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Exploring the tension between clarity and ambiguity in goal setting for innovation
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Machine Design (Dept.), Integrated Product Development.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0592-4002
KTH, School of Industrial Engineering and Management (ITM), Machine Design (Dept.), Integrated Product Development. Institute for Management of Innovation and Technology, Sweden .ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6024-7908
2015 (English)In: Creativity and Innovation Management, ISSN 0963-1690, E-ISSN 1467-8691, Vol. 24, no 2, 231-246 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

In this article we analyse the role of goal setting for innovation in an R&D context. The literature on goal setting for innovation is inconclusive; some scholars claim that goals should be ambiguous in order to inspire novel ideas, but others claim that clear project goals are important in order to undertake innovation projects in an efficient manner. We aim to explain this inconsistency by taking a more fine-grained view of innovation where we study goal setting in relation to exploratory aspects such as idea generation separately from exploitatory aspects such as idea implementation. The results from an empirical survey study in the R&D department of an automotive company reveal that a general ambition to be innovative is positively related to all phases of innovation, but the effects of clear project goals are more complex. We found that idea novelty increases under conditions of either high or low levels of goal clarity, whereas mid-range levels of goal clarity are related to fewer novel ideas. These findings inform existing knowledge about goal setting and innovation, and in particular challenge the body of literature showing that only high levels of ambiguity in goal setting are a fruitful means for innovation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 24, no 2, 231-246 p.
Keyword [en]
goal-setting, creativity, innovation, ideation
National Category
Mechanical Engineering Work Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-160622DOI: 10.1111/caim.12102ISI: 000354280900006ScopusID: 2-s2.0-84928999345OAI: diva2:790571

QC 20150612

Available from: 2015-02-25 Created: 2015-02-25 Last updated: 2015-06-12Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Innovation under pressure: Reclaiming the micro-level exploration space
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Innovation under pressure: Reclaiming the micro-level exploration space
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Research & Development (R&D) departments are becoming increasingly structured and routine-based, with tight schedules and daily follow-ups. This way of working stems from increased demands for delivering products to customers quickly and with high quality at a low price. At the same time, these organisations are faced with the challenge of coming up with new ideas that can become the foundations of tomorrow’s innovations. This means that R&D departments must achieve both exploration, in terms of coming up with new ideas, and exploitation in terms of turning existing ideas into products available on the market. If these dual perspectives are to be met within a single work unit, the employees in that unit must achieve what we call contextual ambidexterity. Previous research has shown this to be difficult to achieve and has offered little guidance for organisations about how to organise and manage their operations in order to increase their chances of achieving contextual ambidexterity.The aim of this thesis is to explore challenges related to innovation that are encountered at the micro-level in contextually ambidextrous organisations and to shed light on factors that explain those challenges.This study has combined survey data with interview data from several organisations to analyse the relationship between aspects of efficiency and aspects of creativity. It was found that employees in a contextually ambidextrous organisation struggle to ensure enough micro-level exploration space, in other words, they have trouble finding time to explore ideas and making room for novel ideas.This research shows that a contextually ambidextrous approach in R&D will likely exert two main challenges related to innovation. The first challenge is a crowding out of exploratory activities in favour of exploitatory activities. One reason for this is the combination of using productivity goals for exploitation and not using any similar targets for exploration activities. Large discrepancies in how these two types of activities are treated runs the risk that the one that is less monitored – most often exploration – is likely to be crowded out in favour of the one that is more intensely monitored.A second possible challenge is the demand on predictability in project progress that is often built into organisations as a means to enhance exploitation. This aim for predictability might create a reluctance to introduce new projects with high levels of novelty because the introduction of novel ideas contains uncertainties that jeopardise the adherence to the project plan. The combination of this view of novelty in the later phases of product development and the crowding out of exploratory activities could possibly lead to insufficient room for novel ideas to gain ground in the organisation, and this could lead to less innovative output.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: KTH Royal Institute of Technology, 2015. vi, 101 p.
TRITA-MMK, ISSN 1400-1179 ; 2015:02
Ambidexterity, exploration, exploitation, creativity, innovation, micro-level exploration space, operational level, operations, operational effectiveness, employee, lean, lean thinking, process management, streamlining, flow
National Category
Mechanical Engineering
Research subject
Machine Design
urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-160618 (URN)978-91-7595-449-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-03-20, Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, KTH, Stockholm, 13:15 (English)

QC 20150225

Available from: 2015-02-25 Created: 2015-02-25 Last updated: 2015-02-25Bibliographically approved

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