Technological innovation: a resource-based view
Technological innovation: a resource-based view

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Technological innovation: a resource-based view

2.1 Discontinuous innovation

Of course, this viewpoint runs counter to the strong tendency in contemporary societies to think of innovation only in terms of new products – which is an understandable trend given the scale and frequency with which the public are regularly bombarded with advertising for ‘stuff’, and particularly technological artefacts such as, ever ‘smarter’ phones, mini remote controlled drones, apps for just about everything, and many other forms of techie gadget. Yet arguably the greatest single innovation of the 20th century (and still as significant today) – the one which most changed society, the patterns of living and our economies – was not a new product but a process, a way of producing a product. Henry Ford’s production line for manufacturing automobiles made them affordable for the first time to people on moderate incomes. But it also had a profound impact on the way in which work within Ford’s factories was structured and carried out. In came the production line, with workers carrying out the same tasks, at a set speed, over and over for the duration of their shift.

Described image
Figure 2 Ford production line from 1928.

The benefits (and costs) arising from Ford’s process innovation, obviously had a significant and lasting impact on the world for consumers and manufacturers and more widely. But there are, of course, many newer examples of technological innovations (and inventions) that have enabled more wide ranging process and organisational innovation – most obviously, the advent of the internet and World Wide Web.

These examples and many others of similar magnitude are frequently referred to as ‘discontinuous innovation’ in that they:

involve a fundamental change in an approach or technology. Every now and then a disruptive event occurs that changes markets, industries and even societies … Such world changing events give rise to a wave of discontinuous innovation across many industries. This has a destabilising – or disruptive – effect for established firms. (Together with management innovation, discontinuous innovation constitutes higher order innovation, which can be the source of lasting competitive advantage)

(Bessant et al., 2009, p. 7)

Clearly, both Ford and the internet are examples of discontinuous innovation. In practice, however, what most organisations and people experience are examples of innovation that are more incremental in nature and more limited in scope and scale. Nevertheless, as the quotation above indicates, it is discontinuous innovation that is the ‘game-changer’. It is worth noting, however, that evidence has existed for some years that demonstrates that organisations that are first to market with an innovative product or services are frequently less successful than those who follow on later (Rogers, 2003; Hippel, 2005). Why this arises is particularly important in a commercial setting, of course, and thus why some firms outperform others has been a long running subject of interest to researchers and commentators from a wide range of academic disciplines. Furthermore, in an age when it has become widely accepted that innovation is an important force in driving economic growth and creating various forms of value – as well as essential to the success or survival of any organisation, whether commercial or not – this issue takes on a far broader significance.


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, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 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 prospectus371