Claimed by many, integrated by few

In his PhD Dissertation titled Innovation through collaboration: Challenging the assumptions Ward Ooms put the analysis of personal proximity for forming and maintaining innovation-related university-industry collaborations centre-stage. The research shows that personal proximity – close similarity in terms of personal traits and behavioural patterns – substantially affects the whole life cycle of research collaborations.
According  to Ooms, the degree of success of these collaborations in the field of innovation and the commercialization of the results tends to be individually driven. He concludes the study with suggesting not to continue seeing innovation in its isolation of technical (product) development but to incorporate knowledge on organisational behaviour as well. When looking at managing innovation it’s vital to appreciate that factors at all levels may affect what happens on other levels as well. In his final statement he calls for policy makers to recognize the interaction between the innovation-related technical developments and the organisational culture to make policies succeed.

When it comes to innovation, for a long time organisations and policymakers have generally given substantial attention to the tools-oriented innovation building blocks – resources, processes and the measurement of success – in its isolation. In doing so ignoring the theories on innovation has been extended to other dimensions over time, i.e. people-oriented determinants of an innovative culture. As personal traits and behavioural patterns seem to be the glue of the organisational culture and its innovation-related success interest in them has been growing in recent years. The idea underlying this trend is that human factor intangible assets mechanisms to shape a successful culture of innovation may be at play.

For organisations and policymakers it is much easier to acknowledge the role of ‘objective factors’, such as the more easily measured tools-oriented innovation building blocks. Not surprisingly, most companies have also done a better job of managing resources, processes and measurement of innovation success than they have with the more tacit personal traits. As many organisations have discovered, anything that involves peoples’ values and behaviours and the climate of the workplace is more intangible and difficult to handle. Yet, we suggest that the above ideas are rather under- than overestimating the effects of people-oriented determinants within innovative organisations as these might have the greatest power to shape the culture of innovation and create a sustained competitive advantage.

Ooms, W. (2016) Innovation through collaboration: Challenging the assumptions. Heerlen: Open University.
Rao, J. and Weintraub, J. (2013) How Innovative Is Your Company’s Culture? In: MIT Sloan Management Review. Vol. 54(3): 28-37.