How to handle the winding path of an innovation

Innovation can be defined as the introduction of new products and services that add value to the consumer. But the innovation process is rarely straightforward, and the uncertainties involved often require compromises. But how and what must be compromised? New research from Halmstad University suggests how companies should handle uncertainties in the innovation process to produce the desired end product without deviation from the original goal.

Sabrina Luthfa Karim, PhD student within Innovation Science at Halmstad University, successfully defended her doctoral thesis on June 13:

”In my research, I have studied how and why companies perform certain activities in certain ways to manage the uncertainties in the innovation process. The conclusions of the study have led to a number of concrete recommendations for companies – when they should compromise and when they should not.”

Illustration with colourful face masks and patterns.

Two companies have been studied; one that is in the end phase of the innovative process and one that has just finished it. Sabrina Luthfa Karim found that the companies tend to compromise their goals of innovation.

”Along the path, they realise that they cannot achieve the value they wanted to achieve.”

Three levels of compromises

The reason is that they, during the innovation process, face different challenges or uncertainties. In order to still advance in the process, the companies have to make compromises. This can be done by altering the product features, changing the course of action or compromise in business relationships.

An example of such a compromise is an action taken from one of the companies in the study. The company was trying to produce saline resistant high yielding wheat seeds to be grown in saline prone areas where crops do not usually grow. They ultimate goal was to ensure more food and decrease poverty and starvation.

”During the process of developing the seeds, this company faced a number of difficulties. As a result, they had to compromise the objective of developing saline resistant seeds. Today they are just concentrating on developing high yielding seeds – an outcome that will affect the people who could benefit from the original innovation idea.”

Relationships for good and bad

The research reveals a somewhat surprising finding:

”Companies sometimes prefer not to make compromises despite knowing that this will cost a great deal. Accordingly, the findings suggest that compromises made within a business relationship allow companies to produce innovations without deviating from the desired path by ensuring access to resources and partners’ abilities.”

On the contrary, Sabrina Luthfa Karim also found that compromises not made in the relationship can threaten a company’s ability to produce the desired innovation, as the exchange of the partners’ resources and abilities is hindered in a poor relationship.

”Hopefully, I will be able to continue my research for an even better understanding about the innovation process challenges”, says Sabrina Luthfa Karim.

Text: Louise Wandel and Ida Fridvall

Read more

“The Uncertainty – Embedded Innovation Process – A study of how uncertainty emerges in the innovation process and of how firms address that to create novelty” (DiVA) External link, opens in new window.

About the thesis

PhD thesis: “The Uncertainty – Embedded Innovation Process – A study of how uncertainty emerges in the innovation process and of how firms address that to create novelty” by Sabrina Luthfa Karim.

Gabriel Baffour Awuah, Professor, Halmstad University
Mikael Hilmersson, Associate professor , Göteborgs University
Klaus Solberg Søilen, Professor, Halmstad University

Examination board:
Ulf Andersson, Professor, Mälardalens University
Jonas Gabrielsson, Professor, Halmstad University
Tuija Mainela, Professor, University of Oulu, Finland

Mikael Sandberg, Professor, Halmstad University

Anna Öhrwall Rönnbäck, Professor, Luleå University of Technology

The doctoral defense seminar took place at Halmstad University June 13, 2017.