Organising while innovating, towards a process theory in innovation management

  • Anup Nair

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The focus of mainstream innovation research has largely been on innovation as an output rather than innovating as a process. Thus, the dynamics of the messy process of innovating, characterised by its complexity, non-linearity, false starts, dead ends, ineffability and becoming, remain under theorised. Current process theories on innovating, notably the efforts of Kathleen Eisenhardt, Robert Burgelman, Andrew Van De Ven and Raghu Garud, which attempt to unravel the dynamics constituting the innovating process, have all emphasised that innovating involves change. However, the surfacing of the debate between the 'substantialist' and 'process' metaphysical perspectives in organisational studies has produced new insights on organisational change and adaptation. 'Process', in the former perspective refers to an epistemological position where change is construed as epiphenomenal and occurring between two stable states or structures or entities. 'Process' in the latter refers to an 'ontological' position where order and organisation are regarded as temporarily-stabilised accomplishments or relatively stabilised patterns of relations in a churning sea of change. These insights have triggered several theoretical and methodological debates which bear profound implications for our understanding of how innovations come into being. Specifically, these insights challenge four apparent paradoxes: a) persistence versus change; b) synchrony versus diachrony; c) necessity versus chance and d) structural determinism versus agentic free will; which have persistently puzzled the 'substantialist' innovation process theorists. Despite its ability to dissolve these paradoxes, the application of the 'processual' perspective to explore innovating remains, both theoretically and empirically underexplored. The objective of this thesis is to address this lacuna by exploring organising while innovating from a 'processual' perspective. 'Processual', here refers to both an ontological and epistemological position. Adopting this perspective requires theorists to pry open the proverbial black box which conceals the unfolding dynamics and their subsequent stabilisation while innovating. Put differently, the research must answer how organising and innovating entwine as they become. Doing so required designing a theory of method that is inherently sympathetic to process and movement as fundamental features of reality. Such a methodology was designed and deployed in this seven month long, real time, ethnographic field study of two new product development projects at a Scottish high value manufacturing firm. Analysis of the data illuminates the unfolding of three distinct yet intertwined dynamics which I've called the dynamics of preferential equivocality, the dynamics of temporal scaffolding and the dynamics of relational coherence. The findings also reveal that these three dynamics are regulated by a mechanism, called 'tensegrity' (portmanteau for tensional-integrity). I expand and elaborate on the tensegrity mechanism, which was seen to influence the entwinement and unfolding of organising while innovating. This study, offers four distinct research contributions. One, it develops a 'processual' theoretical approach to study the process of innovating. Two, it offers a theory of method that conceptually integrates and translates this framework to the practical activity of fieldwork in process research. Three, this research is among the few empirical field studies on innovating from a 'processual' perspective. And four, by identifying the dynamic processes and explicating the mechanism through which organising while innovating becomes, it offers theoretical and practical guidance to navigate the innovation journey. Overall, this study clears the ground for a more extended 'processual' inquiry withi
    Date of Award20 Nov 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University Of Strathclyde
    SupervisorBarbara Simpson (Supervisor) & David Mackay (Supervisor)

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