June 12, 2010

Innovation is a multi-faceted thing

In working on our O/U/CI paper, one of the problems we’ve debated with is how much time to spend on the “I.” Clearly there is wide variation (some might say sloppiness) in the definition of innovation.

Last week, at the Tilburg Conference on Innovation, the Friday keynote speakers was Prof. Andrew van de Ven of the U. Minnesota. The choice was particularly apt, since van de Ven is on the scientific council of the Center for Innovation Research and because he spent the first five years of his life somewhere near here. (His family name goes back 18 generations at the Oshkot church less than 20km away from the conference site).

The Innovation JourneyMost of all, he is known for the Minnesota Innovation Research Project, the multi-year, multi-disicplinary project that produced a series of papers and books, including The Innovation Journey. The study built on earlier innovation studies such as the work of Everett Rogers and Lou Tornatzky — crucial studies that are, alas, oft forgotten.

Prof. van de Ven offered three related definitions
  • change: an observed difference over time
  • invention: a new idea
  • innovation: the creation and implementation of a new idea
He suggested that “innovation” varies on eight different dimensions:
  1. Time: duration, pace
  2. Newness to observer and protgatonists
  3. Recombination
  4. Magnitude: radical vs. incremental
  5. Complementarity
  6. Unity of analysis: project, series of projects
  7. Level of analysis: individual, organization or industry
  8. Assessment: is the innovation good or bad? is it supported or opposed?
Prof. van de Ven called on researchers do define what they mean by innovation, to better allow comparability and integration of the various studies. Clearly this would also apply to studies of open innovation, user innovation and cumulative innovation.

Engaged Scholarship: A Guide for Organizational and Social ResearchI also had a chance to talk with Prof. van de Ven at dinner Friday night. One of his recent passions has been for research that is more integrated with the needs of our (nominal) clients in the real world. (Or, as he said Friday morning, “When theory meets reality, it’s a humbling experience”).

That passion was channeled into his recent book, Engaged Scholarship. The book so impressed us in the Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management that we borrowed the phrase as part of our revised mission statement.

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