INOV - Sociétés innovantes : innovation, économie, modes de vie

Knowledge integration under time constraint – KINETIC

Innovate under constraint: a study of the trajectory of innovation projects

We study project teams, and aim at finding what drive their capacity to develop radical innovation in conditions of extremely tight resources and time. We combine real-world data from big companies (case studies) with data collected from quasi-experiment designs.

Improve our understanding of how project teams develop radical innovations under time and resources pressure

Innovation is crucial to both national and firm-level competitiveness. Prior research shows that any innovation team faces contradictory forces: “centrifugal” forces (those that drive the team to constantly search for new ideas and knowledge, at the risk of drifting and losing touch with the constraints and goals of the project) and “centripetal” forces (those that create cohesion and shared vision within the team, at the risk of fall short in terms of generating new ideas). The objective of the KINETIC project is to identify the leadership and organizational arrangements that facilitate such a balance and thereby permit radical innovation under time constraint.

• In-depth case studies of innovation projects in 2 big consumer-goods companies and 2 medium-size consulting companies. Qualitative analysis. Particular attention is paid to the « trajectories » of these projects (changes in objectives, team recompositions, identification of new sources of information, etc.)
• Quasi-experiment design emulating real new product development projects with about 800 students located in 4 universities. Quantitative analysis (in particular social network analysis). We analyze more particularly interpersonal relationships (communication, trust, share cognition, conflicts, etc.), how they evolve over time and how they impact performance.

First, we expect from this research to be able to compose a collection of case studies describing the trajectory of innovation projects, analyzed through a qualitative approach. These studies will lead to publications aiming at identifying « typical trajectories » of innovation projects under constraint. Second, we expect publications analyzing the factors which lead to higher performance of innovation teams under constraint, thanks to the analysis of several samples of teams placed in a controlled environment (quantitative analysis). From the combination of these radically different methods, will also emerge a series of material meant to improve executive education in the field of innovation (case studies, « serious game », etc.).

This project calls for more integration across methods. In particular, it seeks to combine a rather traditional approach in management research (in-depth case studies) with methods typical to social-psychology (experimentation and quasi-experimentation)

To date, the project has led to varous presentations in conferences in management and psychology.

Innovation processes often take place under time constraint, either as a response to specific external events (e.g., strategic move by a competitor, occurrence of a blackout in a facility) or to the rapid erosion of competitive advantages (D’aveni et al. 2010). However, such time pressures usually conflict with the time scheduling of knowledge creation, resulting in a risk of the firm becoming trapped in a path of incremental and low-impact innovations. This is because time constraints exert pressure that leads firms to use knowledge that is local, easy to access and already familiar. Conversely, in order to develop unique and novel solutions it is necessary to identify and integrate distant knowledge from across geographical, cognitive, organizational and cultural boundaries.

As a result, firms have to organize innovation in a way that balances “centrifugal” forces (those that increase the quality and quantity of the ideas and knowledge accessed) and “centripetal” forces (those that integrate ideas and knowledge into coherent collective action). The objective of the KINETIC project is to identify the organizational arrangements that facilitate such a balance and thereby permit the searching and integration of new knowledge under time constraint. In order to do this, KINETIC will focus on complex innovation projects involving interdependent teams (“multi-team systems”, Dechurch et Marks 2006) as the fundamental unit of analysis of these processes.

Complex innovation projects will be studied using two complementary approaches, each of which constitutes a work package. The first package will use a series of case studies within multinational companies to analyze how innovation projects respond to urgent needs to source and integrate knowledge. Qualitative data will be collected through interviews and documentary records in three multinational companies that support the project (Oxylane, Peugeot and Bic). Analysis of this data will provide a better understanding of the types of situations in which there are urgent needs to innovate. The data will also be used to compare sequences of events across projects and to identify why, in situations involving an urgent need to solve an important problem requiring new knowledge, some teams converge rapidly towards an innovative solution, whereas others fail to do so. The contribution of this task will lie in its ability to account for the processual nature of organizational reactions to time constraint and to capture the diversity of these reactions.

The second work package will use a large-scale quasi-experiment to test how leadership arrangements and the structure of communications across teams impact performance under time constraint. Teams of students in three disciplines (management, psychology, and engineering) and three locations (Grenoble, Orlando, Washington DC) will work together under time constraint to complete a simulated innovation project under four distinct conditions in terms of leadership arrangements and communication structures. Quantitative data on the actual networks of interactions within and between teams, and individual perceptual measures will be analyzed. The contribution of this task will lie in its ability to identify causal factors of innovation performance.

A third work package will integrate and disseminate the findings of the two approaches described above, through workshops for academics and for business, and through the design of a new training course for executives and graduate students.

The project builds on cooperation between three French institutions: GEM (Grenoble Ecole de Management), IREGE (Institut de Recherche en Gestion et Economie, Université de Savoie) and CNAM (Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers), and also includes first-tier researchers from two American universities (University of Central Florida and George Mason University).

Project coordinator

Monsieur barthélemy chollet (Grenoble Ecole de Management) –

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CCIG-GEM Grenoble Ecole de Management
LIRSA Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire de recherche en sciences de l'action

Help of the ANR 173,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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