Cultivating Innovation through Social Relationships: A Qualitative Study of Outstanding Australian Innovators in Science and Technology and the Creative Industries

Cultivating Innovation through Social Relationships: A Qualitative Study of Outstanding Australian Innovators in Science and Technology and the Creative Industries

Ruth Bridgstock (Queensland University of Technology, Australia), Shane Dawson (University of British Columbia, Canada) and Greg Hearn (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-519-3.ch005

Abstract

In this chapter, social relationship patterns associated with outstanding innovation are described and explored. In doing so, the chapter draws upon the findings of 16 in-depth interviews with award-winning Australian innovators from science & technology and the creative industries. The interviews covered topics relating to various influences on individual innovation capacity and career development. For all of the participants, innovation was a highly social process. Although each had been recognised individually for their innovative success, none worked in isolation. The ability to generate innovative outcomes was grounded in certain types of interaction and collaboration. The chapter outlines the distinctive features of the social relationships which seem to be important to innovation, and ask which ‘social network capabilities’ might underlie the ability to create an optimal pattern of interpersonal relationships. The implications of these findings for universities play a key role in the development of nascent innovators.
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Introduction

Modern economies are driven by innovation, which we suggest is comprised of new knowledge, combined with the capacity to turn this new knowledge into valued commodities. It is widely accepted that activity in the science and technology sectors drives innovation systems, and recently it has also been argued that innovation in the creative industries may have a similar effect on the entire economy, driving economic growth beyond sectoral effects (Potts & Cunningham, 2008). Thus, the study of innovation facilitators and ways to maximise innovation potential within these sectors is a valuable and much pursued scholarly topic.

Innovation and creativity research are both now a mature, multifaceted fields. The most common distinction between the two is that creativity is often thought of as an individual capacity (Amabile, 1983), whilst innovation is a systemic output of organisations. It can therefore be argued that creativity is a necessary but insufficient condition for innovation to occur. Put simply, innovation within an organisational context is affected by individual decisions about whether or not to choose “creative” options over more “traditional” options. Pink (2005) for example, argued that emerging business opportunities will depend increasingly on the ability to sense, predict and creatively capitalise on new market opportunities in consumer markets. Hearn (2006) proposed that new product innovation comprises technical, cultural and business model innovation which are all undergirded by creative skills sets. However, the creativity of individuals does not guarantee innovation. Assink (2006) suggested that other individual and organisational factors, including a successful business strategy and risk-reducing culture, are need to translate creativity into innovation.

Early studies of the determinants of innovation tended to emphasise individual creative or entrepreneurial performance, and the characteristics of individuals (e.g., Barron & Harrington, 1981; Simonton, 1988). However, most theorists now agree that while individual skills and knowledge, and traits like personality and intelligence, are important foundations for innovation, in actuality innovation thrives on social interaction and collaborative efforts. It involves the active combination of people, knowledge and resources. An important recent addition to the field of innovation studies is the idea of open innovation. Chesborough (2003) argued that open innovation needs a different mindset and company culture from traditional or closed innovation (Chesborough, 2003). The emphasis is on building external and internal networks of knowledge resources and finding ways to link them. Moreover, this knowledge structure is facilitated by the advent of the internet with continually evolving tools for collaboration at a distance and between companies. These internet tools enable processes that correspond to information search; brainstorming; structured problem solving; and feedback. All kinds of information are being produced in this way – from open source software to artistic creativity – via the Creative Commons movement.

In line with the ‘open innovation’ concept, recent studies of the determinants of innovation have focussed on team innovation performance (Perry-Smith, 2006) and innovation in social networks within and outside organisations (Ahuja, 2000; Burt, 2000). This body of literature has contributed much in terms of documenting the advantages and disadvantages of various types of social ties and tie configurations in networks (e.g., Burt, 2000). However, much less is known about the nature of these social ties at the level of the individual. In addition, despite a plethora of popular literature in the area, we know a surprisingly modest amount about what people need to know and do in order to create and maintain ‘optimal’ social networks for success in innovative ventures (c.f., Seibert, Kraimer, & Liden, 2001). In the present chapter, we attempt to shed light on these issues by documenting the findings of a qualitative study into the social factors which appear influential to the success of sixteen outstanding Australian innovators. We begin with a discussion of the nature of innovation.

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