Reimagining the differentiation and integration of work for sustained product innovation

This study describes the image of organizing that underlies a complex organization's ability to incorporate streams of innovation with continuing operations. I argue that a mechanistic organization archetype prevents people from seeing in their minds' eyes - from imagining - how to do the work of innovation organizationwide, but that theorists have failed to articulate an alternative to this archetype in its own terms. The study focuses on two elements of organizing: the differentiation and the integration of work. I build grounded theory for an alternate, innovative archetype of organizing by exploring the shared image of work differentiation and integration in twelve firms that vary in innovative ability. I find a fundamentally different image in innovative organizations that is centered on hands-on practice: People understand value creation as a long-term working relationship with customers, in which they apply the firm's skills to anticipate and solve customer problems. This practice is differentiated into distinct problems in value creation, each of which embodies the integral flow of work like a lateral slice, but which situates those problems in their own contexts. People understand themselves to be organized in an autonomous community of practice that takes charge of one of the problems. The communities of practice are integrated by standards for action: vivid, simple representations of value that frame work and that are reenacted in practice.
The analysis details this different image of organizing by describing four autonomous communities of practice and contrasting them with the image of organizing found in noninnovative firms. The paper illustrates how this new image straightforwardly organizes and controls innovative work, and how the noninnovative image of differentiation and integration makes this work unimaginable. I conclude that innovation can be incorporated with continuing operations, provided that managers and theorists reimagine the differentiation and integration of work. I offer preliminary ideas for doing so, and suggest some next steps in this research stream.


URL (Informs online)
URL (MIT Sloan Business School)


Innovation, Knowledge management, Sensemaking

Additional information:

AuthorsDougherty, Deborah (Faculty of Management, Dept of Organization Management, Rutgers University, Newark, USA)
Publisher:INFORMS - Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences
Keywords:Innovation, Knowledge management, Sensemaking
Last update:2001