How harmful is playing politics to the innovation process and organizational outcomes?

Author:Monroy, Veronica Ilian Banos

    Creativity is an individual process. It occurs prior to the innovation phenomenon defined as a "group process" and requires certain skills that both individuals, and groups possess. (McLean, 2005). However, it is not possible to talk about innovation if there is no a previous creative process marking the beginning of the process; one which identifies relevant problems and opportunities, obtains information, generates new ideas and explores the relevance of these ideas (Amabile, 1998). Creativity, and therefore innovation, will be possible if diversity exists in the working group and the exchange of ideas becomes common practice among people with different experiences and different backgrounds (Kanter, 1983). Given the above, attitudes such as hostility, arrogance, autonomy, independence and introversion have no place in an organization that requires innovation and creativity at work (Amabile, 1998).

    It has been more than half a century since the debate about definitions of innovation began, particularly the way in which it should be evaluated and measured. One of the first authors involved in studying this subject-area was Schumpeter (1934), who made very specific distinctions about what invention, innovation, and the diffusion of such innovation meant. In this regard it is important to comment that the "Schumpeter" approach is one of the most analyzed approaches in the empirical scope, and, as will be mentioned later, this interpretation is based on two factors (size of the company and market power) that frequently lead to a technological innovation (Alaez, 2001).

    Some researchers treat innovation typically as a fully-inclusive term, even when they are referring to different events or processes. Additionally, in some research, innovation is described in one dimensional term as referring to a new idea, product or process interchangeably. In some literature innovation is described as a process of innovation (Cooper, 1998).

    Robbins (1998) argues that innovation is a special kind of change because thinking of innovation "changes the way we think". While change is defined as the realization of different things, innovation refers to the application of a new idea to generate better products, processes or services. For this reason, innovation has nothing to do necessarily with the increase in budget for machinery or the hiring of specialized personnel, but with other issues within the organizational sphere.

    Another, wider definition of innovation specifies that an idea used for the first time by a company or companies, with a common objective, is undoubtedly an innovation (Kimberly and Evanisko, 1981). A different group of researchers believe that innovation is an idea, practice or object that the company or an individual perceives as new (Damanpour and Evan, 1984; Damanpour, 1991). In terms of these two approaches therefore virtually any event is considered as innovation, everything is based on the perception of the innovator, and what varies is the time taken to adopt such innovation.

    Innovation has been also defined as "the adoption of ideas that are new to the organization that acquires them" (Downs and Mohr, 1976; Rogers, 1983). However, the generation of new ideas or the adoption of these ideas is only the beginning (Afuah, 1999). To transform an invention into an innovation it is necessary for the idea to become something that customers really want. Having the idea therefore is only the beginning. It is also necessary to find how to process, improve and promote it until you have a service or product: this is the real challenge.

    It has also been stated that there is a substantial difference between what is a technical innovation and an administrative innovation. (Afuah, 1991). While technical innovation is limited exclusively to products or services, an administrative innovation is confined to part of the organizational structure and processes of which it is composed. An administrative innovation, being much broader in its application, could affect or not or even generate a technical innovation. On the other hand, a technical innovation does not necessarily require an administrative innovation to be generated.

    A very recent definition of innovation provided by Boer et al. (2001) indicates that a product innovation is a cross functional and continuous process that involves and integrates a huge range of different skills both inside and outside organizational boundaries. To dominate the exchange and transfer of knowledge within this process requires new administrative skills. However, the effort is worthwhile because it can generate a very powerful and competitive weapon.

    Van de Ven et al (2001) defined innovation more as a journey than a process, a journey that can be planned, understood, and retaken when any of the study variables change and which could also be suspended if required by the system under scrutiny. This trip was defined as "new ideas whose development and application are committed towards results desired by people who set up transactions with other parties in the midst of changing institutional and organizational contexts" (Van de Ven et al., 2001: 8).

    The definition of Van de Ven (2001) refers to a process that involves several elements such as ideas, outcomes, relationships and different contexts. However, there are other definitions that may argue for the inclusion of other elements different from those mentioned by this author. This definition is one of the most comprehensive however since it encompasses several elements, although not necessarily technological ones and not involving issues of diffusion or market exclusively. This "journey" called innovation has more to do with change and adaptation than with rigid processes.


    2.1 Theoretical contributions on Innovation Models

    According to the literature, we have distinguished two different models of innovation: the static and the dynamic.

    Static models

    An innovation can be classified according to the impact it has on a company (Afuah, 1999). Therefore, an innovation can be classified according to the impact it has on the capabilities of an organization, i.e., you can measure the impact of the innovation based on the effect that this innovation had on the competencies of the company. This way of classifying innovations is called "organizational vision", and it separates innovation into radical and incremental innovations. According to this classification, it is said that an innovation is considered radical when the technological know-how required to exploit it is completely different from current know-how: the latter becoming obsolete (Green, et al 1995; Zhao, 2005).

    Tushman and Anderson (1986) concluded that radical innovations are "destructive" skills since they force a company to learn things quickly and adapt to a new way of working, without investing time and money. Given those circumstances, the company loses its "competitiveness" on something that was already in its domain and has to start from scratch again. Tushman and Anderson (1986) referred to what ice making companies had to do and learn in order to switch to refrigerator manufacture For example, it was necessary to learn about thermodynamics, electric motors and cooling substances as well as the design and manufacture of various types of materials involved in refrigerator construction: this therefore was regarded as a radical innovation.

    In contrast, the same authors argue that an incremental innovation, in contrast to a radical one, enhances the power of a company. This type of innovation is based on the premise that the existing knowledge-base will be utilized in the manufacture of a new product offering (Ibid.). An example of incremental innovation could be when a company makes a product with certain characteristics and improved efficiency. In terms of electronic products, this might be a new mobile phone which is much smaller and has more features in terms of size/functionality ratio compared to when these phones first appeared in the 80's.

    Innovation has also been classified from both economic and competitiveness standpoints. In this sense, classified as radical or drastic, innovations occur "when a product that is superior (lower cost, better attributes or new attributes) is generated and the existing products become almost automatically obsolete or uncompetitive" (Afuah, 1999:21). Non drastic or incremental innovations are characterized by existing products remaining competitive even after the introduction of a new product, for example, low-calorie soft drinks.

    If an innovation is radical in the organizational sense, two fundamental problems must be overcome before it can be considered useful. First, change becomes a destroyer of competency and people do not have the capabilities to exploit the innovation, and second, it is likely that the existing competencies of the company are not only useless but become a real obstacle to the introduction and development of the innovation itself (Dewar and Dutton, 1986; Ettlie, Bridges and O'Keefe, 1984).

    Even though new firms are more likely to experience good results with radical innovation, and also are more likely to succeed when the innovation is incremental, this does not happen 100% of the time (Afuah, 1999). There is no law stating that all those companies already present in the market cannot make dramatic improvements, not only to a single or specific products but to the business model or company itself.

    Dynamic models

    Utterback-Abernathy dynamic innovation model

    These authors traced the route that a technological innovation follows, beginning with the very dynamic functional processes and ending with the following three phases: the fluid, the transitional, and the specific. The initial fluid phase is characterized by great uncertainty (both market and technological). As a result of the flow of new technology the firm decides to invest in the new product. In addition, there is...

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