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Organizing for Innovation

Archive StampProseminar Strategy and Organization in Technology Markets

Dr. Sam MacAulay (Imperial College London)

Course Overview

An organization's fate is intimately tied to the innovations they bring to life. This process of creating innovation is often chaotic, unpredictable, risky and uncertain and there are many different ways organizations go about bringing order and coherence to it. For instance, Valve Corporation, maker of games like Half-Life and Left 4 Dead, has no organizational chart and lets employees choose which projects they work on. There are no bosses! Valve's founders, who had previously worked at Microsoft, concluded that the Microsoft way of organizing innovation had to be turned on its head. Hierarchy, the defining feature of most 20th century organizations, was out and was to be replaced with a largely autonomous community form of organization. This choice has made the organization of innovation at Valve different, not just to Microsoft, but also to that in its major competitors like Activision and Electronic Arts.

If you were in the same position as Valve's founders, how would you organize for innovation? And why? If you are interested in the answers to these questions, then you will be interested in attending this class. By the end of the class, you will have in-depth knowledge of the challenges of organizing innovation and be able to intelligently compare and contrast them using illustrative examples.

We will be investigating two specific questions about the organization of innovation:

  1. How are organizational boundaries drawn around the innovation process? So, in practice, why might you choose to outsource research and development to an external company like Sagentia? Or why might you decide to launch an open innovation programme like Proctor and Gamble's "Connect + Develop"?
  2. How are organizational resources and capabilities orchestrated to generate innovation? So, in practice, why might you choose to create a formal research and development department like Bayer AG in the late 1900s? Or why might you choose to broadcast innovation challenges to employees like IBM did with its "innovation jam"?

Our class will focus on approaches different organizations have used to tackle these challenges. The organizations we examine will be diverse, ranging from Google, Du Pont and Wedgewood, through to the UK Government, the Syrian insurgency and London's Crossrail infrastructure project. The course will be taught using a combination of lectures, case studies and class discussion.

Course Structure

Each session starts out with the presentation and discussion of a business case which highlights one or two major challenges in the management of innovations. The lecture material extends and broadens the lessons learned from the case discussion. In the afternoon, students (in groups) prepare the case study for the next session. Sessions are designed to be highly interactive, so it is important that all students are prepared for each session. The course is rounded off with a written, case-based examination.

About the Lecturer

Sam MacAulay joined Imperial College Business School in September 2011 as a Research Associate in the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Group. His research draws on organization science and economic sociology to explain the micro-foundations of knowledge production in organizations and markets. Sam's Ph.D. at the University of Queensland combined research on social networks and organizational learning to understand how individuals search for knowledge in large complex organizations. Working with Andy Davies at the Bartlett School, University College London, Sam is now extending his prior work by examining how individuals broker knowledge across organizational boundaries in large complex project-based organizations. This brokerage process is studied using recent advances in social network theory and process research methods. The research is designed to reveal how individuals working in boundary rich organizations successfully navigate the tension between cooperation and competition to recombine knowledge and close the loop in organizational learning.


To apply, please send your CV and a recent transcript to Dainis Zegners ( by 28.02.2014, 12:00 (confirmation of participation: 05.03.2014). By attending the kickoff session, you are bindingly enrolled into the seminar.



  • The course is held as a block seminar in English
  • Attendance to all lectures of the course is mandatory
  • This seminar does not qualify for a Bachelor thesis at the ISTO according to the examination regulations (107 kB)
  • The number of participants is limited to 20
  • Students are expected to have taken at least one introductory course in microeconomics, strategic management, organizational design or technology & information management that has familiarized them with core problems and issues related to strategy and organization design
  • A more detailed course syllabus will be made available a few weeks before the course
  • A broad introduction to some of the topics discussed in the course is provided by Schilling, Melissa A. (2010): Strategic Management of Technological Innovation, McGraw-Hill/Irwin, New York, NY.
Dates Monday, 12.05.2014, 10:00-13:00, Schackstr. 4/III, Room 307
Tuesday, 13.05.2014, 10:00-13:00, Schackstr. 4/III, Room 307
Wednesday, 14.05.2014, 09:00-12:00, Schackstr. 4/III, Room 307
Thursday, 15.05.2014, 09:00-12:00, Schackstr. 4/III, Room 307
Friday, 16.05.2014, 10:00-13:00, Schackstr. 4/III, Room 307
Deadlines Friday, 28.02.2014, 12:00 (Application) 
Credits 3 ECTS in module M/F-BWL (PO 08)
Examination 15 min. presentation