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In de media 31 okt 2018

PhD dissertation by Tanja L. Enninga

Armchair travelling the innovation journey

Building a narrative repertoire of the experiences of innovation project leaders.


The title of this dissertation is Armchair travelling the innovation journey. ‘Armchair travelling’ is an expression for travelling to another place, in the comfort of one’s own place. ‘The innovation journey’ is the metaphor Van de Ven and colleagues (1999) have used for travelling the uncharted river of innovation, the highly unpredictable and uncontrollable process of innovation. This research study began with a brief remark from an innovation project leader who sighed after a long and rough journey: ‘had I known this ahead of time…’. From wondering ‘what could he have known ahead of time?’ the immediate question arose: how do such innovation journeys develop? How do other innovation project leaders lead the innovation journey? And could I find examples of studies about these experiences from an innovation project leader’s perspective that could have helped the sighing innovation project leader to have known at least some of the challenges ahead of time? This dissertation is the result of that quest, as we do know relatively little how this process of the innovation project leader unfolds over time. The aim of this study is to increase our understanding of how innovation project leaders lead their innovation journeys over time, and to capture those experiences that could be a source for others to learn from and to be better prepared. This research project takes a process approach. Such an approach is diferent from a variance study. Process thinking takes into account how and why things – people, organizations, strategies, environments – change, act and evolve over time, expressed by Andrew Pettigrew (1992, p.10) as catching “reality in flight”.

The innovation process is defined as ‘the process of developing one or more new ideas to achieve desired outcomes by people who engage in relationships in changing contexts’, and this research focusses on processes that aimed for radical innovations. The process to develop a radical innovation has been under study in diferent scholarly domains: New Product Development, Business and Management Studies, Organisation Studies, and Project Management. In these four diferent scholarly domains, the literatures provide innovation models for the course of the overall trajectory. Many of these are orderly models. Van de Ven and colleagues (1999) have demonstrated that stage-gate models do not resemble the messiness of reality. The underlying pattern the authors found in the diferent innovation journeys was a nonlinear cycle of divergent and convergent activities: an emerging process with shocks, setbacks, and shifting criteria. Leading the process of innovating contains not only the development of the innovation, but also managing the process and the context (Pettigrew, 1987). The aforementioned four diferent scholarly domains, each take a diferent perspective on the innovation journey and difer on various ARMCHAIR TRAVELLING THE INNOVATION JOURNEY – Summary 17 aspects of the process which an innovation project leader has to deal with, although they all emphasise that the innovation project leader has to lead diferent processes at the same time. I unpacked four main articles, one from each scholarly domain, into aspects, and grouped these into four categories as four underlying processes of the innovation journey: the innovation project leader has to lead the innovation journey by developing the content, stimulating creativity, guiding group dynamics, and managing project constraints, as visualised in the conceptual framework in Figure 2.8. These four processes are intertwined. Buijs (2007) has indicated that these diferent processes could conflict with each other and ambiguity and tensions are part of the daily life of an innovation process.

Leading the four intertwined processes of the innovation journey combines rational and emotional and creative processes, and activities, such as sensemaking, decision making, and leading others within a situational context. Due to the unique character of the innovation journey, every radical innovation journey has its own pace, its own problems to be solved, and its own group dynamics, within its own constraints. The complexity of one journey could not be transferred to another with explicit tools, such as a checklist or a planning device. In some professional domains, the telling and sharing of stories about such journeys is standard procedure. Military pilots, for instance, debrief after their adventures. Pilots tell stories about their experiences, the kind of and-then-and-then-andthen-stories, which help them to make sense of what happened. It also helps the storytelling pilot to digest these experiences by reliving the events by telling. The colleagues in the audience want to hear these stories, as the events could also happen to them one day. “They want to gain from the vicarious experience”, Klein (1998) states. These vicarious experiences, these experiences of others, enable people to build patterns or expand the patterns they already have, and to use them to (re)act to future events (Klein, Snowden, & Chew, 2011). Pattern building out of these stories is an act of weaving the new with the old: interpreting new stories in relation to old experiences, that is, to old stories. A narrative repertoire could enable innovation project leaders to become aware, anticipate, decide and act upon unusual and unknown experiences and to be encouraged and inspired.

To investigate how the innovation project leader leads the innovation journey over time, I was looking for a variety of cases in terms of type of organisation, type of innovation, and type of professional domain. Three radical innovation journeys were studied: the development of the BeerTender, a home appliance for draught beer at home, developed by Heineken in cooperation with Krups; the development of a nursing home concept, a new way that people with severe dementia could live in a nursing home developed by nursing home Hogewey, which is part of the Vivium Care group; and the development of an immunotherapy for cancer, developed by Newvac. Since this immunotherapy is currently still under development the name Newvac is a pseudonym. The variety of the cases adds to the understanding of how innovation project leaders lead in various contexts, and broadens the narrative repertoire for the academic and practice audiences. 18 The chosen methodology is a ‘dual method’ multiple case study research: the combination of longitudinal, real time, data collection, combined with retrospective interviews. Data collection was partly real time, directly observing and collecting data as a participant observer in the cases studied. In each case also retrospective interviews were held with the innovation project leader on several occasions during the years of each study, respectively three, 16, and four years.

Part II, Into the Wild, contains the empirical chapters 5,6, and 7, that describe the innovation journeys of the innovation project leaders of BeerTender, Hogewey, and Newvac. For clarity and comparability each chapter follows the same structure. The case is introduced, including the core people involved and the data collection is specified. Each case contains a historical timeline of the development process, and the innovation is sketched within the context. Thereafter, the course of the innovation journey is described from the perspective of the innovation project leader. The innovation journey is unpacked into the motive for innovating, the preparation of the innovation project leader, and the four intertwined processes.

The innovation project leader of BeerTender experienced a complex content development process, with technological difculties and with many participants in various sub-projects. He led this journey by initiating a process of regular meetings where all team members, who were each responsible for a part of the innovation project, came together. He named these meetings ‘the interface meeting’. He used the making and telling of stories as a tool to manage the creative process and solved issues in the content process along with guiding the group dynamics process.

The innovation project leader and his team managed the tensions of the bumpy road by having joint activities, such as going to the pub together and having a good laugh from time to time. The innovation project leader of Hogewey expected to develop a concept and train all personnel within a period of one or two years, yet she experienced a diferent course for the innovation journey. To develop the innovation fully, including the desired behaviour of professional caregivers towards each individual resident, took years of adjusting, steering, learning, and training to establish an organisation where personnel embodied the behaviour that fits the care philosophy. Due to this long period of adjusting, the innovation journey had ‘a long tail’, without which the innovation could not have been established. Guiding the group dynamics and reconciling the dilemmas was the most important process to support the content development process. The innovation project leader of Newvac estimated that within a year or two after the start the clinical studies would be running. However, the innovation journey, so far, has been a process where, in loops and turns, the hold of of funding has set the continuity of the organisation at risk. For the innovation project leader and her team, remarkable points in this innovation journey are the delays in time due to the funding issues, and the splits in ARMCHAIR TRAVELLING THE INNOVATION JOURNEY – Summary 19 activities and attention into the two diferent processes of funding on the one hand and developing clinical trials and production of the medicine on the other, which leads to what I demonstrated as the double helix of processes. The complexity of the content development process combined with the funding process and the awareness of patients’ unmet needs add to the pressure the team experienced to pursue and try to speed up the process. The complexity of issues and the necessity to lead others out of their common response zone are higher than the innovation project leader had initially expected.

The findings show that the four underlying diferent processes (content developing process, creative process, group dynamics process, project constraints process) are intertwined. Although the leadership and the focus of the innovation project leaders revealed diferences, the findings illustrate how the use of imagery and narrative constructs helped understanding problems and finding solutions, as well as helping others to understand the project, and to see it diferently, outside their common response zone.

What makes the journey challenging to lead are: 1) the number of issues that emerge; 2) the diferences in kinds of activities in the four intertwined processes, 3) the contradictions between issues and activities, with diferent dynamics: e.g. rational and emotional, long term and short term, converging and diverging, 4) the contradictions between people and priorities, with diferent dynamics, 5) all occurring at the same time, 6) and over a longer period of time, 7) and the psychological pressure that follows from this cocktail.

Chapter 9 presents a narrative repertoire with four diferent kind of narratives: three historical narratives about the innovation journeys in the three cases studied, three awareness narratives, that could increase recognition of possible events, and three solution narratives, that entail the occurrence of an event or pattern, and a solution that could be applicable for other innovation project leaders. A fourth kind of narrative is a process narrative that captures the overall complexity from the perspective of the innovation project leader.

Chapter 10 starts with a summary of the answers to the research question. This chapter then discusses the theoretical implications of this research and suggests directions for future research. Furthermore, the chapter suggests implications for the practice of innovation project leaders. This chapter ends with a reflection on the methodological choices, the research design and evaluative criteria of this research, and my role as researcher.