Academic journal article Competition Forum

A Conceptual Model of Learning Culture and Innovation Schema

Academic journal article Competition Forum

A Conceptual Model of Learning Culture and Innovation Schema

Article excerpt


This paper proposes disparities in firms' innovation successes can be explained by their learning culture (i.e., reflexive, bounded and critical) which influences the assumptions and understanding that organizations develop about themselves, their environment, and this interrelationship. Reflexive learners passively respond to stimuli engaging in few or incremental innovation while bounded learners reinforce established boundaries through incremental, component, or sustaining innovations. Since critical learners are continuously assessing the environment, they are able to engage in architectural, radical or disruptive innovations more effectively. Threat perception management can enable firms to stretch to a new learning level to improve innovation.

Keywords: Disruptive Innovation, Radical Innovation, Architectural Innovation, Learning Culture, Threat Perception Management


It is universally accepted that innovation is the key to ensuring the future growth and survival of any firm. However, the successes of innovators such as Toyota, Wal-mart, and Apple vis a vis their competitors highlight the fact not all innovations yield equal success. The failure rate for new innovations to meet or exceed return on investment targets have been reported to be as high as 96 percent (Nussbaum, Berner, & Brady, 2005). This paper proposes that some firms are better innovators than others because of the learning culture that is prevalent in the firm.

Researchers in the field of innovation has extensively studied the impediments to innovation and offered their recommendations. Prior research have addressed problems such as having the appropriate knowledge or skills (Amabile, 1988), organizing and allocating resources (Dougherty, 1996; Stinchcombe, 1990), championing as well as overcoming inertia, power and political conflicts (Burns & Stalker, 1994; Day, 1994). A recent survey in Business Week (McGregor, Arndt, Berner, Rowley & Hall, 2006) identified eight "enemies of innovation": lengthy development times, lack of coordination, risk-averse culture, limited customer insight, poor idea selection, inadequate measurement tools, dearth of ideas, and marketing or communication failure. The common recommendations for improving innovation include engaging in more collaborations with suppliers and customers, allowing for small failures, changing organizational structures to improve creativity and coordination, and using appropriate performance measures, to name a few. Though all of these studies provide valuable insights into the nuts and bolts of the innovative process and address the behavioral problems of innovation, they do not address the underlying mindset embodied in the organization's ability to learn that drives innovative success or failure.

The extant literature on organizational learning and innovation has examined how learning processes influence innovation processes (Ng, 2004; Teo, Wang, Wei, Sia, & Lee, 2006) or create environments that are conducive to learning so that innovation may flourish (Fenwick, 2003; Ismail, 2005). Others have studied how the need for innovation propels the development of learning capabilities (Policy & Van de Yen, 1996; Weerawardena, O'Cass, & Julian, 2006). All of these studies assume that because the firm is engaged in the process of learning that actual learning is occurring. However, two firms can follow the same set of procedures and still arrive at very different destinations because of what each puts into the process and what each gets out of it, i.e., what each has learned.

This paper hopes to provide a better understanding of the innovation problem by using the cognitive perspective to examine how the firm's ability to learn, embodied in its learning culture, can influence the innovation programs it adopts. Every firm has a set of values and ideas about what is relevant, where it should focus its attention and resources, and how it should go about solving the myriad problems that it faces that is exemplified in its learning culture which, in turn, shapes how it innovates. …

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