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.

One thought on “The Innovation Debate…

  1. Pingback: It’s time to measure innovation! – Lyndsey Jenkins

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