Thursday, July 06, 2006

Typologies of Innovation - Part I

The study of organizational innovation is not new. Actually, one should not be surprised by the fact that some of the best writing on the topic of innovation dates back to the early 1970s, if not earlier. Consider the paper, “Conceptual Issues in the Study of Innovation” by George W. Downs and Lawrence B. Mohr (Administrative Science Quarterly, 21 (4), 1976, 700-714). This paper discusses a rather salient issue – why is the extant literature point us to findings that are instable (i.e. factors found significant in one study are found insignificant in another – empirical discrepancies). The authors note, “Innovation has emerged over the last decade as possibly the most fashionable of social science areas…the study of innovation has not been confined to any single discipline but is being explored in fields as diverse as anthropology and economics. This popularity is not surprising. The investigations by innovation research of salient behavior of individuals, organizations, and polities can have significant social consequences”. Among the many concerns noted by the authors, the one that is of interest of us is the lack of clearly defined or standardized typologies of innovation. As we continue to read articles from the various academic and practitioner journals we continue to see a wide assortment of typologies of innovation. Some authors, use the primary attributes of the innovation to arrive at types (Downs and Mohr, 1976) – cost of the innovation (high or low), communicability (simple innovation or complicated innovation). Others, use secondary characteristics (i.e. the organization in which the innovation is contextualized) to arrive at typologies. So for example, the cost of innovation, high or low, would depend on the type of organization that is considering adopting or developing the innovation. For a large organization, a given cost figure could be low, while for a smaller organization, the same cost figure could be high. Examples of innovation typologies that use the secondary characteristics include: routine or radical, major versus minor, etc.

In this research project, we will have to propose a typology for the study of innovations, hopefully we will propose one that is comprehensive yet cogent….

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