Reviewing the Field of External Knowledge Search for Innovation

Reviewing the Field of External Knowledge Search for Innovation

Reviewing the Field of External Knowledge Search for Innovation: Theoretical Underpinnings and Future (Re‐)search Directions

Daniel Ehls, Sara Polier and Cornelius Herstatt

Originally published: August 8, 2020 (PDMA JPIM • Vol. 37, Issue 5 • September 2020)
Read time: 43 minutes

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The field of external knowledge search for innovation has a long tradition and has inspired several schools of thought resulting in a rich and burgeoning body of research. However, the field suffers from two key limitations. First, the pluralism of research across multiple disciplines impedes our attention to the field as a whole, including its intellectual structure and core ideas. Second, recent developments in the business environment and key new ideas in the field complement taken‐for‐granted approaches and provide new opportunities for knowledge search. Based on a systematic co‐citation analysis, we provide a reflective review of the literature and make several contributions. We integrate existing research across disciplines and offer a synthesis of a fragmented research landscape to present a global view of the field. Moreover, we propose a novel external search concept and introduce the idea of “decoupled search.” Leveraging our synthesis and conceptualization further, we recommend future research directions for the entire field of external knowledge search for innovation.

Practitioner Points

  • This article systematically integrates existing research across several disciplines and offers a synthesis of the field of external knowledge search for innovation.
  • By providing a framework that highlights the evolution of the field in phases, firms can better align their approaches for conducting external knowledge search.
  • By introducing the decoupled search approach, executives are challenged to rethink their external search efforts and to better orchestrate the interface with external (unbounded) contributors for leveraging new promising opportunities.

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