research@hec - Issue #29 - (Page 6)
Searching for new sources of innovation:
The role of consumers
While economic research has traditionally emphasized knowledge and technology as the main force driving innovation, Giada Di Stefano, Alfonso Gambardella and Gianmario Verona have noticed renewed interest in demand as a potential source of innovation, and urge companies to develop demand-oriented skills and even embrace users in order to better match internal and external sources of innovation.
Giada Di Stefano
Giada Di Stefano has been assistant professor of strategy and business policy at HEC since January 2012. She obtained her M.Sc. in business administration in 2003 then her Ph.D. in business administration and management in 2011 from Milan's Bocconi University. She also worked as a senior product manager at L'Oréal's Italian branch from 2003 to 2005.
Shampoos and anti-wrinkle creams are what set Giada Di Stefano on her path of research into sources of innovation. When working as product manager for L’Oréal, she noticed that technical innovation, which one wouldn’t necessarily associate with cosmetics, was behind a number of novel products—those based on a new molecule for example. But the company also tracked the preferences of users—of the market—to come up with new lines of products, such as “cosmeceuticals”, i.e. cosmetics resembling pharmaceutical products. “I could see the potential concrete applications of the theoretical debate,” recalls Giada Di Stefano. However, as a student, she realized that economic theory considered science and technology as the main “push” driving innovation and the debate appeared to have been more or less deadlocked since the 1980’s. “A strong position had been taken in 1977 by two authors, Stigler and Becker, who stated that de gustibus non est disputandum: consumers’ tastes were outside the scope of economic theory and best left to psychologists and anthropologists,” says Giada Di Stefano. At that time, scholars considered demand merely as a complement to technology, as a way of orienting innovation to better target the needs of the market.
But in recent years, academic literature on innovation started arguing that demand may play a more active role. This revived interest in the literature, together with Giada Di Stefano’s observations on the field, prompted her to take a closer look at the interaction between the two potential sources of innovation. She and her co-authors compiled the most relevant literature on the themes of innovation, technology and demand, and created a new framework of analysis.
CLUSTERS OF RESEARCH THEMES The three researcher literally “mapped” the field: using statistical analyses they clustered the 100 most influential papers on the subject into five broad groups; the clusters were then positioned on a two-dimensional map to make sense of the different underlying dimensions (internal/external factors, demand/technology). “We fitted it all into the big picture,” says Giada Di Stefano. And the big picture was still heavily focused on the classical role of technology in fostering innovation, with a particular emphasis on the role of knowledge and competences. Indeed, the two largest sets of related articles dealt with the capabilities of firms: internal skills, alliances with other firms, but also
• october-november 2012
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of research@hec - Issue #29
Cover & Contents
The Brand France, a source of great appeal
Managerial incentives: Life-cycles and the influence of learning processes
Searching for new sources of innovation: The role of consumers
research@hec - Issue #29