Sub-theme 42: Managing Tensions in Innovation: Balancing Feasibility, Viability and Desirability

Katharina Hölzle
University of Potsdam, Germany
Jochen Schweitzer
University of Technology, Sydney, Australia
Lars Groeger
Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Sydney, Australia

Call for Papers

Successful innovation requires balancing various – at times conflicting – interests. In research and practice alike we observe imbalances and tensions due to the dichotomies of open versus closed, feasible versus desirable, managerial versus entrepreneurial or technology-push versus market-pull. Trying to respond to these tensions, managers often struggle and cause even more imbalances and tensions. Furthermore, many organizations are not well equipped to integrate the rising influence of digital technologies, compensate for the scarcity and depletion of resources as well as find adequate answers to the apparent success of entrepreneurial ventures. With the replacement of pure product innovation by product-service systems (Porter & Heppelmann, 2014) a comprehensive, system-oriented way of thinking is needed.

Such demand relates closely to the notion of power at various levels. If not one company or unit alone is responsible for the success or failure of innovation, if many parties have to be integrated and their respective needs have to be taken into account, the overall complexity increases manifold. Addressing these dichotomies, bridging the tensions that arise along the innovation process, and creating adequate organizational responses require a new way of thinking and working.

Design Thinking has been heralded by many scholars (Brown, 2008; Dorst & Cross, 2001; Liedtka & Mintzberg, 2006) as a powerful new approach to enhance innovation within and across organizations by combining the creative and the analytical mind (Martin, 2009); creating products and services that are both profitable and humanly satisfying (Boland & Collopy, 2004). At the same time, its collaborative and human-driven approach helps many organizations to overcome barriers to innovation (Mirow et al., 2012). Whilst some authors suggest that designers can stimulate change in organizations due to their positive attitude towards change itself (Michlewski, 2008), very little attention has been dedicated to the role of leadership and the complexity of organizational change processes associated with a design-led innovation approach. Furthermore, the different streams of research on organizations, innovation, technology, management and design have remained rather separated. An interdisciplinary approach to address the different "engines of innovation" comprehensively is completely missing.

In light of all this, organizations do not seem well equipped to find "the next big thing", despite hundreds of publications that describe the process of innovation (Beckman & Barry, 2007). As organizations struggle to balance exploration with exploitation (March, 1991) or research-driven with customer-focused approaches, many firms seem to embrace strict methods and processes as a the preferred choice to deal with an uncertain future. However, while a firm can adopt processes and learn new innovation practices over time, it is the climate and mindset for innovation that will ultimately help to achieve business excellence and innovation objectives at a deeper and more sustainable level.

In this sub-theme we consider and critically examine the various paths that managers and their organizations take when developing an idea towards an innovation. We are interested to better understand how innovation managers can more efficiently manage the tensions arising along the innovation journey. We propose that a human-centered or design thinking oriented perspective can help organizations to better cope with these challenges. Contributions are invited from the fields of innovation, entrepreneurship, design thinking, organizational behavior, business model innovation and collaboration.

Therefore, we invite papers for this sub-theme on the topics of:How to create a culture/climate for innovation where creativity is fostered but business aspects not neglected?

  • Can Design Thinking drive the organizational change needed for disruptive innovation?
  • What are the cultural interpretations of design-led innovations in organizations?
  • How to implement innovative methods of collaborating across disciplinary, functional, and 
organizational boundaries?
  • How to manage the potential conflict between members of different subcultures within 
organizations, in particular of 'new innovation teams' vs. incumbents?
  • Is Design Thinking a method, process or mindset to help organizations to better innovate?
  • How do formal vs. informal structures for innovation look like? Can they be balanced?
  • Collaborative innovation revised: the role of the innovation network in problem solving and 
idea creation
  • Intrapreneurial vs. entrepreneurial innovation: should innovation be driven from within the organization or acquired from the outside?
  • How can we measure the success of design-led innovation/Design Thinking?
  • How to manage internal and external tensions in innovation collaboration?
  • Combining technology-driven innovation with a business and design perspective. Too much 
at once?




  • Beckman, S.L., & Barry, M. (2007): "Innovation as a Learning Process: Embedding Design Thinking." California Management Review, 50 (1), 25–56.
  • Boland Jr, R.J., & Collopy, F. (2004): "Design Matters for Management." In: R.J. Boland Jr & F. Collopy (eds.): Managing as Designing. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 3–18.
  • Brown, T. (2008): "Design Thinking." Harvard Business Review, 86 (6), 84–95.
  • Dorst, K., & Cross, N. (2001): "Creativity in the Design Process: Co-Evolution of Problem-Solution." Design Studies, 22 (5), 425–437.

  • Liedtka, J., King, A., & Bennett, K. (2013): Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Liedtka, J., & Mintzberg, H. (2006): "Time for Design." Design Management Review, 17 (2), 10–18.
    March, J.G. (1991): " The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking." Organization Science, 2 (1), 71–87.
  • Martin, R.L. (2009): The Opposable Mind: Winning through Integrative Thinking. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
  • Michlewski, K. (2008): "Uncovering Design Attitude: Inside the Culture of Designers." Organization Studies, 29 (3), 373–392.
  • Mirow, C., Hölzle, K., & Gemünden, H.G. (2012): "Measuring barriers to innovation: Developing a new approach for better innovation management." Working Paper.
  • Porter, M.E., & Heppelmann, J.E. (2014): "How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition." Harvard Business Review, 92 (11), 64–88.


Katharina Hölzle is Full Professor for innovation management and entrepreneurship at the University of Potsdam and Associate Professor at the HPI School of Design Thinking, Potsdam, Germany. Her research interests focus on collaborative innovation, design thinking, barriers to innovation, and business model innovation.
Jochen Schweitzer is Senior Lecturer in strategy and innovation at the Business School of the University of Technology, Sydney, Australia. He is also Research Stream Leader for Strategy and Creativity at the Centre for Management and Organisation Studies and the Co-founder and Director of U.lab, a multidisciplinary innovation hub.
Lars Groeger is Lecturer in Management at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management (Australia) where he teaches management and design-led innovation to MBA students and Executives in Sydney and Hong Kong. His research focuses on design thinking, leadership competencies, business models and customer engagement.