The Innovation Debate…

blog innovationFor the last couple of weeks I have been working on something new, something brilliant. I have been researching all about INNOVATION. Now you might think that it’s a bit weird getting all excited about researching something for a PhD, but to me, this is all new and something I have not researched before (or read about) so this is something I am learning along the way.

When I have been searching, I have found out that innovation focuses on some main developments: goods and services (changing, producing, marketing these) and also implementing or changing organisational methods, business practices or external relations (OECD, 2005, p.16-17). My research will be focusing on innovation concerning change in organisational processes, procedures, business practices or external relations (also known as organisational innovation).  Organisational innovations change routines to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability. This can then make contributions to the flexibility and creativity of the organisation so that they can respond to labour market needs and gain some form of competitive advantage over other organisations (Volberda, Van Den Bosch & Heij, 2013).

I have also discovered that you CAN learn to innovate. However, this is something that I will be looking into at a later date as my research is going to explore the relationship between workplace learning and innovation to see what I can discover.

So if you can learn to innovate, does that mean that there will be influences just as in workplace learning? It does indeed. I am currently looking into these so I do not have a lot of detail just yet, but my literature searching is unveiling that influencing factors can be categories into the following:

  • Cognitive factors – these are the mental processes involved in things like thinking style, cognitive processing and self-efficacy.
  • Behavioural factors such as working in teams and communication skills, actions that help to innovate.
  • Motivational factors – things like reasons for innovating, ie., benefits and positive changes within the organisation.
  • Organisational context – similar to workplace learning, organisational context (like culture and strategy) help to shape the environment that the employees learn (to innovate) in.

However, in my literature searching I found out something quite unique. I am investigation the requirements for someone to develop the capacity to innovate (what my supervisors and I call ‘innovation skills’) but I am technically not researching innovation skills at all. I was astonished to figure out that my issue with finding literature (or not fining literature), was due to my search terms. Innovation skills are technically not innovation skills. Innovation skills are what I am researching but more specifically, I am aiming to looking search for research relating to:

  • Individual innovation behaviour – this focuses on individuals’ behaviours in relation to generating new approaches and ideas within the workplace, and engagement in the process of doing so (Wu, Parker & De Jong, 2014, p.1512). It is very generalist and concerned the approach.
  • Innovative work behaviour – intentional generation of new ideas within a role, group or organisation whereby the idea is then implemented (Battistelli, Montani & Odardi, 2013, p.27).

This was a great discovery, and the literature searching proved to be a success, not only because I was typing in the correct search terms, but I was able to find more about what the meaning of innovation skills was and what it means to me.

Along the way, however, I hit a brick wall. I had to stop and think. I discovered a potential error in my searching… this is my ‘innovation debate’.

I came across an article which sparked a concerning email to my supervisors. My email was as follows:

I’ve read this article this afternoon (attached) and it’s got me questioning if our approach is right.

Now, we suggest that we are looking at innovation skills, right? So that would be a collection of skills that are required to innovate. Well, we have already found out that this is not the case and that innovation is actually facilitated by abilities, behaviours, attributes and characteristics. But there are some skills involved in developing innovative skills which confuses me a little – how can skills contribute to skills (if that makes sense??).

This 2015 paper suggests that innovation (like many other employment-related abilities) is a competency. If this is the case, does this mean we would need to change our approach or terminology? Suggesting that innovation is a competency would mean that there could be many influences – skills, abilities, behaviours, organisational context etc and it also reduced the confusion between ‘what skills are needed to develop innovation skills?’

I only mention this because I struggled to define skills / competencies etc in my initial part of the literature review, but now I know that a competency can be made of many skills, attributes, characteristics and so on.

I know we are researching innovation skills (ie, the skills that make someone innovative), but as explained last week, these are not just skills, there are behaviours, attributes, characteristic’s that all contribute to making someone innovative. Are we just calling these influences and not defining exactly what they are (acknowledging that there are many different types and using this to structure my literature review)??

So we are looking at factors that contribute to an individual developing the capacity to innovate – we are not solely looking at skills specifically.

These are just my thoughts on calling it ‘innovation skills’. To me, innovation skills now has two meanings – the things that make you innovative (ie, what you need to do to be innovative) and also the products of the innovation itself (so the skills you demonstrate when you are innovative like the outcomes)….’

I sent this on the afternoon before I went on leave for a few days so I just piled all of my thoughts into one. I generally did not think both supervisors would reply to this email as quickly as they did, but both agreed on one thing: as a research team we need to define our concepts and explain what these consist of. It could mean my research taking on different terminology, or even taking a slight turn in the opposite direction technically speaking. Defining terms will help the rest of my research flow so I can focus on what my research questions are and work on how I am going to answer them.

So what do you think? Is innovation a skill, a competency, or what? Have you encountered this problem before where one researcher suggests one things and another researcher suggests the complete opposite?

I think I will leave it there, but I do hope some of you get in touch to let me know your thoughts. I would love to know if anyone is researching in this area and has had to address similar issues, or if this is as new to you as it is to me.


Battistelli, A., Montani, F., & Odoardi, C. (2013). The impact of feedback from job and task autonomy in the relationship between dispositional resistance to change and innovative work behaviour. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 22(1), 26-41.

Edwards-Schacter, M., García-Granero, A., Sánchez-Barrioluengo, M., Quesada-Pineda, H., & Amara, N. (2015). Disentangling competencies: Interrelationships on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Thinking Skills & Creativity, 16, 27-39.

OECD and Eurostat. Oslo Manual: Guidelines for collecting and interpreting technological innovation data. Report for the OECD. 3rd ed. Paris: OECD, 2005.

Volberda, H.W., Van Den Bosch, F.A.J., & Heij, C. (2013). Management Innovation: Management as Fertile Ground for Innovation. European Management Review, 10, 1-15.

Wu, C.H., Parker, S.K., De Jong, J.P.J. (2014). Need for Cognition as an Antecedent of Individual Innovation Behaviour. Journal of Management, 40(6), 1511-1534.

Fighting demons for the PhD!

IMG_0115I sit here today, writing and writing. I am fully aware of my lack of blogging over the past few weeks and I fully understand why. I have decided to isolate myself whilst writing this, mainly as it might make me upset and sitting in a library full of people (instead of my office where I have cried many times) helps to keep things under control. The library also gives me a break from my work setting and I know I can return at any point, I just choose to have this time on my own.

I have been unsurprisingly a little under the weather quite recently brought on by (you guessed it) – working too hard!! After three hectic months of working and being busy, I finally had to stop. My body told me that I needed to rest and I ignored it. I ignored it to the point where I had to literally force myself to sit on the sofa and watch TV so my lovely fun Easter weekend was filled with rest, rest and even more rest (and daytime TV which is mind-numbing). I knew I needed to rest not only because I could not focus properly on what I was doing, but because I was feeling so run down and tired. That is not like me. I can normally be up at 7am and keep going until bed time but I was finding that my afternoons were becoming a chore and by 3pm I was often nearly falling asleep at my desk (funny for some, but not great for my work). So I stopped. I stopped working. I took a break. A sensible person takes a break, right??? That is where it all started really.

Once I stopped working, I realised that I needed to take better care of myself so that my PhD work would flourish again. I therefore decided to book a dental check-up (as it was due) and a doctor’s check-up just to see if everything was okay. Medically I was great, no issues, but I did need some dental work done which is the main reason for why my work productivity died a horrible horrible death in my eyes.IMG_0092

I will not go into too much detail about what happened at the dentist, but you can find out here. It wasn’t pretty. I ended up having three appointments (one check-up and two to correct the errors). I was in a pretty bad state – swollen face and a burned lip meaning I did not want to go out and about, nor did I want to come into contact with anyone else as I was feeling self-conscious. I had had days and days of shooing pains in my teeth, up the side of my head and in my ear but the dentist just kept treating instead of listening to what I was saying. He finally realised that there was an initial error with treatment and I needed help to get this corrected. That is where it all went wrong. 45 minutes in the chair, anesthetic, lots of pulling and tugging and I was in pain before he finished off the treatment. However, during the last stages, the dentist accidentally slipped with a metal rod that had just been heated with a lighter (to make it sterile) and what do you know? – I got burned. Again this was not nice, I had to take time out of my PhD working day to attend the dentist, and then more time to recuperate once he had done the work. To me, this set me back big time and I felt like I was working backwards not forwards.

To add more fuel to the fire – Chris left. Well, not in the sense of leaving for good (I think after 8 years, if we were going to part, we would have done it my now.. and anyway, we need to plan this wedding) but he was sent away for work to a place where he could not get home often and he was required to work shifts (meaning I could not go and visit either). This means I am on my own. I am on my own during my PhD journey and I am on my own at home. I had thought that it would be a nice experience being on my own (as he was away vising home last week), but I could not have been more wrong. It’s like everything you had hoped for and worked for taken away in a flash and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it at all. Luckily, Chris has been able to call frequently so in-between working at my desk and meetings, we can chat here and there. But its not the same as having someone at home and someone to share you life with. I know everyone says that it’s okay and making sure that you are surrounded by people (friends, family, colleagues etc) will help. But for me, up until now, it hasn’t. I have realised that having a bit of a life every now and then is good and can help you mingle with others so that’s what I plan to do.

You might start to ask why this is all relevant, and why I am blogging about the other stuff in my life that don’t involve my PhD? Well in fact, they do. When home life and uni life are not a fabulous match, or something is taken away from you, you crash and you burn. Not only do you crash, you have to fight to get back up and quite often this needs a little bit of help. For me, it was the point where I felt I could not get back up, the point where I felt I could not work when in fact all I needed to do what get a life and get some help.

The point I am trying to make is that at some point, everyone needs help. I used to be the person that support students through the toughest times, from feeling stressed and anxious to wanting to harm themselves and I used to question how they felt so bad. Well, now I know. It’s not a case of XYZ has happened and then you fail. It’s a case of X then Y then Z happened and you fall. It’s all built up and often, it all becomes just too much and you tip over the edge from being happy-as-Larry, to being someone who is in absolute despair.

But, for me, knowing that you have fallen and acknowledging that you need help is the best thing that you can do. Not only for your own health and well-being (and sometimes safety – not in my case!) but for your own piece of mind. You may remember back in January when I blogged about stress control and pretty much said the same thing. However, there is a slight difference here. It might not be things stressing you out as such, it might be emotional or psychological (or dental!!) pain that you have gone through that have brought you down. There might be a number of little things building up (such as the upset of a partner leaving suddenly) and it only takes that one thing to send you over the edge of happiness and then it’s too late to pull yourself back.

The most important thing (in my opinion) is to get the help you need. I approached my director of studies as she seems to do really well at calming me down. However, I knew that there are some things that she simply cannot help with and some things that no supervisors are qualified to do, and for me she knows this too. So what I did was simple, I asked for help from people who can help and people who are qualified and people who can make the best of a bad situation.

So what I am trying to say is simple…

We all go through times where we fell like something had brought us down or we have been left it behind. DO NOT LET THIS DEFINE YOUR PHD. More importantly, when you feel like these things keep going and going, and you just can’t do it anymore – stop. Stop and tell yourself that you can do it. Stop and tell your supervisor you need help. Stop and ask someone else for help and don’t be shy to.

I have great respect for people who have gone through the bad times and then got to the good times as they are the ones who have acknowledged that they need a little push in the right direction to bring themselves back to the top again. They are the ones I admire.

So for now, I have decided that I won’t be blogging about the kind of help I have asked for or the content of these discussions as these are personal to me. But what I can tell you that I’ll continue to blog about the good times and even the bad times that a PhD brings, no matter how soppy it may be.