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A Dialectic Perspective on Innovation: Conflicting Demands, Multiple Pathways, and Ambidexterity


  • This research was supported by a scholarship (D/08/45383) of the German Academic Exchange Service granted to the first author and a research grant by the Volkswagen Foundation (II/82 408). We appreciate the thoughtful comments of our colleague Kathrin Rosing. Furthermore, we would like to thank our colleagues Andreas Bausch, Nataliya Baytalskaya, Verena Mueller, Nina Rosenbusch, Alexander Schwall, and Shaker Zahra for discussions on initial ideas from which the current manuscript emerged.

Ronald Bledow. E-mail:
Department of Work and Organizational Psychology, Otto-Behaghel-Str. 10F, 35394 Giessen, Germany. University of Giessen


Innovation, the development and intentional introduction of new and useful ideas by individuals, teams, and organizations, lies at the heart of human adaptation. Decades of research in different disciplines and at different organizational levels have produced a wealth of knowledge about how innovation emerges and the factors that facilitate and inhibit innovation. We propose that this knowledge needs integration. In an initial step toward this goal, we apply a dialectic perspective on innovation to overcome limitations of dichotomous reasoning and to gain a more valid account of innovation. We point out that individuals, teams, and organizations need to self-regulate and manage conflicting demands of innovation and that multiple pathways can lead to idea generation and innovation. By scrutinizing the current use of the concept of organizational ambidexterity and extending it to individuals and teams, we develop a framework to help guide and facilitate future research and practice. Readers expecting specific and universal prescriptions of how to innovate will be disappointed as current research does not allow such inferences. Rather, we think innovation research should focus on developing and testing principles of innovation management in addition to developing decision aids for organizational practice. To this end, we put forward key propositions and action principles of innovation management.