to major scientific discoveries (Stephan, 2012) may inform the innovation activity of firms with the purpose of increasing the likelihood of achieving breakthrough innovations. These organizing principles include:
- the use of small but multi-disciplinary teams of scientists who are granted autonomy in the definition of specific research objectives and in the way they are pursued, compete with each other, and are embedded in a munificent organizational environment, typical of large scientific institutions, which provides them with complementary technological resources, advanced scientific infrastructure, and patient non-competitive funding;
- the strong leadership of principal investigators, which however is continuously challenged by younger researchers;
- the adoption of human resource management practices relating to aspects such as recruitment, communication of ideas and socialization among scientists, and provision of suitable incentives, including those aimed at leveraging the intrinsic motivations of scientists to advance scientific knowledge;
- the design of advanced information technology for storing, analysing, and sharing knowledge, which facilitates coordination of autonomous and geographically dispersed research teams;
- and finally, an open approach to IPRs, which is intended to favor knowledge sharing and the capturing of new research opportunities.
It is thus of great academic and practical relevance to open a new line of inquiry on organizing for breakthrough innovation with the aim of assessing whether and under what conditions organizing principles such as those listed above that have proven successful for the organization of science, can be transposed to a corporate environment, and what are the necessary adaptations.
Massimo G. Colombo, Department of Management, Economics, and Industrial Engineering, Politecnico di Milano (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Cristina Rossi-Lamastra, Department of Management, Economics, and Industrial Engineering, Politecnico di Milano (email@example.com)
Paula E. Stephan, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University and National Bureau of Economic Research (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Georg von Krogh, Chair of Strategic Management and Innovation, ETH Zurich (email@example.com)
Research questions to be addressed by the special issue could be, but are not limited to, the following:
- How much autonomy needs to be given to R&D employees in creating breakthrough innovations? How can effective incentives be designed for them? Which balance should they give to extrinsic and intrinsic motivations? Under what conditions can the human resource management practices typical of big scientific projects be successfully adopted by large incumbent firms?
- What coordination mechanisms and models and approaches to assess achievements towards breakthrough innovations are most effective in firms? How do they differ from those that are found in big scientific projects?
- What approaches to the design and implementation of information technology in big scientific projects can be effectively transposed to firms seeking to support entirely new knowledge creation and radical innovation?
- What leadership styles are most successful in fostering breakthrough innovation in a firm context?
- Under what conditions does an open approach to intellectual property rights (IPR) promote radical innovation?
- Does the recruitment of employees who have previous experience in scientific research, and thus have a mind-set and routines oriented to breakthrough discoveries, favour breakthrough innovation? At which level and in which positions of the corporate hierarchy should firms locate2
- these employees? What are the drawbacks of these injections? Can temporary leaves of R&D personnel in scientific institutions be a valid alternative option?
- Does geographical distance and institutional heterogeneity between globally dispersed firms involved in exploratory R&D alliances hinder the successful unfolding of the collaboration? Can lessons from big science projects composed of globally dispersed teams and organizations help overcome such barriers?
- Can private-public collaborations between firms and universities (and public research organizations) manage to pursue an ambidextrous win-win strategy aimed at both breakthrough scientific discoveries and breakthrough innovations?
- What lessons can start-ups and small innovative firms draw from networks of collaborations between small scientific teams?
- Are spin-offs from state-of-the-art scientific projects more genetically oriented towards breakthrough innovation than regular corporate- and university-based spin-offs? What are lessons from scientific projects for corporate venturing that aim to foster radical innovation?
- Under what conditions can corporate spin-offs combine the advantages of scale and autonomy, thereby contributing to the development of radical new products and services? Which organizational and governance mechanisms allow parent corporations to best benefit from these ventures’ innovation activity?
Submissions to the special issue should be sent electronically through the JPIM ScholarOne system (http://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/jpim) before May 31, 2015. Authors need to clearly indicate in their submission information and letter that their manuscript is for the Special Issue on Organizing for Breakthrough Innovation. All submissions will be subject to the standard double blind review process followed by JPIM. All manuscripts must be original, unpublished works that are not concurrently under review for publication elsewhere. All submissions should conform to the JPIM manuscript submission guidelines available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/%28ISSN%291540-5885.
The publication of the special issue is expected in 2017. Questions about this special issue may be directed to any of the guest editors at their email addresses provided above.
Carayannopoulos S. (2009) How technology-based new firms leverage newness and smallness to commercialize disruptive technologies. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 33(2), 419–438.
Christensen, C.M. (1997) The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Henderson R. (1993) Underinvestment and incompetence as responses to radical innovation: Evidence from the photolithographic alignment equipment industry. RAND Journal of Economics, 24(2), 248-270.
O'Connor G.C., De MartinoR. (2006) Organizing for radical innovation: an exploratory study of the structural aspects of RI management systems in large established firms. Journal of Product Innovation Management. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 23(6), 475–497.
Schneider C., Veugelers R. (2010) On young highly innovative companies: why they matter and how (not) to policy support them. Industrial and Corporate Changes, 19(4), 19 (4): 969-1007.
Stephan, P. E. (2012). How economics shapes science. Cambridge, MA, USA: Harvard University Press.
von Krogh G., Battistini B., Pachidou F., Baschera P. (2012) The changing face of corporate venturing in biotechnology. Nature Biotechnology, 30, 911-915.