Collective Innovation

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  • MBA Thesis: Collective innovation. Slawsby, Alex (Alex David); Rivera, Carlos. Sloan School of Management.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007



The ability to innovate sits at the heart of an organization's ability to succeed in a competitive environment. An organization can innovate by improving existing products, services, or processes or by generating new products, services, or processes. Achieving successful, repeated organizational innovation, however, is a significant challenge. The hurdles to such innovation run the gamut from psychological to structural to procedural. Managers can fall victim to myopia and other human level challenges. Organizational processes, structures, and values can short circuit innovation as well. Given these challenges, we posit that an innovation strategy embracing the concepts of collective intelligence and openness may enable organizations to surmount these hurdles. We refer to this approach as Collective Innovation and define it as a connected, open, and collaborative process that generates, develops, prioritizes, and executes new ideas. To develop our argument, we surveyed literature from a wide array of disciplines including economics, organizational behavior, social psychology, and organizational change.(cont.) We begin this thesis by drawing a connection between the economic theories of Adam Smith and Ronald Coase and research into the changing workplace by Thomas Malone. We then introduce the concepts of collective intelligence and openness, core tenets of Collective Innovation. After introducing Collective Innovation, we examine its place in the history of innovation strategy. Next, we outline and describe the four stages of the Collective Innovation process. Having dealt mainly in theory, we then turn to the application of Collective Innovation and the myriad challenges that managers will face when attempting to implement such a strategy. Keeping in mind these challenges, we outline four ways in which organizations might use Collective Innovation to power the exploration-side of their operations. Finally, we revisit several remaining questions before concluding our analysis.