Tag Archives: innovation

How the sun also rises- on solar energy, institutional shifts and industry creation

Day three of my policy of writing about each paper/book I read under three categories (in escalating importance

a) highlight interesting theory/facts
b) relate the reading to other (academic) reading, and
c) how it helps me move forward on my Thesis, (Handing Over M-phatically   August/September ’17)   (aka “THOMAS”).

Today’s article (and yes, having to WRITE and even occasionally think has slowed down my reading already) is another corker, this time on the long slow (global) rise of solar.

Bohnsack, R. Pinske, J. and Waelpoel. A. 2016. The institutional evolution process of the global solar industry: The role of public and private actors in creating institutional shifts. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, Vol. 20, pp.16-32.

The article itself

The core contribution of the article is this –

“The study’s main contribution is in revealing that the development of the solar industry can be portrayed as a relay run, in which different actors, at different times, created the momentum for the industry’s evolution due to institutional shifts. We analyse this institutional evolution process by questioning which actors were responsible for the most significant institutional shifts that have moved the solar industry forward. Based on a study of the global solar industry, over the period of 1982–2012, the findings suggest that the main institutional shifts were the result of the interplay between different public and private actors that used various entrepreneurial mechanisms to drive the institutional evolution process.”

(Bohnsack et al. 2016: 17 )

There’s stuff on cognitive legitimacy, the work that companies do to lower prices and maintain quality (and so create expectations) and what government do (and do not) do to create “stimuli-based institutional shifts“.  Market creation etc. There’s a very neat brief history of the solar industry pre-1982 (think calculators and satellites) too.

After trawling through a lot newspaper articles and building a nifty timeline, the authors create a three part periodisation, and show how that ‘relay race’ has been run from Japan to Germany to China  (Australia, with it’s clever people but endless brain drain, doesn’t cop a mention). They conclude that

“While technological breakthroughs have been pertinent to the creation of the industry, our analysis shows that the industry’s institutional evolution has also been determined by institutional shifts. While companies seem to have employed a mechanism based on knowledge diffusion to create institutional shifts, governments used a stimuli-based mechanism instead. What differed in the process of creating institutional shifts was not only who the actors were that acted as institutional entrepreneurs, but also what role they played in this process.
(Bohnsack et al. 2016: 31)

And this perspective, they hope, will  allow everyone to

“go beyond the traditional dichotomy in transition studies of whether the forces that transform an industry come from outside, from new entrants that disrupt established industries, or from within, from incumbents (Bergek et al., 2013). Whereas previous studies have examined how incumbents use institutional approaches to resist change in their industry (Smink et al., 2015)”
(Bohnsack et al. 2016: 31)

Loads of mouth-watering references, most of them for the post-THOMAS world…


Aldrich, H.E., Fiol, C.M., 1994. Fools rush in? The institutional context of industry creation. Acad. Manage. Rev. 19, 645–670.

Battilana, J., Leca, B., Boxenbaum, E., 2009. How actors change institutions: towards a theory of institutional entrepreneurship. Acad. Manage. Ann. 3,65–107.

Bohnsack, R., Kolk, A., Pinkse, J., 2015. Catching recurring waves: low-emission vehicles, international policy developments and firm innovation strategies. Technol. Forecasting Social Change 98, 71–87.

Hoffman, A.J., 1999. Institutional evolution and change: environmentalism and the U.S. chemical industry. Acad. Manage. J. 42, 351–371.

Lawrence, T.B., Phillips, N., 2004. From Moby Dick to Free Willy: macro-cultural discourse and institutional entrepreneurship in emerging institutional fields. Organization 11, 689–711

Lawrence, T.B., Suddaby, R., 2006. Institutions and institutional work. In: Clegg, S.R., Hardy, C.,

Munir, K.A., Phillips, N., 2005. The birth of the ‘Kodak Moment’: Institutional entrepreneurship and the adoption of new technologies. Organiz. Stud. 26,1665–1687.Oliver, C., 1992.

Pinkse, J., Groot, K., 2015. Sustainable entrepreneurship and corporate political activity: overcoming market barriers in the clean energy sector. Entrepreneur. Theory Practice 39, 633–654.

Pinkse, J., van den Buuse, D., 2012. The development and commercialization of solar PV technology in the oil industry. Energy Policy 40, 11–20.


How relates to other reading.
Well, there is the whole stuff around path creation/market creation of course.
Lamertz et al on “institutional redesign”
Also heresthetics and sociology of expectations stuff…

How it helps me move forward on THOMAS.
This notion of institutional shifts and institutional work (IW).  Here you see industry’s doing knowledge-based IW governments doing stimuli-based IW.  In my case study, you’d turn that on its head and look at the state and corporations doing what could be called offensive institutional work (I’ve written about it a bit already, here).


Innovation in complex systems? Oh, FFS…. And CCS

By FFS I mean “Full-Flight Simulators”.  What am I on about? So, innovation in mass produced commodity products (aka “widgets”) is, cough, relatively straight-forward.  Lots of opportunities for iteration, incremental learning, process and product innovation, tacit knowledge creation/management.    Shakeouts after the establishment of a ‘dominant design’, followed by incremental shifts that squeeze a leetle more efficiency out … But what if your product is incredibly complicated, and essentially a “one” (or maybe up to five) “off”?  Say, for example, flight simulators.  That is, what if it is part of a “Complex System”  (CS).  You see, I’ve been reading, awestruck at its coolness, this –

Reading and loving – Miller, R. Hobday, M, Leoux-Demers, T. and Olleros, X. 1995. Innovation in Complex Systems Industries: The Case of Flight Simulation. Industrial and Corporate Change Volume 4, Issue 2 363-400

Miller et al. argue that

while the conventional model may apply to mass market commodity products it is highly unlikely to apply to another important group of products and industries, classified here as CSs.2 As Part I argues, CSs account for a significant proportion of industrial output. In contrast with commodity goods, complex product systems are large item, customized, engineering intensive goods which are seldom, if ever, mass produced.3 Examples include flight simulators, telecommunications exchanges, electrical power equipment, military systems, airplanes, helicopters, flexible manufacturing systems, chemical process plant, intelligent buildings and nuclear power equipment.

(Miller et al. 1995: 364)

CSes have three ‘watch out, these aren’t just widgets’ features . They are

“first, they made up of many interconnected, often customized, elements (including control units, sub-systems and components), usually organized in a hierarchical way; second, CSs exhibit non-linear and continuously emerging properties, whereby small changes in one part of the system can lead to large alterations in other parts of the system; and third, there is a high degree of user involvement in the innovation process, through which the needs of the economic environment feed directly into the innovation process (rather than through the market as in the standard model).”
(Miller et al. 1995: 368)

They did a bucketload (like 120!!) of interviews and really got “into” the development of the flight simulator industry, and tell the tale well –

FS was born when Ed Link patented a simple mechanical flight trainer in 1929- During World War II electronic analogue simulators were built to train pilots and reduce the number of accidents. Early commercialization began with Link, Miles and the Wright Brothers. In 1951 Redifon (now Rediffusjon) built a Stratocruiser simulator for BOAC. BOAC and Lufthansa placed initial orders with CAE of Canada in the early 1960s.

From the early 1950s to the mid-1960s (prior to digital computing) a long period of experimentation took place, but there was little in the way of landmark innovations. Analogue computers improved gradually, as did the hydraulics and visuals. During this period the industry began a slow take-off.

During the late-1960s digital mainframe computers took over from analogue ones, leading to a rapid improvement in the fidelity, speed and capacity of FSs. However, up until the late-1970s pilots were mostly trained in airplanes. Simulators were viewed as a complement to live training rather than a substitute for it. Some training credits were granted by the regulators, but the process of certification was ill-defined and informal. Simulator technology was perceived as inadequate for manoeuvres such as take-off, landing and missed approach. Increasingly, though, the needs of more powerful jet aircraft encouraged a focus on problems such as air turbulence, recovery manoeuvres and landing and take-off procedures so that costly and dangerous live training in aircraft could be minimized.
(Miller et al. 1995: 376)

It’s a complicated business of course –

Full-flight simulators (FFSs) are full-size replicas of specific aircraft cockpits. They combine mathematical models and original flight data to simulate the behaviour of the aircraft and record pilots’ responses to changing conditions. Given the cost of commercial flight time, pilot training and re-training is carried out in FFSs.

(Miller et al. 1995: 377)

and so

FS makers are required to master at least four technical fields: (i) the skills to integrate interdependent hardware and software components (motion, visual, computer and cockpit) into a coherent whole (the simulator); (ii) the know-how to use and develop the mathematical simulations which replicate the behaviour of the aircraft (as well as the actions of pilots and crew); (iii) the detailed knowledge of client requirements for training, checking and quality programmes which involves theoretical work as well as teaching methods; and (iv) a knowledge of rules and regulations (notably the acceptance test guides) which specify the requirements for simulator approval.
(Miller et al. 1995:381)

So, given that, it comes down to a very complicated and “uncertain” set of processes, that go far beyond “the invisible hand of the market” –

To sum up, the need to coordinate innovation in FS called forth a complex institutional superstructure. New technology proposals are channelled through professional bodies such as the Royal Aeronautical Society. Acceptance test guides are established by regulators who then specify approval requirements and validate tests during and after the development of an FS. After contracting, trust and reciprocity are necessary between buyers and sellers. Because many uncertainties have to be resolved during the process of innovation in FSs, they cannot be purchased as arm’s length market transactions as in the standard model. Instead, intense relational transactions develop, allowing for constant information exchange and regular interaction between industry participants. Continuity of relationships is valued and respected, and helps define the competence of partners. Innovation in FS unfolds within a set of governing institutions where, as discussed below, cooperation and competition co-exist.
(Miller et al. 1995: 384)

So, Schumpetarians, this is a bit more complicated than you’d like to believe-

As noted in Part I, in the conventional Schumpeterian model, radical technological discontinuity leads to creative industrial disruption. Subsequent process and product innovations shape observed patterns of exit and entry (Tushman and Anderson, 1986; Utterback and Suarez, 1993). These elements of the conventional model do not fit the FS industry, nor are they likely to apply to other CSs industries (Hobday, 1994).
(Miller et al. 1995: 386)

And, generally, we forget the past, (if we ever knew it), and fill it in with convenient just-so stories…  Research like this reminds us that

“the institutional structures and processes taken for granted in today’s industry did not simply occur or arise out of market transactions. On the contrary, they were initiated and crafted by a small number of key individuals widely recognized across the industry as entrepreneurial leaders, not only in the field of technical innovation but also in the areas of regulation, standards and consensus building. Each successive wave of technological change was associated with one or more industry champions, including Edward Booth (Federal Aviation Administration), Captain Ray Jones (Royal Aeronautical Society), Brian Hamson (CAE), Vince de Paulo (American Airlines), Hans Dieter Hass (Lufthansa) and M. Bess (Air France). Drawn from a variety of groups in the innovation structure, these individual were entrusted by their organizations to bring about progress in the national and international decision-making institutions, for the benefit of the entire FS industry.”
(Miller et al. 1995: 390)

Nothing, absolutely nothing, in this makes me think that CCS ever stood a chance, as a world-wide diffused technology dependent on not just human smarts (FFS) but also co-opeative geology.

We’re so toast. Carpe the goddam diems.

BTW – Here’s the abstract

The paper proposes that the notion of complex systems usefully describes a group of large scale, customized products and their associated supply industries. Examples include flight simulators (FSs), telecommunications exchanges, military systems, airplanes, chemical process plants and heavy electrical equipment. Complex systems, made up of many interconnected customized components, exhibit emerging properties through time as they respond to the evolving needs of large users. Taking the FS industry as a case history, the study identifies some of the basic rules governing innovation in this industry. These rules contrast sharply with those typically found in the ‘conventional’, market contest Schumpeterian model. Innovation in FS is coordinated by an institutional structure made up of suppliers, users, regulators, industry associations and professional bodies. In contrast with co.tventional market selection, new designs are negotiated prior to product development. Long-term stability among FS makers is observed, despite radical technological discontinuities, as industrial adjustment occurs via the exit and entry of specialist suppliers. There is no dominant design in the usual sense, nor do the conventional rules of volume competition and  process-intensive innovation apply in FS. Competitive strategies remain focused upon design, engineering and prototype development, rather than incremental process innovation. Collaboration occurs among the innovation actors within institutions created by them to harness innovation and to allow new product markets to develop. Recognizing the limits of a single case, the paper suggests that other complex systems might exhibit similar processes for governing innovation and reducing risk and uncertainty in the  absence of conventional Schumpeterian market mechanisms. 

Star Trek, innovation theory and “dominant designs”

Article discussed:  Rebecca M. Henderson and Kim B. Clark (1990) “Architectural Innovation: The Reconfiguration of Existing Product Technologies and the Failure of Established Firms” Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 9-30.

Hugh_bodyThere’s an episode of Star Trek: the Next Generation called I, Borg, which is useful for thinking about innovation theory and ‘dominant design’.  No, seriously.

In it, the Good Guys (you can tell, because they’re mostly human) have captured a Bad Guy (wears black), an individual member of a hive mind called ‘The Borg’.

According to wikipedia

“Chief Engineer La Forge and Commander Data assist Dr. Crusher in bringing the Borg back to health. As they come to understand the workings of the Borg, La Forge and Data postulate an idea of using the Borg drone as a weapon of mass destruction. By implanting an unsolvable geometric formula into his mind and returning him back to the Collective, the formula should rapidly spread (similar to a computer virus) and disable the Borg.”

So, in my analogy, the Borg would be the existing company – big, powerful and confident that they knew what was best for everyone – competitors and supply chains (to be swallowed/vertically integrated), their own staff (to be hierarchised) and customers (to be monopolised if possible).  And they’d take what they thought was a ‘normal’ innovation within their ‘dominant design’.  And over time, it would seriously stuff them up.

The paper (Henderson and Clark, 1990) is seriously rich, and deserves more than a mildly forced sci-fi analogy.  But life is short, and I’ve a PhD to write…  Here are a couple of quotes from it, that should perhaps help

A dominant design;

The emergence of a new technology is usually a period of considerable confusion. There is little agreement about what the major subsystems of the product should be or how they should be put together. There is a great deal of experimentation (Burns and Stalker, 1966; Clark, 1985). For example, in the early days of the automobile industry, cars were built with gasoline, electric, or steam engines, with steering wheels or tillers, and with wooden or metal bodies (Abernathy, 1978). These periods of experimentation are brought to an end by the emergence of a dominant design (Abernathy and Utter-back, 1978; Sahal, 1986).

(Henderson and Clark, 1990: 14)

And an example of people not understanding that the parts might be re-arranged, and there is a larger system out there (in which the minor innovation could ruin your whole day/week/year/decade/livelihood) –

In the mid-1950s engineers at RCA’s corporate research and development center developed a prototype of a portable, transistorized radio receiver. The new product used technology in which RCA was accomplished (transistors, radio circuits, speakers, tuning devices), but RCA saw little reason to pursue such an apparently inferior technology. In contrast, Sony, a small, relatively new company, used the small transistorized radio to gain entry into the U.S. market. Even after Sony’s success was apparent, RCA remained a follower in the market as Sony introduced successive models with improved sound quality and FM capability. The irony of the situation was not lost on the R&D engineers: for many years Sony’s radios were produced with technology licensed from RCA, yet RCA had great difficulty matching Sony’s product in the marketplace( Clark, 1987).

(Henderson and Clark, 1990: 10)

As someone recently suggested, I should get a life…

All those Dialectic Issue LifeCycle Model agony aunt letters in one handy place

The Dialectic Issue LifeCycle Model (DILC) is a very cool heuristic for thinking about how some societal problems become issues, what industry does when the problems climb the political agenda, and how the issues are (or aren’t) ‘resolved’ – technological innovation (or lack thereof) in response to societal problems (car safety, local air pollution, climate change).  Here’s a video starring its progenitors. 

The DILC has five phases, and looks at three categories of actors in detail – those trying to get the issue onto the agenda (“activists”), those trying to keep it off/to shape the problem into a soluble issue (“industry”), and the state functionaries (elected and non-elected).

Last year I came up with the idea of each of these ideal types writing letters to an agony aunt during each of the phases, seeking her strategic advice.

Phase 1 Activists
Phase 1 Industry
Phase 1 State

Phase 2 Activists
Phase 2 Industry
Phase 2 State

Phase 3 Activists
Phase 3 Industry
Phase 3 State

Phase 4 Activists
Phase 4 Industry
Phase 4 State

Phase 5 Activists
Phase 5 Industry
Phase 5 State

Questions I ask myself about “Responsible Research”

What gets researched (and by extension, what doesn’t)

Who does the research?

With what resources (and what strings attached – what’s the accountability)


When the results are “in,” how are they presented? When? Where? To who? Who is “allowed” to dispute the methodology, how?

What is then DONE with the results?

How do they feed into public discourse?

Are future generations and other species ‘at the table’ in any format at any stage? (Ombudsman etc)

As for innovation, well same questions, but – does this innovation help prop up unsustainable/unjust socio-technical systems (Sailing Ship effect etc) or does it (as far as anyone can predict!!) accelerate regime destabilisation and replacement by other niche actors  (That’s horribly reductive and binary a way of thinking…)