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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: August 2015

6 - Paradox: The Contradictions of Innovation

from Part 2 - managing innovation


Application of the analysis that has been spelled out in the first half of this book is dogged by the problem that the building blocks of innovation involve numerous, apparently contradictory states of affairs that are nonetheless simultaneously true. Organization theorists have been aware of this issue and have been using the term paradox to describe it for decades. In a recent review Smith and Lewis (2011) analyzed research reports in twelve core organizational journals in the twenty years from 1989 to 2008 and identified no fewer than 360 articles that focused on the paradox approach. They also showed that in the selection of journals they reviewed, the number of paradox articles increased at a steady rate of about 10 percent per year over the twenty years they examined. Thus, there is no shortage of discussions about the innovation paradox in the organizational literature. In fact, paradoxes exist throughout the creativity/innovation system; some examples are listed in Table 6.1. The paradoxes listed in the table remain at a broad general level and will be outlined in a general sense in this chapter. They will be discussed in greater detail and in a more practical sense in subsequent chapters.

Of considerable importance for the present book is Smith and Lewis's (2011, p. 382) conclusion that there is a “lack of conceptual and theoretical coherence” to the discussions. There is no clear theoretical framework for conceptualizing the paradoxes of innovation. Fortunately, with its striking links to innovation theory, creativity theory – as it is understood in psychological research – is a promising source of ideas for establishing the necessary framework. The deconstruction of innovation that has already begun in earlier chapters and will be continued in later chapters shows that the paradoxes are neither arbitrary nor haphazard but are systematic and orderly, as paradoxical as that may sound. As a result, they can be managed; indeed, the position adopted in this book is that appropriate management of the paradoxes is crucial for organizational innovation.