Culture and Innovation

Luciara Nardon, Gerald Grant, and Yun Wang, Carleton University
Summary

The process of innovation required to create, develop, adopt and use emerging technologies is both fostered and constrained by social and cognitive factors that influence the nature and extent of innovative activities.

Our research funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada on the socio-cognitive influences on innovation reviews literature focusing on the relationship between national and organizational dimensions of culture, organizational practices, and innovation suggests that:

  • While there are significant relationships between national cultural dimensions and national measures of innovation, these relationships are not absolute, and not predictive of outcomes. Rather, they are influential in the social dynamics and logics of action employed by multiple actors, which in turn influence the innovation process, technology trajectory, and performance.
  • National culture is important for organizational innovative outcomes to the extent to which it shapes organizational practices. However, organizations are able, and often do, deviate from national cultural tendencies especially in countries characterized by low levels of cultural tightness, which is the case of Canada.
  • Research on cultural diversity and innovation suggest that innovation is positively influenced by cultural diversity when diversity is properly managed. More importantly, innovation is itself a cultural process, and may emerge through different processes, mechanisms, and structures, challenging the notion of one best innovation culture.
  • Innovative organizations are characterized as possessing a “culture of innovation” that allows them to advance and thrive in competitive markets. However, a clear specification of what characterizes a culture of innovation remains elusive.
  • Based on the literature reviewed we conceptualize a culture of innovation as a congruent and generative set of values, norms, schemas, artifacts and practices within an organization that are consistent and supportive of each other and uniquely positioned to address external and internal demands, resources and constraints facing the organization.

A culture of innovation develops in an organic, causally ambiguous, and idiosyncratic way and needs to be cultivated and nourished.  Accumulating the right ingredients characteristic of such a culture is necessary but not sufficient to guarantee its development. No two cultures are the same even though they might share important elements.

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