Accidental Innovation: Supporting Valuable Unpredictability in the Creative Process

Robert D. Austin, Lee Devin, Erin E. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Historical accounts of human achievement suggest that accidents can play an important role in innovation. In this paper, we seek to contribute to an understanding of how digital systems might support valuable unpredictability in innovation processes by examining how innovators who obtain value from accidents integrate unpredictability into their work. We describe an inductive, grounded theory project, based on 20 case studies, that looks into the conditions under which people who make things keep their work open to accident, the degree to which they rely on accidents in their work, and how they incorporate accidents into their deliberate processes and arranged surroundings. By comparing makers working in varied conditions, we identify specific factors (e.g., technologies, characteristics of technologies) that appear to support accidental innovation. We show that makers in certain specified conditions not only remain open to accident but also intentionally design their processes and surroundings to invite and exploit valuable accidents. Based on these findings, we offer advice for the design of digital systems to support innovation processes that can access valuable unpredictability.
Historical accounts of human achievement suggest that accidents can play an important role in innovation. In this paper, we seek to contribute to an understanding of how digital systems might support valuable unpredictability in innovation processes by examining how innovators who obtain value from accidents integrate unpredictability into their work. We describe an inductive, grounded theory project, based on 20 case studies, that looks into the conditions under which people who make things keep their work open to accident, the degree to which they rely on accidents in their work, and how they incorporate accidents into their deliberate processes and arranged surroundings. By comparing makers working in varied conditions, we identify specific factors (e.g., technologies, characteristics of technologies) that appear to support accidental innovation. We show that makers in certain specified conditions not only remain open to accident but also intentionally design their processes and surroundings to invite and exploit valuable accidents. Based on these findings, we offer advice for the design of digital systems to support innovation processes that can access valuable unpredictability.
LanguageEnglish
JournalOrganization Science
Volume23
Issue number5
Pages1505-1522
ISSN1047-7039
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

Keywords

    Cite this

    Austin, Robert D. ; Devin, Lee ; Sullivan, Erin E./ Accidental Innovation : Supporting Valuable Unpredictability in the Creative Process . In: Organization Science. 2012 ; Vol. 23, No. 5. pp. 1505-1522
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    Accidental Innovation : Supporting Valuable Unpredictability in the Creative Process . / Austin, Robert D.; Devin, Lee; Sullivan, Erin E.

    In: Organization Science, Vol. 23, No. 5, 2012, p. 1505-1522.

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

    TY - JOUR

    T1 - Accidental Innovation

    T2 - Organization Science

    AU - Austin,Robert D.

    AU - Devin,Lee

    AU - Sullivan,Erin E.

    PY - 2012

    Y1 - 2012

    N2 - Historical accounts of human achievement suggest that accidents can play an important role in innovation. In this paper, we seek to contribute to an understanding of how digital systems might support valuable unpredictability in innovation processes by examining how innovators who obtain value from accidents integrate unpredictability into their work. We describe an inductive, grounded theory project, based on 20 case studies, that looks into the conditions under which people who make things keep their work open to accident, the degree to which they rely on accidents in their work, and how they incorporate accidents into their deliberate processes and arranged surroundings. By comparing makers working in varied conditions, we identify specific factors (e.g., technologies, characteristics of technologies) that appear to support accidental innovation. We show that makers in certain specified conditions not only remain open to accident but also intentionally design their processes and surroundings to invite and exploit valuable accidents. Based on these findings, we offer advice for the design of digital systems to support innovation processes that can access valuable unpredictability.

    AB - Historical accounts of human achievement suggest that accidents can play an important role in innovation. In this paper, we seek to contribute to an understanding of how digital systems might support valuable unpredictability in innovation processes by examining how innovators who obtain value from accidents integrate unpredictability into their work. We describe an inductive, grounded theory project, based on 20 case studies, that looks into the conditions under which people who make things keep their work open to accident, the degree to which they rely on accidents in their work, and how they incorporate accidents into their deliberate processes and arranged surroundings. By comparing makers working in varied conditions, we identify specific factors (e.g., technologies, characteristics of technologies) that appear to support accidental innovation. We show that makers in certain specified conditions not only remain open to accident but also intentionally design their processes and surroundings to invite and exploit valuable accidents. Based on these findings, we offer advice for the design of digital systems to support innovation processes that can access valuable unpredictability.

    KW - Innovation

    KW - Accidental innovation

    KW - Accidental discovery

    KW - Accidental invention

    KW - Serendipity

    KW - D igital technology

    KW - Design of information systems

    U2 - 10.1287/orsc.1110.0681

    DO - 10.1287/orsc.1110.0681

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