Creativity and innovation
Creativity and innovation

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Creativity and innovation

2.2 Organisational implications

Once a product has reached the market, it typically goes through a life cycle. Initially several rival designs compete to outperform each other and key features are improved. Conventional wisdom has it that gradually a dominant design emerges. Subsequently, manufacturers devote their attention to improving the manufacturing process, for example, using machine- rather than hand-blown bulbs for incandescent lights. Manufacturing costs are usually substantially reduced; in the case of the electric light bulb, for example, labour time has fallen from (originally) about an hour to less than 20 seconds. At some point another radical innovation comes to challenge the technology, e.g. fluorescent lights (Taylor, 1996) or, in an increasingly energy conscious-world, solid-state lamps may crossover from the automotive industry and make both these forms of domestic light obsolete. LED lights are making increasing inroads in the lighting market (Cardwell, 2013).

Figure 3 A modern solid-state car light
Figure 4 A domestic lamp 

Foster (1986) presents a graphic account of the impact of radical and incremental innovations, shown in Figure 5 as a series of s-curves.

Described image
Figure 5 Radical innovation

With each radical innovation progress is initially slow, as research, design and development efforts produce limited improvements in technical performance; but subsequent development produces rapid improvements in the performance (curve A). Then, another radical innovation comes along that eventually replaces the existing technology (curve B). For example, when steamships replaced sailing ships, ballpoints replaced fountain pens, or aluminium replaced steel beverage cans.

This distinction between radical and incremental change matters because managers have to deal with both. In most cases, depending on circumstances, dealing with either one alone is unlikely to be sufficient.

Tushman and O'Reilly’s (1996) article on ambidextrous organisations illustrates patterns of organisational evolution in various industries that encompass long periods of incremental change alternated with discontinuous or radical change. Their message is two-fold. First, to underscore the power of an organisation’s culture; culture being the set of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that made the organisation in question ‘what it is today’. Second, to notice that things change both incrementally and radically, and that organisations need to respond to both. Culture may help with the response to incremental changes, but ‘that which made the organisation what it is today’ may actively prevent it becoming what it needs to be tomorrow. To borrow a term from the article, managers need to be able to ‘juggle’.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus