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How to Create and Sustain a Radical Innovation Capability

by Christian Stüer

In a world of globalisation, companies have learned that they must innovate to stay ahead of their competition and grow organically. Large, successful companies manage to introduce innovation in their field of practice (incremental innovations) successfully, and have optimised their processes to efficiently introduce improvements to existing products within their core market, as for example the introduction of a “face lifted” car model. Yet, to grow organically over a long period of time companies must identify new technologies and recognise growth opportunities outside their current line of business. This type of innovation is referred to as radical innovation and contains high uncertainties and risks, as companies operate outside their familiar terrain. Companies struggle to introduce radical innovations, since many recommendations regarding incremental innovations do not apply. Increased research has addressed the question of which capabilities are required to manage radical innovation, but so far a common framework is missing. This paper bridges this gap by developing an improved theoretical framework, enhancing the existing literature. In a case study approach this framework is then applied to the research and development department of Vodafone Germany. Analyzing their radical innovation capabilities, art as a novel driver of radical innovation is identified. In further studies it must be analyzed whether the influence of art in the innovation process can be observed in a larger sample.

Building upon numerous concepts the framework is constructed as a combination of two components, both addressing unique aspects of radical innovations.
The first component addresses functional elements:

 processes,
 culture and people and
 organization,

where organization focuses on the ambidexterity of business units and management, product champions and learning organizations. The part processes analyzes flexibility, decision making and functional processes as drivers of innovation. Finally, people and culture concentrates on how to foster creativity, required skills and methods of innovation.
The second component, the innovation process phases, divides the radical innovation process into three phases. In the initial phase, discovery, new ideas, opportunities and solutions are identified. The opportunity recognition is a critical part in radical innovation projects as it maps the idea into an application. The focus of the second phase, incubation, is the business proposal creation. While the first phase reduces uncertainties to a point where use cases can be imagined, the second phase focuses on concrete technological implementations and target markets. The acceleration phase develops the market, so that the business can be transferred into a regular business unit. The combined matrix concentrates on the interaction of the elements, thereby focusing explicitly on the transition challenges between the phases and addressing the environment of radical innovation. Additionally the concept of Open Innovation is integrated in the radical innovation process to support each phase by accelerated learning, accessing new capabilities, and creating new markets; compare Figure 1.


Developed Framework illustrated[Bildunterschrift / Subline]: Figure 1: Developed Framework illustrated


The empiric part uses a case study approach to analyse different ongoing radical innovation projects in the Vodafone Research and Development department. The analysis reveals that the theoretical framework is incomplete. Beyond the drivers mentioned, art and design are identified as key drivers in the radical innovation process. Through the cooperation with artists and designer Vodafone R&D creates a trans-disciplinary environment, which influences the processes of idea creation and opportunity recognition as well as the approaches to reduce uncertainties. Vodafone R&D choses artists that operate close to their field of expertise, i.e. these artists choose to express their views by means of future communication and interaction technologies. Through the cooperation with these artists existing views and standards are challenged to look for opportunities outside the current domain and application. They break existing patterns of thoughts, question accepted routines as well as standards and annihilate existing hierarchies to foster dialogues between different functions. 


Christian Stüer
* 1981

  • Universität Regensburg; WS 2002/2003 – WS 2007/2008
  • Universität von Malaga; WS 2006/2007

  • IT-Sicherheit, Innovations-und Technologiemanagement, Bankinformatik, eBusiness

  • How to create and sustain an open and radical innovation capability? An empirical case study analyzing ongoing radical innovation projects at Vodafone R&D Germany, Product Development Management Conference in Hamburg 2008
  • Stüer, C.; Hüsig, S.
  • Integrating art as a trans-boundary element in a radical innovation framework – An empirical case study analysing ongoing radical innovation projects at Vodafone R&D, R&D Management Conference in Canada 2008
  • Stüer, C.; Hüsig, S.; Biala, S.,