Technological innovation and organizational learning: A case study on dynamics of a technological innovator network
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Understanding the role of knowledge and organizational learning in fostering or inhibiting innovation becomes crucially important (Lam, 2005). Innovation is not an isolated process of neither individuals nor firms. Innovation is a process which happens in a system where interaction between firms, customers, suppliers, competitors and various other private and public organizations is important (Fagerberg, 2005). It is impossible to understand innovation processes without going deeper into the understanding of learning and knowledge and it is blind to explain economic performance without bringing into the analysis of social relationships and organizational structures (Lundvall and Christensen, 2004). Knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and knowledge application which are crucial to technological innovation highly depend on social interaction in the circumstance of technological uncertainty and complexity. Now the time has come to open up the black box of social interaction through focus on how learning takes place in the real world (Lundvall and Christensen, 2004). Social context and economic environment should be highly recognized when studying innovation and organizational learning. Researches have been done according to various observations, explanations have been made in the light of diversified theories. But do they fit Chinese context? Powell and Grodal (2005) argued that when science and technology developed rapidly and the sources of knowledge are widely distributed, networks can foster innovation. But when technology doesn't change very quickly, will networks help to innovate? Pavitti (2005) identified two generic processes of innovation that is coordinating and integrating specialized knowledge and learning under conditions of uncertainty. But this conclusion is also deduced from his research which focuses mainly on large firms within the USA, Europe, and Japan. Will the underdeveloped area has any different process of innovation? When talking about challenges for innovation theory and research, Lundvall and Christensen(2005) considered one implication of the important role of innovation's social dimensions is that it is difficult to develop a general theory of innovation and interactive learning. They pointed out that the processes involved are highly context dependent and the best we can do is to develop models that bring to the fore differences in context as different patterns. This paper is about the dynamics of technological innovator network (TIN) in the past ten years in a state-owned company named Grace Corporation in southwest China. It tried to understand the pattern and process of organizational learning for technological innovation in the perspective of social network. The social context and economic environment of relatively underdeveloped southwest China were considered as important background and influencing factor of what has happened. This paper focuses on technological innovation and organizational learning of a state-owned company in relatively underdeveloped southwest China. We try to find out how the TIN evolutes in the ten years of technological innovation and how to accelerate organizational learning across functional and organizational boundaries to foster innovation. We adopted Social Network Analysis (SNA) to map and measure the relationships between different departments and organizations inside and outside of the company. Case study was used as our main research method. We hope this research can show us a picture of the dynamics of TIN in this firm in order to get deeper insights into how organizational learning impacts technological innovation. We also hope it can provide some valuable views for firm managers and policy makers. We addressed four research questions: 1. What stages did technological innovation in Grace go through in the past ten years? 2. How did the TINs of Grace look like in these stages? 3. How did the TINs of Grace evolve over the stages of technological innovation? 4. How to accelerate organizational learning across functional and organizational boundaries to foster technological innovation at present?