Central Problems in the Management of Innovation

Andrew H. Van De Ven, 1985, 85-109

Fostering innovation in the organization.

Type of Report
Think piece.

To suggest key concepts, problems, and propositions that can lead to a framework for studying innovation management.

Discusses four basic interrelated problems confronting most general managers in managing innovation and proposes possible solutions.


  • One of the central innovation problems involves the process of implementing and institutionalizing an invention or creative idea so that it truly becomes an innovation. The literature on the sociopolitical processes of pushing ideas into currency appears to offer insights into why some new ideas gain acceptance while others do not.

  • Closely related to the preceding problem is that of how to trigger people to pay attention to new ideas, needs, and opportunities; i.e., to overcome the physiological human tendency (and organizational tendency) to focus on and protect existing practices. It is proposed that people should be directly exposed to problem sources (e.g., demanding customers) at levels that stimulate action but stop short of stress.

  • A third basic problem is the structural one of managing part-whole relationships. A web of complex and interdependent transactions arises as the innovation is instituted in the organization over time, and individuals or groups may lose sight of the whole innovation effort. It is proposed that organizations be designed according to holographic principles, where the whole is mirrored in its parts, rather than the principle of autonomous units.

  • The fourth key problem is one of institutional leadership to create an organizational culture and infrastructure that facilitate innovation. Three cybernetic principles are proposed: regulating behavior by defining critical limits to avoid, rather than ends to achieve; learning to detect errors in guideline standards; and preserving uncertainty and diversity.

Target Audience/Applicability
General managers.

Related MSI Research
Von Hippel, "Novel Product Concepts from Lead Users: Segmenting Users by Experience."

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