Designing organizations for innovation in transitioning domains

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School of Science | Doctoral thesis (article-based)
Degree programme
70 + app. 164
Aalto University publication series DOCTORAL DISSERTATIONS, 61/2018
Operating in so-called socio-technical transitions sets high requirements to organizations. In the course of a transition, which typically spans several decades, existing organizations, products, services and business models are structurally challenged, while opportunities for more sustainable new technologies, products, services, business models and organizations emerge. Survival and success in transitioning domains thus inherently depends on the ability of organizations to adapt to changing conditions and to continuously innovate; that is, to renew their product and service portfolios, business models and organizational structures. Against this background, this dissertation investigates the topic of organization design for innovation in transitioning domains. The central question of the dissertation is: How to design organizations that succeed at innovation in transitioning domains? The dissertation tackles the central research question from the viewpoint of three distinct organizational profiles, each having a key role in transitioning domains: ventures, incumbents and systemic intermediaries. In study one, we theoretically develop design propositions regarding the strategies of ventures pioneering path-breaking innovation in orchestrating an innovation network toward higher socio-technical acceptance of the product-service (system) commonly achieved by that network. In study two, we perform a systematic literature search and synthesis to develop design principles for building an organizational system for major innovation in incumbent firms. We proceed by contextualizing the resulting general framework of several hundred interlinked design principles toward a design solution specifically for power utility firms. In study three, in a qualitative longitudinal case study, we study the evolution of a systemic intermediary organization with regard to their transition-support activities. From the case study, we destil a design solution for dynamically managing and governing the activities of systemic intermediaries. Finally, study four distinguishes from the other studies in that we develop a design theory that encompasses a method for mapping, designing and analyzing (i.e., modeling) innovation ecosystems, regardless of the organizational profile performing these activities. As such, the fourth study targets a methodological contribution to organization design to fulfill a practical, as well as a scholarly need for analytical tools on innovation ecosystems. Overall, the dissertation makes three main contributions. First, it contributes to transition studies by building the foundations for, and demonstrating the relevance of organization design as a distinct area of inquiry within transition studies. Second, we build the foundation for considering one type of networked organization: the innovation ecosystem (within the structuralist perspective) as an object of design. Third, we carry over from management information systems research to organization and innovation studies the concept of design theory as an integrated boundary object.
The thesis is part of the PhD thesis series of the Beta Research School for Operations Management and Logistics ( in which the following universities cooperate: Eindhoven University of Technology, Maastricht University, University of Twente, VU Amsterdam, Wageningen University and Research, and KU Leuven.
Supervising professor
Holmström, Jan, Prof., Aalto University, Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, Finland
Romme, Georges, Prof., Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands
Thesis advisor
Walrave, Bob, Dr., Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands
Podoynitsyna, Ksenia, Dr., Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands
organization design, socio-technical transition, innovation ecosystem, innovation strategy, major innovation, transition studies, design science, design theory
  • [Publication 1]: Walrave B., Talmar M., Podoynitsyna K.S., Romme A.G.L, Verbong G.P.J. (Forthcoming). A multi-level perspective on innovation ecosystems for path-breaking innovation. Technological Forecasting and Social Change. In Press.
  • [Publication 2]: Talmar M., Walrave B., Holmström J., Romme A.G.L. (2016). Can elephants still dance? Major innovation in incumbent power utilities. Proceedings to the Acedemy of Management Annual Meeting 2016, Anaheim, August 5-9, 2016, Pg 1-40.
  • [Publication 3]: Talmar M., Walrave B., Raven R.P.J.M., Romme A.G.L. (2018) Intermediary role dynamics in system-level transitions. Working paper. Pg 1-45.
  • [Publication 4]: Talmar M., Walrave B., Podoynitsyna K.S., Holmström J. (2017) Mapping, designing and analyzing innovation ecosystems. Proceedings to the International Product Development Management Conference 2017, Reykjavik, 11-13 June, 2017, Pg 1-40.