Original Research

Innovation in a complex environment

René Pellissier
South African Journal of Information Management | Vol 14, No 1 | a499 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajim.v14i1.499 | © 2012 René Pellissier | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 27 August 2011 | Published: 28 November 2012

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Background: As our world becomes more global and competitive yet less predictable, the focus seems to be increasingly on looking to innovation activities to remain competitive. Although there is little doubt that a nation’s competitiveness is embedded in its innovativeness, the complex environment should not be ignored. Complexity is not accounted for in balance sheets or reported in reports; it becomes entrenched in every activity in the organisation. Innovation takes many forms and comes in different shapes.

Objectives: The study objectives were, firstly, to establish the determinants for complexity and how these can be addressed from a design point of view in order to ensure innovation success and, secondly, to determine how this changes innovation forms and applications.

Method: Two approaches were offered to deal with a complex environment – one allowing for complexity for organisational innovation and the other introducing reductionism to minimise complexity. These approaches were examined in a qualitative study involving case studies, open-ended interviews and content analysis between seven developing economy (South African) organisations and seven developed economy (US) organisations.

Results: This study presented a proposed framework for (organisational) innovation in a complex environment versus a framework that minimises complexity. The comparative organisational analysis demonstrated the importance of initiating organisational innovation to address internal and external complexity, with the focus being on the leadership actions, their selected operating models and resultant organisational innovations designs, rather than on technological innovations.

Conclusion: This study cautioned the preference for technological innovation within organisations and suggested alternative innovation forms (such as organisational and management innovation) be used to remain competitive in a complex environment.



Complexity; complex adaptive systems; complex response processes; complexity in management; resilience; technological and organisational innovation


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