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Innovation through tradition: lessons from innovative family businesses and directions for future research

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/02/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Academy of Management Perspectives
Issue number1
Volume30
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)93-116
Publication statusPublished
Early online date11/01/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In steering towards the future, innovation managers are commonly advised to dismiss the old and make way for the new. However, such “recency bias” may significantly limit a firm’s innovation potential and prevent it from realizing the benefits of past knowledge. We argue that the temporal dimension of innovation deserves more research attention. Combining prior research on innovation, dynamic capabilities and family business, we conceptualize a new product innovation strategy called innovation through tradition (ITT) and identify its underlying capabilities of interiorizing and reinterpreting past knowledge. The illustrative cases of six long-lasting family businesses (Aboca, Apreamare, Beretta, Lavazza, Sangalli and Vibram) are analyzed and discussed, hence exemplifying how firms that build long-lasting and intimate links with their traditions can be extremely innovative while remaining firmly anchored to the past. These examples help visualize theoretical concepts and recognize the potential advantages of past knowledge in terms of value creation and capture. We develop an agenda for future research aimed at improving our understanding of the temporal search processes involved in the ITT strategy, within and outside the family business field, and thus contribute to innovation and organizational learning studies. Managers of non-family firms can learn from the family businesses that successfully use ITT to create and nurture a competitive advantage and emulate them by leveraging rather than discarding tradition.