Innovation processes and "learning communities" in Colombian SME's
Jiménez, Rodrigo Alvarez
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The objective of this paper is to analyze the common characteristics of five innovation processes carried out by a small Colombian company (hereinafter ―the company‖), under my direction and with my direct intervention, over a period of seven years. Thanks to these projects, the company significantly increased its competitiveness and had some Colombian academic and entrepreneurial awards conferred upon it (INNOVA-2004, INNOVA-2007, ACAC, MONEY MAGAZINE). The creative destruction paradigm (Schumpeter, 1934; Schumpeter, 1942) suggests that in turbulent environments one should be the creator of one‘s destruction in the present (defeat one‘s current lack of competitiveness), in order to remain competitive in the future. Thus, this attitude toward change and innovation becomes a centerpiece in the long way toward competence building and competitiveness. The projects were carried out with a shortage of resources, a common feature of small and medium enterprises in developing countries. They maintained a systemic approach regarding the company‘s competitiveness and assigned an important role to organizational learning. The cases are: No. 1, Workforce-Performance-Software, No. 2, ERP Software (Sales-Production-Materials), No. 3, Extraction-Manipulator-Cups-Printer, No. 4, CRM Software (Sales, Receivables and Marketing), and No. 5, Four-To-Five-Colors-Printer-Reconverting. Traditionally, the stance of research in organizational innovation has been carried out by three different and independent theories: (a) organizational capacity for change and adaptation, (b) innovation as a process of organizational learning and knowledge creation; and (c) the relationship between organizational structural forms and innovativeness. The analysis of the projects carried out by the company develops a coherent articulation of these three fields of research and leads to a ―holistic‖ understanding of organizational innovation. These technological innovations show how, for the company, learning and innovation are carried out by people. Technology and innovation come from people‘s activities and people‘s will to innovate. That is the reason why the new management decided to promote ―meaning‖ and ―sense‖ around change, innovation and situated action. By deploying this strategy, the company got its people to behave as ―agents of change‖ rather than patients of ―change‖. In this context, the management was able to direct the organization as a whole toward change and innovation. With these activities, people changed their own expectations and began the self-construction of what was meaningful for themselves. In addition, this interactive learning space became, for all of them, including the company, a place where things could happen, where change could be possible. Regarding the relation between the firm‘s structure and its innovative capacity, the paper analyzes the company‘s historical competitive profile vis-à-vis its environment and subsequently shows how, by means of a hiring mechanism of its new General Manager, myself, the enterprise created an interface structure between the company and its environment. This interface structure profited from the ―relational capital‖ (Richardson, 1972) the new management mobilized within and outside the organization. This relational capital was dynamically reconfigured to respond to environmental demands and endogenous capabilities. Clearly, this interface structure facilitated the establishment of an Open Innovation Model. After putting this model in place, the company crystallized its activities of change and innovation and took advantage of this interface structure to rapidly respond to the environment and assure the proper in-flow of limited resources (knowledge, time, money, etc). The study reflects on the issue of scarcity of resources, not just in the context of SMEs, but in developing countries, and stresses, in light of the experiences analyzed, the relevance of designing policies to foster a relationship among actors in the context of the National Innovation System (Arocena & Sutz, 2000). Section 1 describes the company‘s competitive profile, its structure, and its attitude and dynamics toward change and innovation. Section 2 examines how the company coupled its evolution and technological change with the correct identification of opportunities and risks present in its environment. Section 3 deals with organizational learning and knowledge creation through settlement of an interactive and iterative learning space for innovation activities. Section 4 presents the main conclusions of the paper and suggests some fields for future research.