Exploration and Exploitation

So far we have looked at literature that deals with the individual and group level processes. However, dual processes have also been proposed at the organizational level for innovation. These are referred to as exploration and exploitation. Exploration requires search, variation, experimentation, and discovery, whereas exploitation is linked to notions of refinement, efficiency, selection, implementation, and convergent thinking (Andriopoulos & Lewis, 2009; March, 1991). Strategy literature usually links exploration to the search for new products, processes or services and exploitation to incremental improvements in existing products, processes, and services (Yukl, 2009), this difference of target for exploration and exploitation is not contained in their original conceptualizations and we use these terms simply as short forms to the notions they are related to. This is also the way in which these terms have been used by Rosing et al. (2011). Therefore, explorative activities are those activities that entail search, variation, experimentation and discovery, whereas exploitative activities are those that entail refinement, selection, efficiency, and implementation.

Thus, we see that no matter what duality we concern ourselves with, whether novelty-usefulness, generation-implementation or exploration- exploitation. These constructs are linked to different activities that need to be undertaken by an individual or team that wishes to be innovative. We follow Rosing et al. (2011) and use the terms explorative and exploitative activities to refer to these activities.

These activities, however, do not follow a linear process as is implied by stage-based models of innovation. In the next section, we argue for the non-linear and iterative nature of the innovation process, such that there is no specific order in which these activities need to be undertaken.

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