4960 technological innovation

technological innovation

Polly S. Rizova

The topic of technological innovation has been
fascinating generations of scholars, managers,
and policymakers ever since Schumpeters influ
ential Theory of Economic Development (1934)
appeared in English. In it, he compellingly
argued that the survival of firms as well as that
of society is dependent upon their ability to
perpetually find new uses for the existing
resources and to recombine the latter in novel
ways. The economic and social changes in the
western world, particularly after the Industrial
Revolution, are attributed to a considerable
degree to technological innovations.
At first addressed by economists, the topic
has become of interest to an array of social
science disciplines such as sociology, manage
ment science, industrial psychology, and the
history of technology. Empirical research on
the economic and social determinants and con
sequences of technological innovation surged in
the 1980s and 1990s when leading scholarly
journals devoted special issues to it: Adminis
trative Science Quarterly (1990), Strategic Man
agement Journal (1990), and the Academy of
Management Journal (1996). Social Studies of
Science was even more specific; in 1992 it pub
lished a symposium on Failed Innovations.
Technological innovation is defined as a pro
cess which stretches from the origination to the
development, implementation, and diffusion of
new products or processes which have market
and social value. Innovation is not to be identified
with the act of scientific discovery or invention.
The latter marks the very first occurrence of an
idea for a novel product or process; the former
encapsulates the deliberate actions of people
from diverse organizational units research and
development (R&D), manufacturing, and mar
keting to develop and to commercialize it. All
through, it is ideas and knowledge that are
sought, processed, and transmitted by both peo
ple and organizations. That is why technological
innovation is conceived of as an information and
knowledge processing activity which takes place
in an organizational context and goes beyond the
generation of a creative idea in the minds of
single individuals.
In the years after World War II, a set view
regarding what the force is behind technological
innovation took prominence; namely, that scien
tific technical research is the single most impor
tant drive for innovation and, consequently, for
economic development. Promulgated by Vanne
var Bush in Science: The Endless Frontier (1945),
it became known as the linear model. This
model was the framework used to inform all
efforts to organize for successful innovation up
to the 1980s. It rests on the assumption that
innovation results from the application of
science in a process which takes place through
well defined sequential linear stages scientific
research, development, production, and market
ing. Not only are the stages neatly defined, but
so are their technical objectives and output.
According to this understanding, innovation
moves from one stage to the next after a success
ful completion of each stages goals. Hence, by
its nature, the model takes for granted that tech
nological innovation springs from the new scien
tific knowledge and breakthroughs created in
the first stage. Not surprisingly, research from
this period addressed the link between science,
scientific knowledge, and new technology. This
view was also mirrored in the high level of
government funding for university research
and federal R&D laboratories.
An important shift in the contemporary
understanding of technological innovation has
been marked by the recognition of what tech
nological innovation is not namely, a linear
process. Research in the 1980s demonstrated
that although scientific research continues to
be a viable source for innovations, the large
majority of them began with a recognized mar
ket demand. It is often the case that a techno
logical innovation is initiated at the stage located
at the very end of the linear model, from
where it moves backward and forward through
out the rest. Hence, it involves nested goal for
mation and problem solving activities grounded
in an iterative interaction between science, tech
nology, and the market. The relative impor
tance that scientific research and the market
play in technological innovation, though, varies
over time, with the size of a firm, and between,
as well as within, industries. For instance, in
Forces of Production (1984), David Noble shows
that although the preponderance of innovations,
as measured in absolute numbers, stemmed