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Technology, innovation and management
Technology, innovation and management

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3.1 Individuals and groups

Leaving aside for now the fact that the common stereotype conflates innovation and invention, it is, however, not typical of reality. Individuals can and do play a pivotal role in how innovations arise and develop, of course. But in many cases innovations happen through dogged hard work, chance or even imitation. Much of this activity will have taken place within and between groups or teams of people, rather than residing in the ideas and work of an individual. We must, of course, also recognise that some examples of innovation (and invention) – perhaps more than we imagine – have their origins in espionage and theft.

So, individually or collectively generated ideas play a crucial role in innovation – as they do in invention. But in many ways generating and capturing ideas is the relatively easy part of the process. As Pfeiffer and Goffin (2000) noted, the more difficult part is putting good ideas into practice and, perhaps even more importantly, gaining value from so doing. This always involves adapting and modifying the original ‘raw’ idea to serve an organisation’s internal and external circumstances. This is why in many organisational settings where innovation is regarded as a key element of strategy the ‘ideal’ employee is someone who can work in a research capacity, then move through to developing (for example) a new process, a saleable product or a valuable service.