Corporate ethnographpy [i.e. ethnography]: an analysis of organizational and technological innovation

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Virginia Tech

Organizations are seeking ways to become more innovative to renew their business and ward off foreign competition. The perceived weakening of this process in U.S. firms is viewed as a contributing factor in the steady decline of productivity growth vital to our nation's stability.

The specific purpose of this study was to analyze the organizational and technological innovation process used by a specific organization to foster corporate renewal. Data were gathered to answer related research questions by conducting an ethnographic study (the disciplined study of the acquired knowledge that people use to interpret experience and generate behavior) of the innovation process developed and implemented by an international Fortune 100 chemical manufacturer. A structured method of analytical induction was used to analyze the textual content of the data.

Findings indicated that the corporation believed that innovation was a matter of corporate survival. To change the direction the corporation was taking, a systematic process to create future business value and new businesses was designed and implemented. A conceptual "innovation" model was developed to identify and to serve as a vision for the corporation and guide the process. A management plan was created to administer the process. Most development activity was conducted by means of a "stage-gate" process.

The advantages and disadvantages of innovation were intertwined and overlapped. The greatest advantages to innovation were identified as follows: 1) the Office of Innovation, 2) innovation training programs, 3) management and the formal process, and 4) the environment/culture. The greatest disadvantages cited were: 1) management, 2) environment/culture 3) conflicting missions between core business and the strategic business development division, and 4) the formal process. Recommendations were given for making the environment/climate more innovative, expanding the innovation training, improving core business and the strategic business development division's relationship, and improving the innovation process.