Meeting the Innovation Challenge
Edited by John Bessant and Tim Venables
Chapter 8: Sustaining Breakthrough Innovation in Large Established Firms: Learning Traps and Counteracting Strategies
8. Sustaining breakthrough innovation in large established ﬁrms: learning traps and counteracting strategies Simone Ferriani, Elizabeth Garnsey and David Probert It must be considered that there is nothing more diﬃcult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who proﬁt from the old order of things, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would proﬁt by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries . . . and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it. (Niccolò Machiavelli) 1. INTRODUCTION Several studies show that breakthrough innovations are often likely to originate with entrants rather than with incumbents. Most established ﬁrms have too many obligations and too much to lose to justify the obvious risks of chasing radical possibilities that might or might not be market hits. Nevertheless, some room must be found for breakthroughs or the market leader risks being leap-frogged and deposed by upstart market newcomers. Given this imperative, why do large ﬁrms not come up with breakthroughs more regularly? Researchers in innovation management have proﬀered a variety of arguments to explain this tendency. It has been suggested that large established ﬁrms underinvest in radical innovation (Henderson 1993), fall into competency traps (Levitt and March 1988), are hampered by their core rigidities (Leonard-Barton 1992) or remain committed only...
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