4Penpushers and Hotheads

4.1. The curse of the company leader

Utterback’s work [UTT 75] has shown an empirical relation: major innovation generally does not come from the leading firm. In some ways, radical innovation avoids organizations. However, breakthrough innovations are considered to be those that will determine the importance of long-term growth. An innovation system that could be reduced to a collection of leading firms could thus prove to be highly disappointing in responding to a major stake of macroeconomic policy.

In a rather involuntary way, business consulting research has corroborated the existence of this paradox described by Utterback. For example, Pierre Devalan [DEV 06] starts with the problem of breakthrough innovation in an organization. Its growing importance is indicated, but all advice formulated moves in the direction of a gap between organizations (companies) and breakthrough innovations. It is recommended that companies have a “follower” attitude, putting the organization in a vigilant position. The stances taken by Devalan are quite deep rooted: “An R&D function personified by an individual or team is useless” [DEV 06, p. 167]. The breakthrough comes not from the organization, but from a single individual: “the initiative, the risk is most often the expression, the willpower, and the tenacity of a single individual, of a rebel who fights to find all the ingredients (manpower, capital, etc.) so that their project can be launched” [DEV 06, p. 110]. ...

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