Three Mechanisms of Innovation Search

Recombination as a mechanism for innovation can be traced back to at least Schumpeter (1934). More recently various organizational and strategy scholars have described the concept of recombination (Fleming, 2001; Kogut and Zander, 1992) with Fleming (2001) providing a seminal treatment of the recombinant process as it pertains to innovation search. As Fleming notes, inventions are fundamentally composed of combinations of prior existing components into new syntheses or the recombining of existing combinations (Fleming, 2001; Fleming and Sorenson, 2004; Fleming, Mingo, and Chen, 2007; Nasiriyar, Nesta, and Dibiaggio, 2010). Such recombinations may result in entirely new products and services or the application of existing products to new markets and uses (see Fleming and Sorenson, 2004, for famous examples). Pure recombination may however lead to the generation of far more combinations than can be meaningfully evaluated. To avoid a combinatorial explosion or ‘complexity catastrophe’ (Fleming and Sorenson, 2001) some decision rule needs to be invoked to reduce the set of combinations to a feasible number. Yayavaram and Ahuja (2008) suggest that ‘coupling’ may be one mechanism that organizations use to reduce the number of combinatorial choices to a meaningful number. Thus, recombination may work through the combining of ‘coupled’ groups of elements rather than individual elements.

Cognitive search processes work through the exercise of a causal ...

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