Research Seminars

"Big Pictures, Big Bets and Innovation: Goal Activation and the Commercialization of New Technologies at Motorola"

Speaker: John Joseph
NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

10 January 2008 - From 11h00 to 12h30

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When do large research-intensive firms commercialize new technologies? Studies in a range of disciplines suggest that large public corporations are motivated to do so by short-term financial goals. Cognitive perspectives and those derived from the behavioral theory of the firm focus on the relationship between aspiration levels and performance relative to those levels and regard
risk-taking and innovation as contingent on aspiration-performance gaps. Yet an often overlooked aspect of the Carnegie School's original formulation is the role of multiple organizational goals in understanding the form and substance of cognition and, in turn, organizational choice and action. What activates and shifts attention to some organizational goals rather than others? How and under what conditions do organizational goals affect organizational search and decision making? These questions are the focus of this study. Theoretically, I bring together behavioral theory with theories of goal setting and attention to understand the role of multiple goals and their impact on organizational decision making. Empirically, I draw on extensive field data from Motorola's new ventures group and, utilizing an embedded case study of 22 new technology initiatives and QCA, I seek to understand the effects of active goals on the decisions to commercialize new technologies. I suggest that that not only do organizations shift their attention in response to aspiration-performance gaps, but that they may, in fact, shift their attention to different goals entirely – such as directive goals related to specific technologies or customers. I posit that organizational attention to goals shifts in response to 1) top management through big picture mission statements or technology big bets or 2) customers and their demands for particular solutions, and that these goals have different consequences for search and decision making in the form of commercialization of new technologies. Contrary to traditional accounts, I find that firms do not rely on financial performance gaps to motivate technology
commercialization and find that that there are multiple paths to motivate innovation in the large
multi-business firm.

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