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In the process of capitalizing opportunities created by advanced technologies, innovation is becoming crucial
How should a business identify and satisfy its customers' needs and wants? Who are the major competitors? How can a company achieve competitive advantage? To many strategists, these are the most fundamental questions concerning business strategy. In order to achieve sustainable competitive advantage, according to Porter, firms must adopt one of the three generic strategies, namely, cost leadership, differentiation and focus. While no strategy can be universally effective, technology is becoming an important factor for serious consideration. However, since opportunities created by advanced technologies, such as computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), manufacturing resource planning (MRPII), etc., are open to all competitors within the same industry, how a firm should capitalize them is not only a technological issue but also a strategic issue. In the increasingly volatile business environment, the process of finding a solution able to resolve both issues satisfactorily has been described as a journey into the unknown. Stacey maintains that to survive the journey, innovation is becoming crucial.
Based on the author's personal interest and professional experiences, a research project was set up last year, which sought to address some of the most fundamental issues concerning the technological innovation process. As the second in the series of articles documenting the development and progress of the project, this article first reviews the overall research plan, and follows this with a discussion on the central issues on research measurement. Also discussed are the main findings of a pilot study.
Overall research plan
Much of the discussion on the main issues concerning the project background including objectives and choice of methodology has been reported in another paper. The key points are summarized below.
Research into the subject of technological innovation to date has been largely focused on the development of physical products, or the acquisition of new technologies in connection with the design and manufacture of physical products. Given that the success of a business depends on the totality of all activities involved, there is no reason why innovation cannot be in areas other than physical products. As a small attempt to fill this gap, a project was established with a focus on the broader issues on innovation. It sought to:
* examine the current understanding of innovation;
* establish the patterns, if any, that might exist in the process of technological innovation across different organizations;
* identify common issues concerning the process of innovation; and
* develop a set of training materials to help managers or future managers of business organizations become more innovative.
It was proposed that the research programme be phased over four stages. The preliminary stage would be devoted mainly to literature review, the formulation of research methodology and the development of research instruments including two questionnaires. A pilot study would also be carried out to test the effectiveness of the questionnaires and revise them if necessary. The next stage would then concentrate on examining the current understanding of innovation. This would be carried out through an attitude survey involving individuals from various business organizations. In the third stage an in-depth study would be conducted on selected business organizations. Techniques such as structured interviews and group discussions would be employed to evaluate innovation activities within these organizations, and their outcomes. The central task at stage four would be to seek ways to help business organizations improve their corporate performance through innovation. This would include the identification of training needs and the development and evaluation of training materials.
Innovation is a dynamic process which requires the input of creativity to develop new ideas or assimilate existing ones in a new way with an emphasis to make something better. That "something" can be:
* a physical product;
* a service;
* a process whereby products are produced or services delivered;
* a procedure by which organized activities are managed.
The dynamics of innovation may be described as a cycle that evolves around creativity, innovation and change, which is usually not a linear process. To ensure the meaningfulness of research into this dynamic process, three fundamental issues had to be addressed at the outset.
First, how should the input of innovation, i.e. "creativity", be measured? This raised a further question: what is creativity? The definition given by Heap was adopted which suggests that creativity is "the synthesis of new ideas and concepts by the radical restructuring and reassociation of existing ones". In other words, creativity is a property internal to the human being Because of its intangibility, any attempt to determine its presence in or absence from the personality profile of a given individual is bound to be subjective and thus open to criticism. According to Majaro, the three main factors that determine an individual's ability to innovate are: knowledge, skills and attitudes. When examined in an organizational context, the first two factors tend to be more occupation-specific. …