Four Insights on Innovation Management


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Innovation Management Expert Sari Virta, PhD, shares her four core insights on how to make and keep innovation a constant organizational feature in the current, rapidly changing entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial  environments. 

Image: Innovation Chemistry (CC BY 2.0)


In the current VUCA [1] (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) operational environments, rapid renewal and continuous innovation are vital for business success. However, achieving innovation is arduous and challenges accustomed organizational processes and management. I know this from personal experience after spending more than a decade as a development manager in a traditional organization facing disruptive change. Over the past few years, I have studied innovation management in the context of the creative industries in PhD research [2]. In the following, I share four insights for innovation management discovered under the journey.


  1. Manage for organizational creativity

Innovation does not appear in a vacuum. Creativity is typically considered as a prerequisite for innovation. Traditionally, the concept of creativity emphasizes individual talent, imagination and internal motives [3]. For businesses, creativity as such is not the primary goal, but innovation that produces value. Current realities also build more and more on collaboration and co-creation. Thus, organizational creativity [4] needs to be in focus. Two issues get emphasized: management and progress. Management’s role and responsibility are fundamental in creating operational environments and conditions vital for organizational creativity. The second core issue is ensuring the progress principle [5] —keeping the staff motivated and productive by a feeling of making headway in innovation projects.


  1. Ensure possibilities for serendipity

Many organizations aim for standardizing their “innovation processes”. The idea is somewhat contradictory, because innovation implies constant learning and new discoveries, and process implies standardization and uniformity. Innovation is never certain or guaranteed. The idea of serendipity offers useful potential for enhancing innovation [6]. Serendipity means accidental or unpredicted discovery of something valuable [7]. Serendipitous approach opens ways to identify, evaluate and harness creative incidents and practices for potential innovation. Utilizing unexpected events is not only based on luck or chance, but serendipity is also about capabilities to take advantage of them. As Louis Pasteur once stated “chance favours only the prepared mind” [8]. Serendipity builds on understanding opportunities offered by new situations and being capable and prepared to respond to them. Thus, creating opportunities for serendipitous situations and supporting people to think and act in serendipitous ways is key.


  1. Prepare for ambidextrous tensions

Ambidexterity [9] aims at combining exploitation for current business (efficiency) with simultaneous exploration (opportunities) for future innovation. The two aims are inherently different. This leads to various tensions between, for example, strategy-level expectations and operational resources, existing structures and innovation initiatives, or short-term profits and long-term viability [10]. In concrete terms, achieving innovation requires sufficient resources, which the current operations are often expected to provide. The emerging tensions require skillful managerial attention, because they easily become obstacles for innovation. Tensions cannot be resolved and they will not disappear if neglected. Thus, effort is necessary—and advised—to anticipate, identify, evaluate and navigate tensions in innovation work to manage potential dysfunctionalities.


  1. Utilize good examples, but do not rely on them

There is a lot to learn from good examples, of course. But in innovation work, copying “success” or “best practices” is not a straightforward answer. Existing innovations exist; they are not new. Competing with existing successes is very difficult. Best practices are highly dependent in the contexts where they operate. Transferring them across different organizational cultures or operational practices seldom leads to success. Instead, developing through understanding on organizational creativity, serendipity and organizational tensions offers possibilities for developing something unique. Inside large and traditional organizations, intrapreneurial skills, attitudes, networks and action are crucial in this endeavor.



Amabile, T. M. (1998). How to kill creativity. Harvard Business Review, 76(5), 77-87.

Amabile, T. M. & Kramer, S. (2011). The progress principle. Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

Bennett, N. & Lemoine, J. G. (2014). What VUCA really means for you. Harvard Business Review, 92(1), 10.

Cunha, M. P., Clegg, S. & Mendonça, S. (2010). On serendipity and organizing. European Management Journal, 28(5), 319-330.

George, J. M. (2007). Creativity in organizations. Academy of Management Annals, 1(1), 439-477.

Gibson, C. B. & Birkinshaw, J. (2004). The antecedents, consequences, and mediating role of organizational ambidexterity. Academy of Management Journal, 47(2), 209-226.

Kisinger, P. & Walch, K. (2012, July 9). Living and leading in a VUCA world. Thunderbird University. Retrieved June 6 2018 from: http://knowledgenetwork.thunderbird.edu/research/2012/07/09/kinsinger-walch-vuca/.

Mack, C. & Khare, A. (2016). Perspectives on a VUCA world. In O. Mack, A. Khare, A. Krämer, & T. Burgartz (Eds.), Managing in a VUCA world (pp. 3-19). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

Malmelin, N. & Virta, S. (2016). Managing creativity in change. Journalism Practice, 10(8), 1041-1054.

Malmelin, N. & Virta, S. (2017). Seizing the serendipitous moments: Coincidental creative processes in media work. Journalism, https://doi.org/10.1177/1464884917707121

Merton, K. & Barber, E. (2004). The travels and adventures of serendipity: a study in sociological semantics and the sociology of science. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

O’Reilly, C. A. & Tushman, M. L. (2013). Organizational ambidexterity: past, present, and future. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 27(4), 324-338.

Styhre, A. & Sundgren, M. (2005). Managing creativity in organizations: critique and practices. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tushman, M. L. & O’Reilly, C. A. (1996). The ambidextrous organization: managing evolutionary and revolutionary change. California Management Review, 38(4), 8-30.

Virta, S. (2018). Managing tensions in creative content development work: Cases from the media industry. Doctoral dissertation. Jönköping International Business School, Sweden.

Virta, S. & Malmelin, N. (2017). Ambidextrous tensions: Dynamics of creative work in the media innovation process. The Journal of Media Innovations, 4(1), 44-59.



[1] Bennett & Lemoine, 2014; Kisinger & Walch, 2012; Mack & Khare, 2016

[2] Virta, S. (2018)

[3] E.g. Styhre & Sundgren, 2005

[4] George, 2007; Amabile, 1998

[5] Amabile & Kramer, 2011; Malmelin & Virta, 2016

[6] E.g. Malmelin & Virta, 2017

[7] E.g. Cunha, Clegg & Mendonça, 2010

[8] E.g. Merton & Barber, 2004

[9] Gibson & Birkinshaw, 2008; O’Reilly & Tushman, 2013; Tushman & O’Reilly, 1996

[10] E.g. Virta & Malmelin, 2017

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