Unlocking the potential of distance: Exploring the acquisition and assimilation process of distant sources for innovative purposes

Jasper Sempel

Student thesis: Master thesis


This study is placed in the context of open innovation in relation to the use of cognitively and contextually distant sources for innovative purposes. Its goal is to deepen the understanding about the acquisition and assimilation of knowledge from distant sources, and to explore and illustrate ways in which organizations strategically cope with these increasingly challenging processes. Aiming to explore organizational complexity without desiring broad generalizations, this project pursues to facilitate polyvocality. Bridging the existing research‐gap between (1) open innovation, (2) distant sources, and (3) organizational dynamics, the following question leads this project: How do Organizational Strategies and Knowledge Management influence respectively the Acquisition and Assimilation of Knowledge from Distant Sources? With the initial use of theoretical insights about external sources in the innovation process, the research is based on an explorative approach. In‐depth interviews were held with 9 professionals located in Denmark, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, with responsibilities that affect their organizations’ innovative practices. In each of the interviews a dynamic guideline was followed whereby both the researcher and the respondent were able to discuss topics that they ought to be relevant – the researcher based on a theoretical foundation; the respondent based on his professional experience. The findings indicate and illustrate that, first, the effort to acquire distant sources is influenced by the perception of high uncertainty about the relevance of distant knowledge which requires a human mind‐shift and strategic flexibility through decoupling, and by the type of customer relation. Second, the main purpose to acquire distant sources is that of new‐market application and, to a lesser degree, core‐product development. Third, human resources’ broad interests and networks can be used to locate distant sources and are activated by using respectively cross‐industrial field‐configuring events and new online social media. Fourth, instead of actively searching, organizations adopt magnetic strategies to be found. Fifth, the search for distant sources remains project based without structural implementation or consistent re‐use. Concerning the assimilation of distant knowledge, first, empathy is required and can be created by the exchange of contextual dynamics or activating employees’ side‐skills. Second, the role of distant sources has to be explicated and emphasized or tempered. Third, compressed timeframes positively influence distant‐source projects. Fourth, reducing physical distance facilitates face‐2‐face communication which promotes assimilation. The findings suggest that the acquisition and assimilation of distant sources can be approached from three dimensions that illustrate organizational complexity. A mental dimension describes effort by valuing distant knowledge, pushing the willingness to use distant sources to the back‐ or foreground. A contextual dimension describes empathy by broad knowledge, influencing the ability to see potential and bridge the cognitive gap. A practical dimension focuses on concrete activities and describes the factual outcome of strategic decisions.

EducationsMSocSc in Management of Creative Business Processes , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages81