Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Reframing the Search Space for Radical Innovation: Reframing the Search Space Using Exploratory Search Strategies Is Essential to Avoid Being Blindsided by Discontinuous Innovation

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Reframing the Search Space for Radical Innovation: Reframing the Search Space Using Exploratory Search Strategies Is Essential to Avoid Being Blindsided by Discontinuous Innovation

Article excerpt

It is widely accepted that organizations require both exploitation and exploration activities to be successful over extended periods of time (March 2006). They must decide how to allocate limited resources between exploration--seeking new information about alternative technologies and markets to improve future returns--and exploitation--using currently available information to improve present returns. Exploitation is well defined for most companies; it involves searching within known markets and technology areas to identify "next-step" innovations; it is not risk free, but it is certainly less risky than exploration. Exploration, however, results in radical innovation, which is both highly risky and significant in its impact on a firm's development and on industry structures. A successful radical innovation can propel a small company into a position of industry dominance and can result in the failure of incumbents that do not recognize the potential of new technologies (Chandy and Tellis 2000).

Defining a search strategy is akin to defining a company's cognitive frame--the structure within which new evidence will be fitted to create meaning. Exploitation searches can be routed along established paths within the organization's cognitive frame, but exploratory searches must push outside that frame, seeking new trajectories that could redefine the company's way of structuring its understanding of itself and its context. How the exploratory search is framed is critical, as it can change what searchers see. Cognitive psychologists have demonstrated that human perception becomes linked to what is within our cognitive frame; in other words, we pay attention to what is in "the attentional spotlight" (Broadbent 1971). That focus on one area enhances our ability to make sense of a complex environment, but it carries the risk that we miss important information that fails outside the frame. The famous example of a gorilla passing through a group of basketball players is one of many experiments demonstrating the power of "inattentional blindness" (Simons and Chabris 1999)--the failure to see what should not be there. Despite the size of the stimulus, participants in the experiment fail to see the gorilla because they are focused on something else. Applying this concept to the innovation search space, Prahalad (2004, 172) argues that inattentional blindness is a major risk for firms trapped by "the blinders of dominant logic."

Similarly, employing a search that follows a dominant logic within a narrow frame--perhaps the frame of existing markets or well-understood applications--allows companies to perform well in their current markets by selectively limiting their peripheral vision. But this strategy is not sufficient for exploratory searches, and it may increase the company's exposure when discontinuous innovation shifts occur. Companies that have become too dependent on existing markets and applications may not recognize discontinuous innovation or may discount its potential importance (Raymond and St-Pierre 2004). In reality, innovation triggers emerge left and right of the current industry trajectory. To avoid missing these triggers, a company may need to reframe its interpretation of the innovation space and move off its current trajectory. This reframing represents a significant risk.

Reframing the existing cognitive frame is not an easy endeavor, but it is essential if a company intends to avoid being blindsided by discontintious innovation. We sought to gain a better understanding of the search strategies that firms use to escape their existing cognitive frames. Our research identified a set of 12 search strategies that companies can employ to enable exploration beyond their current trajectories. Many of these practices are familiar, such as working with users and encouraging internal creativity, but some are more challenging, such as deliberately encouraging diversity or exploring future scenarios. …

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