Enhancing Discontinuous Innovation through Knowledge Combination: The Case of an Exploratory Unit within an Established Automotive Firm


Creativity and Innovation Management

June 2008, vol. 17, n°2, pp.127-135

Departments: Information Systems and Operations Management, GREGHEC (CNRS)

The literature on innovation management underlines the necessity to separate the exploratory unit that builds new businesses on the basis of radical innovation from the exploitation unit that emphasizes continuous improvement. However, little research focuses on the exploratory unit in itself: the very nature of its activity, its composition, etc. The aim of this article is to analyse the exploratory unit in mobilizing results highlighted by research on organizational creativity. It is argued that in order to enhance discontinuous innovation, knowledge combination should occur and be facilitated in the exploratory unit. Hence, the research question is what organizational design at a fine-grained level and creativity processes are likely to enhance knowledge combination and thus discontinuous innovation? Based on an in-depth study of an exploratory unit created in an established multidivisional firm pursuing the development of discontinuous innovation and which generated several actual breakthroughs, we highlighted four key factors that enhanced knowledge combination: (i) the definition of the scope of the unit, (ii) the composition of the unit and the dual roles of its members, (iii) the boundary objects that supported the interactions between these members during the creativity process, and (iv) the arenas where new knowledge was further created