The Digital Transformation of Search and Recombination in the Innovation Function

The Digital Transformation of Search and Recombination in the Innovation Function

The Digital Transformation of Search and Recombination in the Innovation Function: Tensions and an Integrative Framework

Gianvito Lanzolla, Danilo Pesce and Christopher L. Tucci

kHUB post date: March 17, 2021
Originally published: October 26, 2020 (PDMA JPIM • Vol 38 • Issue 1 • January 2021)
Read time: 50 minutes

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Search and recombination are important mechanisms in the creativity phase of innovation. Digital transformation and the resulting pervasive digitalization of the innovation function have often been associated with increasing possibilities for search and recombination. In this paper, by systematically integrating the search and recombination literature with the literature on digitalization, we demonstrate that digitalization may engender new idiosyncratic tensions in the organizational antecedents of search and recombination and, by implication, in their likely outcomes. We propose that, depending on the interactions among the idiosyncratic tensions identified herein, knowledge recombination might spur very different outcomes, including knowledge layering, knowledge integration, knowledge grafting, or even no recombination at all (which we label “search for the sake of search”). These outcomes may not always be the initially planned desired outcomes. Finally, we provide implications of our integrative framework pertaining to product development and to organizing for innovation.

Practitioner Points

  • Digitalization has no magical effects on creativity and innovation, and strategy and management should play a central role in designing and implementing digitalization.
  • Innovation managers may want to pay close attention to the cognitive and emotional costs of adopting digital technologies.
  • Digitalization may enable broader knowledge search and more effective knowledge recombination in the creativity phase of innovation if organizations implement digitalization by paying attention to blending subject matter expertise with digital skills.
  • Digitalization can hamper innovation and creativity (“search for the sake of search”) when digital technology is implemented by reinforcing existing knowledge networks, and subject matter experts and “digital champions” see each other as competitors.

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