The themes of technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and organizing

Knowledge and the Politics of Innovation: Insights from a R&D Company

Theodora Asimakou

London Metropolitan University, UK


The chapter discusses the relationship between knowledge management and innovation; specifically, it examines how knowledge in organizations affects the creation ofnew knowledge and what the implica­tions are for innovation management. The core argument is that in a knowledge-based company, where competition is assessed at the edge of rare expertise and the development of innovations (Boisot, 1998; Drucker, 1993; Sveiby 1997), knowledge, which is always interwoven with power, becomes a precious resource, on the grounds of which struggles are inevitably enacted over its control (Foucault, 1980; Clegg, 1989). To argue this, the chapter brings together two relatedfields, knowledge management and innovation, which even though in principle they examine similar phenomena, i. e. the creation and sharing of new knowledge, in practice they appear disconnected (Asimakou, 2009b). To support the arguments, two innovation mechanisms in two business groups of a major oil company are discussed. The study used a set of qualitative techniques for data collection (in-depth interview, participant observation, documentary analysis) and a sample of 41 employees, which represented the groups participating in the innovation game (manager, scientists, assistant scientists, administration staff and students). I argue that two mainstream innovation management approaches (the rational planning and the cultural ap­proach) have shaped the understanding and actions of the Business Groups in setting up the innovation mechanisms; however, power struggles at the individual, group and organizational level impacted upon the innovation processes to the extent that the latter became passive ‘technical solutions’.

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-165-8.ch019

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The chapter starts by critically looking at the literature of innovation - the assumptions and the limitations of the dominant approaches. One ob­serves that popular managerial press constructs the debate around certain core-themes, and presents innovation either as an administrative question or a technical problem, a social or a political matter (Carr, 2003; McFarlan & Nolan, 2003; Rogers, 2003; Brown, Durchslag & Hagel, 2002). Mainstream theories split innovation in various stages and attempt to control each of them with administrative or technical devices. I distinguish here two main approaches (Fonseca, 2002; Asi - makou, 2009b): innovation as rational planning and innovation as culture, which, nonetheless, are grounded on the same assumptions, i. e. the controllability of ideas and innovation processes. Both approaches set out to manage innovation by controlling either directly the process or the environment/culture where innovation is sup­posed to grow.

In order to construct a counter-argument and identify the limitations ofthese approaches, I sug­gest that the theoretical progress ofthe knowledge management field should be contemplated, and in particular the literature on the nature of knowl­edge in organizations (Collins, 1993; Blackler, 2003). Studies that encapsulate these theoretical insights, have demonstrated the complexity so much of the structure of knowledge, as much as of the processes that produce it. It becomes evident that positivistic and functionalistic methodologies cannot fully explain knowledge related phenomena at the workplace. Hence, our understanding of innovation would only be en­riched if alternative approaches are also applied. Furthermore, responding to the call for giving up the ‘ either structural or voluntaristic’ approaches to understanding innovation, the chapter brings evidence that both approaches may co-exist in the organization - hence which one is the ‘right’ one does not form part of the current analysis.

I suggest then, that these co-existing ap­proaches form discourses and actions, of which the analysis may reveal issues of power and order. The two dominant discourses on innovation man­agement are viewed as one language game, where various players compete to determine adequate actions. The question then becomes, how current knowledge (i. e. regime of truth) impact on the possibilities for innovation and change, and how knowledge workers embark on a power game in their effort to influence organizational transforma­tions. The chapter does not construct one more approach to add to the analysis of innovation, but rather examines what the already existing ones actually do to the organizational life. The analysis appeals to the theoretical concepts of discourses as regimes of truth and the political dimension of knowledge (Foucault, 1971; 1980; Lyotard, 1984; Howarth & Stavrakakis, 2000). By adopting a discursive approach to the analysis of innovation, the chapter throws light into the political dimen­sion of knowledge in a knowledge-organization, and into why organizations and individuals resist or support innovation practices.

To illustrate the arguments the chapter brings evidence from a R&D dept, while in the process of changing, i. e. conferring a new order by chang­ing the hegemonic discourse, which aspired to stimulate new ideas and support innovation. Two innovation mechanisms in two Business Groups of a major oil company are presented and the enacted politics are discussed, as manifested at the organizational, group, and individual level. As said above, the methodology adopts a discursive approach, in other words, it conceptualises inno­vation as a new discursive formation, which con­tested the existing one; it uses a set of qualitative techniques for data collection (in-depth interview, participant observation, documentary analysis) and a sample of 41 employees, which represented the groups participating in the innovation game (managers, scientists, assistant scientists, ad­ministration staff and students). I argue that two mainstream innovation management approaches

(‘innovation as rational planning’ and ‘innova­tion as culture’) have shaped the understanding and actions of the Business Groups in setting up the innovation mechanisms; however, the negli­gence of the power struggles that were enacted sentenced the innovation processes to become passive ‘technical solutions’, without achieving to spread, and to engage the experts’ population.

The evidence unfolds over three main sections: first, I present ‘Hydro-Carbon Solutions’ - the context of research, main question and research methods. Then, I present the findings; on one side I present the rhetoric of the two innovation mechanisms, and the practices they suggest, and on the other side, the power games enacted at the organizational, group and individual level, the arguments which derive from various language games - depending on what is pursued each time-, and which sometimes facilitated and sometimes constrained the innovation process. Finally, I discuss the evidence in the light of the highlighted power games, arguing for the necessity to engage the work population into the governance of knowl­edge and innovation process.


It is widely acknowledged that the literature on innovation management, formed by various disciplines (economics, finance, organizational behaviour, etc) has led the field to high inconsis­tency in terms of assumptions and findings. There are various suggestions for ordering the debate that shapes theory and practices (Wolfe, 1994; Slappendel, 1996; Fonseca, 2002) e. g. diffusion of innovation, organizational innovativeness and process theory, or deterministic, voluntaristic and interactive perspectives, etc. Here I suggest that dominant approaches could be conceived as pow­erful discourses that form organizational actions.

Broadly speaking, there are two main streams that form the debate: the first conceives innova­tion as a rational planning process, whereas the second as a culture management issue; these two have formed respectively two powerful discourses. The first discourse is descriptive; it developed from neoclassic economics and suggests that in­novation is an entrepreneurship function, essential for the survival of small and bigger organizations (Betz, 2003; Bessant & Tidd, 2007; Trott, 2008). The rational planning of innovation suggests the splitting of the process in controllable and mea­surable stages, from the evaluation of ideas to the final stage of launching the product in the market. At the end of each stage, the idea is evaluated against the market, the expected profits, and the compatibility of the idea with the strategic route of the firm. All these matters should be designed in advance, and incorporated in a business plan.

The second discourse is prescriptive; it de­veloped from the human relations school and emphasizes the significance of values and culture in making innovation blossom (Kanter, 1988; Lengnick-Hall & Wolff, 1999; Rogers, 2003; Smith, 2007). The analysis of innovation from this perspective takes into account how cultural variables, biased decision-making strategies and managerial procedures mediate the processes of creating and sharing knowledge within and across institutions. This approach attributes a central role to the management of an innovative culture, and hence to charismatic leaders - the ‘innovation hero’- who design, manage or support it. Due to its emphasis on soft issues and communication, it suggests the use of communication techniques to spark, share and develop further ideas, together with the technological devices to support the processes.

Interestingly, Klein (2001) argues that in principle one discourse confers its legitimacy from the other, in trying to link the organizational strategic goals with the economic growth, acting as one powerful discourse. The interest in over­coming the ‘either...or’ dilemma has recently led to the formation of the concept of organiza­tional ambidexterity, which attempts to support structurally commercial and scientific interests in a single organization (Benner & Tuschman, 2003; Gupta, Smith & Shalley, 2006; Simsek, 2009). However in practice the two discourses remain separated, and often conflict over research priorities, allocation of resources etc, for their innovation assumptions and suggested practices are not compatible; hence confusion increases and creates multiple interpretations and actions. Most importantly, such mechanistic approaches, appropriate to measure and calculate closed sys­tems, have proved insufficient to study complex relationships, human experiences and cultural issues, which constitute the substance of knowl­edge. Research within these paradigms aim to control and manage the unpredictable character of innovation, whereas it is precisely the assumed rationality and power of management that should be questioned and investigated (Hassard & Pym, 1990; Alvesson & Willmott, 1992). Furthermore, both discourses assume and intentionally aim to create consensus and trust among people in organi­zations (Adler, 2001; Park, 2006; Usoro, Sharratt, Tsui, & Shekhar, 2007). The question of power is addressed as variable that can be manipulated, i. e. it is seen merely as means of negotiation, not as the force of creating a new order and a new set of rules (Foucault, 1980; Clegg, 1989), leaving this way many aspects of power relations outside of the analysis.

On the other hand, the knowledge manage­ment field has made substantial progress in understanding the nature of knowledge and knowledge processes at the workplace, depicting the social character and the political dimension of knowledge, and most importantly its power to confer orders of truth, which allow or stop actions. Blackler (1993: 864) summarizes the output of this theoretical work: “knowledge has been described as: socially constructed (Berger & Luckmann, 1966); often tacit (Polanyi, 1967); a function of the play of other meanings (Der­rida, 1978); enacted (Weick, 1979); distributed (Hutchins, 1983); situated (Suchman, 1987); mate­rial, as well as mental and social (Latour, 1987); resilient, but provisional and developing (Unger, 1987); public and rhetorical (Vattimo, 1988); and acquired through participation within communi­ties of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991)”. The con­tribution of all this admittedly controversial and polyphonic work is that it triggers the expansion of the dominant rational-cognitive understand­ing of knowledge, by emphasizing so much the complexity of tacit skills and practice, as much as the significance of social processes, cultural categories and language in ‘creating’ knowledge (Orr, 1990; Lave & Wanger, 1991; Brown & Du- guid, 1991; 2001). The narrow understanding of scientific-abstract knowledge expands and breaks the conventional distinction between people and technologies (Blackler, 2003); hence, the narra­tive and tacit dimension of knowledge, together with the contextual factors (structures, culture) that support knowledge processes, gain attention.

The innovation literature and practice has been late to embracing the theoretical progress of the knowledge management field, even though the insights ofthe latter would compliment the limita­tions innovation studies have met (Plessis, 2007; Chatzkel, 2007). Some alternative research has indeed engaged with these theoretical advances, (Frost & Egri, 1991; Markham, 2000; Fonseca, 2002; Smith, 2007;Asimakou, 2009a) and doubted the adequacy of both the starting assumptions and the applied methodologies to study complex relationships and cultural issues. In this body of literature, I distinguish two main approaches: innovation as social construction of meanings, and innovation as a political process. The for­mer focuses on the creation of new meanings and interpretations, which enrich organizational knowledge and understanding, and finds its roots in an interpretative epistemology. Undoubtedly the most influential model here is the one of Nonaka (1994) has triggered a volume of research (Di - erkes, Antal, Child, & Nonaka, 2003; Takeuchi, & Nonaka, 2004; Ichijo, & Nonaka, 2006) and a variety of organizational and technological practices. The model essentially conceptualizes knowledge as an on-going process, which relies on communication. Knowledge creation is a dia­logue among individuals and organizations, and organizational knowledge increases as individu­als span across and beyond the organizational boundaries. Despite the shift of focus towards knowing and communication, the model employed a linear interpretation of the related processes; consequently the practices that have been formed on its grounds did not achieve to break away from an instrumentalist, object-view of knowledge.

The latter, i. e. innovation as a political process, deals with issues of power and conflict, while new knowledge replaces the old one, and is rooted in a critical theory or a post-structural paradigm. The chapter joins the latter approach, and challenges current models of analyzing innovation, for they neglect or downplay the force of politics and the power games enacted when setting up and manag­ing innovation processes, in best cases reducing politics to networking. The chapter addresses the political aspects of organizational life, when a new discourse (in this case knowledge and in­novation) and practices (i. e. innovation systems) emerge, and the power games that are triggered. Following Foucault (1980), discourses construct regimes of truth, which have a normalizing effect upon phenomena and practices, making some of them appear good, truthful, respectful, whereas others are considered harmful, wrong, shame­ful, etc. Truth is always interwoven in a circular relation with systems of power that produce it and sustain it, and with effects of power, which it induces, and which extend it (Foucault, 1980). Hence, discourses ‘embody meaning and social relationships, they constitute both subjectivity and power relations’ (Ball, 1990, p.2). From this respect, power is not simply someone’s ability to manipulate and control others’ behaviour and actions, but it is a wider notion, which forms structures, practices and subjectivities in the organizational life. Frost and Egri (1991) claim that at the surface level, power and politics shape the everyday life, the contestations and struggles for collaborations; here, power manifests itself in the attempts of individuals and groups to exploit the rules, and take control of the current order for their own benefit, and at the expense of another group (Markham, 2000). At the deep structure level, power operates in subtle and hard to de­tect ways; it springs from an already contested and agreed order, which is currently accepted as natural and neutral.

Hence, I suggest that innovation should be viewed as one rich language game, involving many and sometimes conflicting elements, where various stakeholders conflict over its control and articulation of rules, using arguments from domi­nant theories of innovation. The arguments may not always be consistent, since the actors try to achieve different things each time. The articula­tion of concepts that prevails, shall ultimately shape understandings and actions, and serve the interests of the group that has suggested it (this articulation may be technical or commercial etc). The political analysis of knowledge creation ad­dresses the question of what is accepted as ‘good’ and what is rejected as ‘bad’, who decides and who benefits from these decisions (Lyotard, 1984), what supports and what stops change, and what the implications are for innovation and its man­agement. In other words the analysis addresses the social and political dimensions of individual, group, and organizational action. Combined with a discursive approach, the analytical framework conceptualizes power relations through the lenses of discursive formations (Foucault, 1971; 1980; Fairclough, 1989; Howarth & Stavrakakis, 2000), which implies that discursive orders are shaped by and shape dominant truth-regimes and social practices.


The data gathering of the study lasted one year and was part of a broader research, which inves­tigated knowledge discourses and innovation mechanisms in an R&D firm, ‘Hydro-Carbon Solutions’, during its commercialization turn. In this context, two newly adopted innovation mechanisms were studied, i. e. ‘Eureka’ and the ‘Ideas Machine’, while being used by two Busi­ness Groups. The methodology involved in-depth interviews (41 interviews with managers, scien­tists and administration staff, min. 1 hour each), examination of documentary data (newsletters, websites, e-mails, previous research projects) and participant observation (meetings, presentations, informal conversations).

The interpretation offindings was conducted by means of critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1989; Wodak & Meyer, 2001), which supported the study ofboth the formal ‘innovation discourse’ as suggested by the company, and its interaction with local understandings of commercialization, research, and innovation. The analysis focused on the way the formal innovation discourse conferred the necessity for supporting research and innovation, while structures and cultures were transforming. It examined how concepts and arguments developed in this unsettled arena, allowing for multiple meanings to develop, and for conflicts between competing groups (business people, managers, scientists, etc) to emerge over defining the ‘real’ meanings and hence actions. Responding to the criticism that the approach treats meaning as fixed, the study deviated from the standard CDA by bracketing off the quest for one true meaning and other reference to cognitive elements (Potter & Wetherell, 1987), in favour of capturing multiple equally valued and co-existent realities.

Innovation Systems: Eureka and the Ideas Machine

The project materialized while Hydro-Carbon Solutions was experiencing structural and cultural changes. In order to make the business more profitable and commercially flexible, the parent company Oil Co gave its research laboratories a considerable degree of freedom. These labora­tories started operating as independent technical consultancies with commercial objectives, for Oil Co and other customers. The new commercial environment meant that each group was thereaf­ter responsible for its financial performance and survival. The new commercial reality affected so much the jobs and the required skills, giving the scientists a great range of administrative and managerial tasks to perform, as much as the cul­ture of the site, which so far reminded more of a university, rather than a commercial organization. As expected, commercialization redefined the research needs. The focus and funds moved pre­dominantly to short-term, core research, whereas longer-term and high-risk projects, which had signalized the research strategy, stopped for being financially unstable.

Meanwhile, knowledge acquired a new status in the ‘knowledge-based’ society. New techno­logical knowledge became important not only for Oil Co and its competitors, but also for their customers, i. e. it became a commercial object. The corporation embraced the innovation dis­course, and this fuelled some Business Groups to design innovation systems, in order to capture and develop further the desired innovative ideas. In this unsettled arena many different groups (the Business, the market sector, the scientists, etc) saw the opportunity to enter the new knowledge game, and define what research and innovation are, in order to meet their own interests. Especially for the scientists it was an opportunity to claim back some of the benefits they used to enjoy before the commercialization turn.

Findings and Analysis

Eureka: Rhetoric and Practice

The most important innovation mechanism for the scientists was Eureka. This was an initiative ofthe corporation, intended to support long-term, non­core ideas that did not fit in any other innovation channel. The system provided the scientists the strategic business framework, from within they would develop viable technological innovations.

“the role of Eureka is to find and nurture and support in their early stages ideas, which don’t comfortably fit into the existing Businesses; so what you could say is that there are two types of innovation: it’s in the box and out of the box, it’s core and non-core; so we are looking for those non-core ideas, which would otherwise be dif­ficult to support, that’s essentially our role, but because it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish core from non-core, it might be almost non-core, there is actually a grey shading between the black of the core and the white of the non-core, so people come to us with ideas which are clearly core, and we might even support them at early stages, but they wouldn’t come through our mechanism for significantfunding, we are likely to support them at an early stage...” [Eureka team member]

In effect, the process tried to change the scien­tists’ understanding of ‘innovation as technology’ into ‘innovation as exploiting opportunities for change’. This intention was reflected in its vague definition and the all-inviting rhetoric, which reflected the strategic turn of Oil Co to re-invent itself from oil to energy company, and hence to expand in new markets.

Eureka was a website, where scientists could log on, browse ideas, and submit their own. The Eureka team reviewed the idea, and if worth exploring, then the inventor had to present a busi­ness case in front of the innovation panel, which consisted of senior managers of Hydro-Carbon

Solutions and the Business. If the panel was con­vinced for the commercial value of the idea, then an initial amount of money was granted to start the scouting stage of the project. The progress would be assessed at the end of each stage and, if it could still demonstrate financial returns, then more funding was granted to the next stage. The assumptions of the ‘rational planning’ approach are evident here; the process tries to control the uncertainty ofthe environment by maximizing the financial control over the process of developing innovations, from the early stage of ideas genera­tion until their launch in the market.

A consequence of the all-inviting rhetoric deployed around Eureka was that many scientists read in this the opportunity to do some ‘inter­esting’, non-core research, of the kind that had stopped during commercialization. However, this led to the generation of ideas that were more ‘non-core and high-risk’ than what Eureka was ready to support, e. g. screen-washing devices and pieces of hardware. Not surprisingly, scientists that saw their ‘non-core and high-risk ideas’ be­ing rejected over and over, became frustrated by the undefined and unrefined expectations of the process, which was seen as “a bit of a lottery: you put in a proposal, keep your fingers crossed, and hope you will have the OK to go ahead”.

The Ideas Machine: Rhetoric and Practice

“[...] but you have to be very clear about what innovation is, to me innovation covers the whole spectrum of things, it is business processes, it is working processes and it is also ideas genera­tion for revenues, so I think you have a really big spectrum and I think what you need to be quite careful in your project, is to make sure that that’s covered, because just because you don’t have lots of big ideas that generate lots of revenue, it doesn t mean that you don’t have innovation, you know, if you can start off by finding ways to make the life easier you are still being innovative, to me it is a big spectrum, to me that’s essential, a quite big spectrum; so yes, to ideas and big projects that work really well, but also the underground should work well as well” [Ideas Machine team member, emphasis added]

The Ideas Machine was a local (i. e. technol­ogy group level) innovation system devised by Technology Group A, which first among other groups realized the importance of supporting systematically the innovation processes. Essen­tially, it aimed both to change the new commercial culture that made people think only of the short­term objectives of their work, and to crack the previous elitist culture, where innovation was a scientist’s ‘prerogative’. From this respect, the question of innovation was constructed as an issue of democratizing the workplace; nobody should be excluded from the innovation game, because everybody was equally competent to come up with small ideas, which could eventually grow bigger. Beyond the rhetoric of democratization, this open and all-encompassing view of innova­tion had also another more practical objective: as a manager pointed out, “the more ideas you have in the beginning of the funnel the more chances you have to come up with a marketable idea at the end.”

The system exhibited the assumptions of the cultural approach to innovation management. It acknowledged that innovation can only be man­aged by creating the right environment, and to this end it devised a combination of techniques for ideas generation together with a funnel. From there the innovation team progressed the ideas on the appropriate route, whether this involved immediate action internally by the Technology Group, or forwarding them to an external innova­tion funnel - mainly Eureka.

The all-embracing rhetoric was successful in engaging the groups that had been excluded during the ‘university days’ of the site, in the innovation game. Lab-technicians, assistant sci­entists, pre-students and administrative staff saw their ideas materializing, and felt that their voices were heard at the Technology Group; however, their ideas were not exactly the kind that could be technically and commercially exploited. The scientists, whose ideas were primarily sought, remained reluctant or at least indifferent to use the local innovation system: an all-embracing innovation system, where all suggestions were welcome, was not perceived as the appropriate funnel to host complex scientific ideas. Even though the rhetoric implied the democratization of the workplace, the Technology Group actually needed technical ideas, which means that the experts were still a powerful elite.

Organizational Level

Conflict of Worldviews

Committed to the idea ofthe ‘ continuum ’ between long and short-term ideas, a Eureka team-member discussed the problem of the gap between the edges:

“yeah, and then we’ve got you know, down here [points onto a piece of paper] we’ve got next year’s new programmes or whatever; and the gap is here, it’s in the middle, because these projects that are in the long-term never ever become short­term for some reason {laughs} because they are done by long-term researchers, the guys whose drivers or scientific or whatever and haven’t really got much incentives to get the idea, and these people don’t even look off their desks, so the gap is sitting here in some sort of 3+ year horizon, and again what we are trying to do, in order to change this, is to actively manage this chunk, so that it later drags ideas from year to year, and drags experience from here”

The lack of communication between the Busi­ness and scientists had always been the common excuse to justify the low number of marketable ideas; however here, the problem was constructed as a fundamental incompatibility of drivers, in­terests and objectives between the two parties. Eureka, even though designed to bridge this gap, did not address this cultural and essentially political issue, but treated ideas and experiences as distinct entities that could be managed inde­pendently from the individuals who generated and would work on them.

Eureka was meant to be the ‘ solution’ to concili­ate the Business interests with the research staff capabilities and skills, in a clear business context; this combination had been impossible before the commercialization turn, when scientists were free to pursue their own re search proj ects without tight control. However, the rise of ‘knowledge discourse gave various groups the opportunity to assert their interests via the innovation game. The scientists, who were not asked their views on designing the innovation system, seized the opportunity to challenge the rules of the new innovation game. Yet, a Eureka key-member insisted on ignoring the deep structure politics behind the failure of the process to engage the scientists, and preferred to explain the problem as an issue of different objectives and mentalities:

“ehm, people don’t like... people that do long term R&D don’t like working with the Business, andpeople in the Business don’t like working with people who do long-term R&D, because they have other objectives; now, our role is to force them to do that, some like that, some people don’t, but those people like OUR System, our System goes down well, ehm, but the overall process is not al­ways perceived as positively as it should, because it requires people to work with the Business and requires the Business to work with the originators ”

This excerpt depicts the politics of innovation, as different groups having different objectives to serve. Hydro-Carbon Solutions tried to bridge the objectives by mechanistic means. Still it did not touch the actual question, which would rather be how to create a shared concept of innovation that would engage both Business and scientists.

Conflict over ‘Innovation’

“[...] I think the danger is that we’re being con­ditioned to think of innovation just as a business thing, but there are a lot of kinds; SAFE innova­tion that you are allowed to be creative, to think about ways where they can have a big impact on the bottom-line, and those are, if you like, good ideas that have a low risk capacity; coming up with technical ideas... I don’t know if that’s hap­pening here... that’s where the guilty pleasure of innovation is” [emphasis added]

The excerpt demonstrates the scientists’ resistance to accept the business articulation of innovation, which essentially expects low risk and safe in­novation with applied results. In the risk-averted commercial culture, blue-sky and uncertain re­garding results innovation is being excluded. The approach tries to control uncertainty, which is a key-characteristic of technological innovation, by means of a business case and stage-by-stage estimation of profits. ‘Technical’ innovation is described as ‘guilty pleasure’, which emphasizes that it is a ‘forbidden’ activity in the commercial order - an activity that many scientists looked back to with nostalgia.

The Technology Groups concentrated on put­ting proposals in the Eureka funnel, which they considered the main system to support innovative projects, since its rhetoric borrowed elements from the scientific understanding of innovation; i. e. Eureka set out to support long-term and high - risk research. However, the rhetoric did not meet the practice, and the actual process of selection of projects frustrated many scientists, who realized that what the Eureka team meant by ‘high-risk’ projects was not exactly what the scientists felt ‘real’ innovation would be: “I thought Eureka would be for that, but a lot of the Eureka ideas are fairly normal, they don’t seem particularly radical at all, so I have the impression now, within this group anyway, within the company, Eureka is really a way of getting funding for the more long-term ideas, which Oil Co don’t want particularly tofund themselves, the Oil Business I mean, the sales related business, so I have to alter my impression of Eureka [laughs]” [emphasis added]

Scientists attributed the perceived inconsisten­cies to the lack of a shared conceptual framework, and found the opportunity to assert their role in shaping the research strategic framework.

“we’ve never discussed it between different teams, so I think because we have never discussed it, each one tends to bring their own, it’s never discussed as a Technology Group B ‘what is Innovation, what are we going to do about it, how much time we are going to spend on it, what is the procedure’, I mean Eureka as such has been mentioned and promoted etc. but I don’t think that within the Technology Group there is a shared vision”

It is true that most ofthe interviewees suggested their own definitions of innovation and best ways to support it. Ultimately, what they were trying to do was to gain back some ofthe research structures that existed before the commercialization of the research site. Furthermore, what they pursued was to have their saying about the criteria for assessing innovation projects.

Conflict over Funds

Despite the scientists’ frustration, Eureka was not abandoned, but acquired a secondary use: it was increasingly treated as a pot of funds that could sustain some jobs for a while. Eureka money was very attractive for the Technology Groups, which under the commercial identity, had to find the resources to survive and prove their value to the Group. Hence, a battle between Technology Groups and Eureka over getting the funding or in some cases, as the following excerpt suggests, a battle over getting control ofthe money emerged. The Eureka-member introduced this concern:

“[...] now, the reason why we [Eureka team] are here, is because if you allow all the R&D funding to go through the Businesses, through the Global Fuels Business or Lubes or whoever, then there is a tendencyfor it to get driven to the short-term, so we are here to provide an alternative to short-term time zone; now, short-term does not necessarily means, it means core, everything is driven to the core, because of the short-term objectives, so we are here to provide an alternative to that”

The commercialization turn pushed the Technology Groups to constantly improve their financial performance, and consequently core­projects became their main priority. The Business in principle liked to fund radical innovative ideas, but it is difficult to see how this individualistic, survival-directed approach to management would let innovation become the Technology Groups’ everyday life. Furthermore, this struggle addresses clearly the issue of governance of the innova­tive process - which is related to the question of governance of knowledge: who decides what is a good or a bad idea, and who knows what is to be decided. The Technology Groups doubted the adequacy of the innovation panel and some as­serted the control of the resources.

Group Level

New ‘Innovation’ vs. Old ‘Scientific Work’

The new and still vaguely construed innovation discourse has offered many career opportunities to those, who realized early that the new innova­tion game needed someone to set the rules - i. e. to say what is innovation, what is a good and a bad idea, etc. As the relevant literature prescribes, innovation needs a hero, i. e. someone who is ready to fight against the tides to make things happen. Hence, ‘innovation stars’, emerge: these were individuals who saw in the new unsettled innovation game the opportunity to add some hits in their curriculum, and hence become visible to the business. Their increasing status and power frustrated some senior research colleagues, who in their turn refused to participate in these local innovation systems, and reached directly for higher innovation mechanisms.

“I...perhaps had a concern with some things go­ing into the ideas machine didn’t have any depth, and we all... we all on our jobs in some way or another innovate, but we don’t actually recognize this as innovation, and you know, some guy might be working very hard on a research project and be really doing a lot of very impressive innovation, but he doesn’t sell himself to the management team or I don’t know and says ‘this is innovation’, he just says ‘well, this is part of my job ’ and he just does it, and another guy might not be working so hard, he might be coming up with a very simple, not very clever idea, and he might say ‘this is innovation ’ and then just sell it”

The scientist explicitly referred to the momen­tum innovation discourse was gaining within Oil Co, and the way people exploited it to promote themselves. The account shows how ‘innovation’ has turned into a ‘buzzword’, a vaguely defined and all-inclusive concept that allowed those who controlled it to manipulate it according to their interests.

Mistrust and Surface Politics

In addition to politics enacted at the structure, the same scientist referred to politics at the surface level, by expressing his concerns regarding the (lack of) evaluation criteria in the way ideas were assessed. What is interesting is not his concerns per se, which was actually a political way to state his obj ections, but how he used his scientific authority to ‘boycott’ the system which was devised by an ‘innovation star’. In other words, by refusing to review and submit further ideas, he exposed the weaknesses of the system.

“I think ... I have a slight worry about how those ideas are assessed, because... what’s hap­pened with some ideas, some of the ideas... the person assessing them thought that ‘oh, they are in my. in Bob’s area’, and so he sent these 6 titles from the web and said ‘Bob, you should be looking at these ’ and I said, I just sent back an e-mail saying ‘no’, so from that point of view, if all those 300 hundred ideas are just... not being pushed forward the right way, perhaps I would have a worry about it, well of course some of the ideas have been pushed forward from the Ideas Machine.., but.., I certainly, I’ve probably submitted 12 ideas into it. in the first quarter of this year, and I haven’t submitted any for the past 6 months” [emphasis added]

The exposed justification for not participating in the local innovation games was common in all discursive attacks against the existing innova­tion systems -higher or local-, and appeared as a legitimate behaviour: where the scientists did no participate, where the conceptual framework or criteria were not clear, where the evaluation took place behind closed doors, then people would not trust the process.

Individual Level

Conflict of Career Opportunities

Nevertheless, not all scientists engaged in battles in the innovation arena; some were not concerned with the ‘new’ game, and chose to focus on learning the rules of commercialization, which, no doubt was the new hegemony ofthe site-life. Especially young recruits and scientists in managerial posi­
tions, even though content with the revival of innovation, preferred to see it as someone else’s job, while they were going on with their everyday work. Commercialization had certainly affected scientists’ roles, and most importantly the work - life on site: on one hand, it imposed a regime of tight resource-control, on the other hand, it prepared the new recruits for promising careers in commercial positions. Consequently, many young scientists preferred to develop the necessary managerial skills for a career away from the labs.

“the big problem I think we have is time and pres­sures on our resources, as I say everything has changed the past 2 years and we have become more commercial, people now have less time ehm, I find myself occupied 8 hours or even 10 hours per day, therefore I guess there are things that are more critical to my learning and personal development [...]” [emphasis added]

The young scientist here comfortably used concepts that acquired legitimacy from the com­mercial discourse. I should stress here, that the question is not whether people had actually less time or they felt like that being stressed by the intense pace of changes. What matters for the present analysis is that ‘no time’ was a valid argu­ment in the new commercial culture, and widely accepted as a shared reality; hence it provided a legitimate excuse for not engaging this extra time that innovation required. This prioritization of ‘commercial targets’ over ‘innovation time’ was supported by the Oil Co commercial culture, which was described largely as ‘conservative’ and ‘risk-averted’. In other words, especially young scientists did not want to invest their time on experimenting with uncertain ideas, because possible failures would impede their career development. Here, it becomes evident how co­existing discourses collide and create options for individual action, i. e. individuals can choose their actions from a repertoire of equally valid, but competing, discourses.


The study examined two innovation systems implemented in two Technology Groups ofHydro - Carbon Solutions. The two mechanisms were formed by two different discourses on innovation, the rational planning and the culture manage­ment, and set out to achieve different objectives. However, I showed how they both encountered similar difficulties in getting the scientists involved in the new innovation game. I argue that a clash of worldviews and interests, personal and group antagonisms, mistrust and feelings of exclusion from decisions, in other words a range of conflicts at the organizational, group and individual level, turned the innovation systems into databases where low quality or irrelevant ideas were deposed. Table 1 presents different elements of the discourses on innovation management, which were encountered during the fieldwork. These discourses provided the members ofthe organizations legitimate argu­ments, which they used in order to achieve their own objectives, while there was no hegemonic view on innovation management.

Innovation as Rational Planning




Innovation as Culture

Scientific Technological Innovation


Marketable ideas

Small technological ideas

Small, technological, administrative, opera­tional, etc. ideas

Radical technological ideas


Improved and/or new products

New products

Improved business performance

Contribution to knowledge; groundbreaking innovations


Innovation process as a thing to use when needed; innovation as a cost

Innovation as measur­able economic element; innovation as a cost

Innovativeness as a personality trait; in­novation as an asset

Innovation as a scientific community trait; innovation as an asset


‘Safe’ risk

Collaboration between business and scientists

Cultural change

Uncertainty; knowledge shar­ing between scientists


Commercial innovation as competitive advantage

Innovation strategic framework; problem solving for customers

All-embracing; big and small ideas (instead of good and bad)

Curiosity oriented; Problem­solving for knowledge

Practices and tools

Funds, Innovation Man­agement Groups, innova­tion in scorecards and in Personal Performance Contract

Funds, Funnel, Panel, Business Case, Data­base, Networks and Alliances

Funds, Conferences, Database, Innovation Hero and Team, In­novation Chats

Funds, conferences, collabo­rations, publications



Business, market sector and scientists

All staff




Eradication of manage­rial responsibility; lack of strategic framework

Collision of mindsets; lack of shared under­standing

A sense of democratiza­tion of workplace

A secluded culture -‘Ivory Tower’

Beyond the ‘rationalistic’ understanding of innovation management at the Technology Groups, which assessed how many ideas have been produced and how much money secured, the innovation move had a political aspect as well, which is evident in the transformation of power relations; while the knowledge discourse is gain­ing momentum, the innovation game opens up opportunities for differentiation for groups and individuals. The findings showed how some cre­ative scientists got empowered by the revival of innovation, whereas others got marginalized. Some individuals saw their career prospects widen by endorsing the new innovation discourse, and rushed in to take on active roles. Being at the interface regarding innovation with Hydro-Carbon Solutions and the parent Oil Co, they had the legitimated authority to judge what innovation is according to the needs of their sponsors. The

prestigious innovation language game, espe­cially at the local level, once established as the only right way to innovate, becomes a ‘controlled area’ from where those who did not support the related processes were excluded, i. e. called indif­ferent and non-innovative.

At a higher level, Eureka attempted to merge the commercial ‘rationality’ of the Business with the scientists’ creativity in one discourse and one process by forcing both sides to collaborate for the sustainability of the organization. However, the findings indicated that the difficulties Eureka encountered were not merely due to different mindsets, but rather a power struggle between different groups over articulating innovation and controlling the available resources. Essentially, the scientists did not trust the Business people, who controlled the financial resources, that they could drive innovation for the interests of knowledge production and the benefits of participant groups. The findings showed instances of Technology Groups that tried to take control over financial resources and ultimately over ‘innovation’, either directly e. g. by restructuring like Technology Group B, or indirectly by debating over what innovation is and over the value of the proposals.

The scientific population, feeling marginalized or pressurized by commercialization, appealed to arguments deriving from the dominant commer­cial discourse or the reviving scientific to claim time, resources and career opportunities - whether this meant activities in the innovation arena or in commercial posts. The scientists who wanted to do research on their own terms used arguments from the scientific language game to justify their reluctance to collaborate, whereas the youngsters used arguments from the commercial discourse to justify their innovation ‘inertia’. Clearly, the two discourses (i. e. commercialism and scientific innovation), and the orders they subsequently cre­ated, not only could they not fully support each other, since they reflected opposing rationalities and practices, but furthermore, their collision created possibilities for a variety of actions. The widely admitted problem that Business and scientists traditionally cannot work with each other is the best example of this opposition of rationalities - and this could not be resolved by forcing tighter control.

This presents us with a key-question, which the two innovation mechanisms did not address, i. e. how to create an innovation concept, and hence a practice, that would achieve the consensus of the involved parties. The question that sharply arises is the political question of ‘who decides what is a good idea, who sets the criteria and who or what legitimizes this decision’; in other words, whose interests (e. g. Business, Science, Society?) innovation would ultimately serve. The account so far emphasized the significance of governance of the knowledge processes - which seems that it is not only a philosophical and sociological concern, but also Oil Co’s reality. From here on, more research is needed in the area of governance of the knowledge production process, both at macro (across organizations) and micro level (within an organization), in order to understand how the process affects various stakeholders, and the actual role of each stakeholder in this process, and ultimately the quality and social relevance of innovations. Furthermore, adopting the view that the essence of innovation is knowledge creation, and knowledge is a contested praxis, then more research is needed on how to stimulate this process given the conflicts and antagonisms that this would create. Most critically we need to understand how new knowledge replaces the already existing one at the organizational level; in other words, how a regime of truth is challenged and altered in an organization.


The models for managing innovation attribute managers a great degree of control over the process, assuming that employees would em­brace a well-designed innovation mechanism; the discussion above highlighted the limitations of such a manager-centred approach. Evidence from Hydro-Carbon Solutions suggests that the population, whose valuable ideas were sought to exploit, needed be involved in the governance of the process: the scientists, while feeling empow­ered by the momentum of knowledge discourse, claimed their right to have a voice over deciding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ ofthe research strategy. This point is crucial, since most innovation systems exclude the users from their management - whether this may be the articulation of innovation, the practices to follow, the setting of criteria or the evaluation of projects. This act that essentially means a redistribution of powers in organization would benefit so much the organization as much as society at large, since decisions for the value of technical ideas would not be taken by a single­minded decision-center.

In sum, the study briefly reviewed the main approaches to innovation management, and their impact on R&D firms. It suggested that these approaches have contributed to the construc­tion of a powerful dominant discourse, which shapes thinking and actions in organizations. However, the models of analysis neglect the power-dimension, which is critical to understand innovation management. The contribution of this chapter is that it brings together the insights and developments of knowledge management field into the innovation management literature. Contemporary managerial discourse has attrib­uted knowledge and innovation a central role in achieving business sustainable growth, especially in R&D firms, where knowledge is the capital, the input, and the output of their operations. Ap­proaches to innovation management tend to take a structural or a voluntaristic take in understand­ing the related phenomena. However, the power dimension, which is said to be always interwoven with knowledge (Foucault, 1971; Howarth & Stavrakakis, 2000) has been widely neglected by adopting a very narrow view on organizational politics. The chapter conceptualizes influential innovation approaches as a powerful discourse, and adds the power dimension to the analysis of innovation processes. Given the call for refined methodologies and models for analysing innova­tion, the study suggests another methodological approach to conceptualize and analyze the ques­tion under investigation, and offers new empirical data. Most importantly, by bringing the insights of the knowledge management literature into the innovation field, it illustrates the importance for the readers to understand how the politics of knowledge production affect innovation in a knowledge-based firm.

The themes of technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and organizing

About the Contributors

Farley S. Nobre (PhD, MSc, BSc) is Professor at the School of Management of Federal University of Parana, Brazil. His research interests include organizations, knowledge management systems, innova­tion and sustainability. …

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