Digging into exploration processes within established firms: Insights from two entities dedicated to enhancing radical innovation to support existing business

Abstract : Since the seminal work of J. March (1991), balancing exploration and exploitation activities is an important topic in management research. Though the literature is abundant on the management of exploitation activities, exploration activities remain a much less studied area. How should be compared and contrasted: exploration activity, R&D, new product development project and advance engineering? This is central to understand the specificities of exploration processes. In this paper we propose to dig into the exploration process based on the comparison between two case study researches. These longitudinal researches were conducted in two different firms in the automotive industry, one in a first tier supplier company (Ben Mahmoud-Jouini, Charue-Duboc and Fourcade2007), the second in an OEM company (Lenfle and Midler 2003). These two companies created an entity specifically in charge of exploring novel innovative opportunities in a specified but broad field. The mission of these entities was to identify novel opportunities that could support the existing business in changing or expanding their scope but not in creating an entirely new business. In order to dig into exploration processes, we propose to delineate more precisely the specificities of these exploratory entities. We stress three dimensions: (i) five characteristics of the “situation” the team of the exploratory entities face (the strategic issues raised, the purpose of the exploration, the type of results expected, the time span, the approach) (ii) five activities undertaken within the entities (creativity processes, external communication, interactions with the customer, formulation of a technological strategy, analysis of acquisition targets) (iii) and the organizational design that supported these activities. Based on these cases, we highlight an interplay between exploration and exploitation activities. Hence, on the one hand the exploratory entity relies largely on the competences and expertise located in the existing business of the firm on the other hand the entity develops new knowledge either on technology new to the company or on market that are useful for the established divisions of the company and used by them. We raise the question of the evolution of the boundaries between exploratory entities and the rest of the firm across time, which remains open in the literature. Hence, exploratory entities are not necessarily designed to develop innovative products up to their commercialization. Rather the latest phases of new product development can be transferred to more exploitative entities.
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Submitted on : Thursday, July 2, 2009 - 3:19:43 PM
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Sihem Ben Mahmoud-Jouini, Florence Charue-Duboc, Sylvain Lenfle, Christophe Midler. Digging into exploration processes within established firms: Insights from two entities dedicated to enhancing radical innovation to support existing business. 16th International Product Development Management Conference, Jun 2009, Enschede, Netherlands. pp.132-151. ⟨halshs-00401148⟩



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