Chapter 37. Managing Project–Organization Coupling in Breakthrough Innovation

Trudy Heller Executive

Education for the Environment

Still crazy after all these years

(Paul Simon)

Managers of disruptive innovations face the thorny dilemma of granting enough autonomy to a project that thinking outside the box may take place, yet connecting the project securely enough to the resources and strategies of the organization that it may receive an intelligent vetting and, if deemed fitting, survive. Heller (1999) suggested loosely coupled systems as a conceptual framework for increasing the focus on this critical aspect of innovation management. She argued that framing project and organization as loosely coupled systems had advantages: escaping oversimplified strategic forcing (bottom-up) and top-down models, emphasizing the mutual influence of project and organization, and enriching the conversation about this aspect of breakthrough innovation among researchers and practitioners.

The significance of breakthrough innovation has been heightened in recent years, as awareness of the urgent need to develop discontinuous, leapfrog technologies to address environmental sustainability challenges has increased (Christensen, 2000; Foster and Kaplan, 2001; Hart, 2005; Ottman, 1999; Pernick and Wilder, 2007). Hart (2005) asserts that capitalism is at a crossroads. Companies that cannot make the radical transformation to cleaner technologies and sustainability strategies will be losers in a Schumpeterian ...

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