Case Questions Help me answer 4 questions in the business case:   After reading Innovation Strategies Combined and Star Alliance 2020, answer the followi

Case Questions Help me answer 4 questions in the business case:

 

After reading Innovation Strategies Combined and Star Alliance 2020, answer the following questions to help you formulate a case analysis.

This is in lieu of a summary analysis and knowledge check, thus worth 20 points.

1. Why are there so many alliances in the global airline industry? What is their logic?

2. How does the Star Alliance govern its network of member airlines?

3. Faced with the COVID-19 crisis, what approach should Star Alliance and its member airlines follow?

4. What is the future of alliances in the global industry? Innovation Strategies
Combined

S P R I N G 2 0 1 0 V O L . 5 1 N O . 3

R E P R I N T N U M B E R 5 1 3 1 3

Intelligence

A brief discussion of the pros and cons of four different
approaches to innovation and how these strategies are likely
to interact when used in tandem, by Frank T. Rothaermel and

Andrew M. Hess

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COURTESY OF BMW GROUP SPRING 2010 MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW 13

[INNOVATION]

Innovation Strategies
Combined
Some approaches to achieving innovation work well
together — but some don’t.
BY FRANK T. ROTHAERMEL AND ANDREW M. HESS

Continuous innovation is the engine that drives highly successful companies such as Apple, Gen-
eral Electric, Google, Honda, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Sony, Tata group
and many others. Innovation is an especially potent competitive weapon in tough economic
times because it allows companies to redefine the marketplace in their favor and achieve much-
needed growth. However, achieving continuous innovation is very hard, and most attempts fail.

One increasingly popular way to think about innovation is to conceive of it as an open rather
than a closed system — a concept Henry Chesbrough and others have written about. To con-
tinue to be innovative in a world of widely distributed knowledge, many companies are
recognizing that they must open their innovation process to combine internal with external
R&D. That can be done by bringing in new human capital, engaging in strategic alliances or ac-
quiring technology ventures. By the same token, internal inventions that a company decides
not to pursue should not simply be shelved, but rather considered for commercialization
through licenses, spin-offs or joint ventures.

If an open innovation system does in fact help drive growth and performance, managers
need to answer two critical questions:
1. Which innovation strategies should the company pursue?
2. Which innovation strategies go well together?

To answer these important questions, we spent five years studying how global pharmaceuti-
cal companies have built innovative capabilities in biotechnology. We documented, in great
detail, the annual R&D expenses of 81 global pharmaceutical companies over a 22-year period,

BMW Group is an example
of a company that excels in

leveraging R&D expenditures
to achieve innovation.

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SLOANREVIEW.MIT.EDU14 MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW SPRING 2010

I N T E L L I G E N C E

along with every biotech and non-biotech patent the companies filed,
every scientist who worked for one of the companies, all alliances entered
into and all acquisitions consummated during that period. In particular, we
tracked approximately 900 acquisitions, 4,000 alliances, 13,200 biotech-
nology patents, 110,000 non-biotechnology patents and 135,000
scientists; we used U.S. biotechnology patents granted as a proxy for in-
novation in this industry. Although the global pharmaceutical industry is
unique to some extent, we believe that our findings also hold for many
other industries, because new knowledge, human capital, strategic alli-
ances and acquisitions increasingly determine the success or failure of
individual businesses across a large number of industries today.

Deciding Which Innovation Strategy to Pursue
The question of which innovation strategies to pursue is critical, because
corporate executives have multiple strategies for achieving innovation at
their disposal. They can decide to spend more on internal R&D, hire and
retain the best human capital, ally with innovative companies or buy inno-
vation through acquisitions. Each strategy has its distinct pros and cons, as
captured in the figure below. (See “Four Approaches to Innovation.”)

In addition to examining those four fundamental innovation strategies,
we also examined two different components of recruiting and retaining
superior human capital; our study distinguished between exceptional
“star” scientists and more typical “non-star” scientists. When considering
the importance of human capital, most CEOs think about how to recruit
and retain exceptional star performers. Non-star performers, however,
often get overlooked. And yet, these rank-and-file knowledge workers are
critical to innovative success. While star scientists can cue a company to
shifts in the knowledge environment and direct the organization toward
promising new areas, non-star scientists are the ones who integrate new
knowledge into processes and routines — and thereby execute the organi-
zational changes necessary to be innovative.

Which Innovation Strategies Go Well Together?
Although researchers have a fairly good understanding of innovation strate-
gies individually, the effects of pursuing various innovation strategies
simultaneously have not been known. That is a significant problem, because
clearly, executives can decide to pursue multiple innovation levers simulta-
neously. They can, for example, combine internal R&D spending with
acquisitions, or the recruitment of superior human capital with alliances.
Many other permutations are possible, thereby significantly increasing the
complexity that companies face when attempting to innovate. Moreover,
the business world is complex and messy — and does not conform to the
convenience found in most academic studies of keeping everything else
equal while studying the effects of one single innovation strategy at a time.

What happens when different innovation strategies are pursued si-
multaneously? Which innovation strategies go well together, and which
do not? In the matrix on the next page, we present a simplified version of
some of the results from our study, which were reported in detail in an
article in Organization Science. (See “The Effects of Simultaneous Inno-
vation Strategies.”) Green arrows denote strategies that go well
together, while red arrows show combinations that reduced the effec-
tiveness of a company’s investment in innovation strategies. (Blue boxes
indicate that there was neither a synergistic effect nor one that de-
creased expected innovative performance.)

As the matrix indicates, the combination of star and non-star perform-
ers enhances innovative performance: Our research highlights the
complementary roles that star and non-star performers play. Moreover,
our findings also show synergies between internal R&D expenditures and
alliances — and suggest that a strong internal R&D capability allows a
company to select and pursue the most promising strategic alliances. Fi-
nally, alliances and acquisitions frequently reinforce each other.

On the other hand, in some cases, pursuing multiple innovation
strategies simultaneously can actually reduce the effectiveness of a

FOUR APPROACHES TO INNOVATION
Companies have a variety of innovation levers at their disposal, but each strategy has its pros and cons and each requires different competencies.

INNOVATION STRATEGY UPSIDES DOWNSIDES SOME EXEMPLAR COMPANIES REQUIREMENTS

Recruiting and
Retaining Superior
Human Capital

• Better control of IP
• Long-term growth

focus
• Difficult for competi-

tors to imitate

• Organic growth
is slower

• Challenge of identify-
ing and valuing
superior human capital

• Goldman
Sachs

• Google
• Merck

• Research In
Motion

• Southwest
Airlines

• W.L. Gore

• Astute strategic human
resource management

• Organizational flexibility

Internal R&D Spending • Internalization of skills
and capabilities

• Full capture of returns

• Full risk exposure
• Long time horizon
• Uncertain returns

• Apple
• BMW
• Hewlett-Packard

• Culture of risk tolerance
• Organizational flexibility
• Long-term commitment

Strategic Alliances • Shared risk
• Multiple, small-scale

investments provide
strategic options

• Faster than internal
development

• Potential loss of
IP control

• Challenge of alignment
of goals

• Shared returns

• IBM
• Eli Lilly
• Oracle
• Procter & Gamble

• Dedicated function
for the management
of partnerships

Acquisitions • Faster than growing
organically

• Acquire innovative
technologies before
startups become
competitors

• Risk of overpaying
• Cultural integration

concerns
• Involves relying on

others for innovation

• Cisco
• General Electric
• Pfizer
• Microsoft

• Capability to identify
and assimilate
acquisition targets

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SPRING 2010 MIT SLOAN MANAGEMENT REVIEW 15SLOANREVIEW.MIT.EDU

company’s investments in innovation strategies. For example, our findings
suggest that the type of knowledge obtained through alliances and through
rank-and-file knowledge workers is often redundant. Similarly, investments
in star performers and R&D spending can also apparently lead to redundant
outcomes when both strategies are pursued simultaneously.

Understanding These Findings
To foster successful innovation, managers must be able not only to weigh
the strengths and weaknesses of each innovation mechanism but also to
understand and predict how these mechanisms are likely to interact when
used in tandem. The resources and capabilities required to pull any one in-
novation lever are not independent of those needed to pull a different
lever. Due to mounting performance pressures, managers often choose a
grab-bag approach to innovating, by employing a variety of available mech-
anisms simultaneously — without knowing the
possible deleterious interaction effects.

In contrast, our research points to important,
yet frequently overlooked interdependencies
across different innovation strategies. When
pursued in tandem, some innovation levers
positively reinforce one another, while others
compensate for one another. Our study empir-
ically validates the conclusion that just
because executives can pull a certain innova-
tion lever, does not mean they should. Using
more innovation strategies at once is not always better!

Although the results from our study are intriguing and valuable to man-
agers, an important caution is in order. Our research is focused on
understanding the innovation efforts of established, and, for the most part,
large companies (e.g., average, inflation-adjusted annual R&D expenditures
of more than $850 million). Given their size, many of the companies studied
have already developed competencies in specific innovation levers. For ex-
ample, one pharmaceutical company may have traditionally focused on
internally developing its research capabilities, while several others may
have more often chosen to build their innovation capabilities through acqui-
sitions and alliances. What’s more, there is no clear overlap between the
capabilities needed for developing a company’s human capital and those
needed for successfully managing alliances. Consequently, for the companies
we studied, the negative effects on innovation associated with combining
certain innovation strategies may reflect the opportunity costs of not focus-
ing more on an innovation approach that hones the company’s existing,
underlying competencies and harnesses its prior experience. The results
could be different for biotechnology startup companies. For example, given

the endemic resource constraints of technology startups, we speculate
that the negative consequences of combining noncompatible innovation
strategies may be even more pronounced. On the other hand, biotech
startups tend to be more nimble than large companies and are less bur-
dened with red tape. Our findings suggest that startups that have a keen
understanding of the effectiveness of their different innovation levers and
how to combine them can execute a winning innovation strategy.

Overall, our study found that the strategy that appears to have the greatest
impact on innovative performance is developing and fostering human capital.
One potential reason for the importance of this innovation strategy is related
to the notion of time horizons. For established companies, alliances and acqui-
sitions are often executed for the purposes of filling a specific need or
anticipated gap in the innovation pipeline. Indeed, some acquisitions are con-
summated out of panic, rather than from any long-term vision for a future

stream of innovations. In contrast, sustainable in-
novation is a long-term strategy that requires an
equally long-term strategic commitment by the
business — such as a strategy of developing su-
perior human capital.

Our goal is not to offer managers a one-
size-fits-all recipe for successful innovation.
Such a fool’s errand would miss one of the
points of our study, which is that the utilization
of an innovation lever is itself a significant in-
vestment that carries the burden of all

path-dependent activities. Rather than pulling every lever possible, man-
agers should carefully weigh the unforeseen costs — often opportunity
costs — associated with interdependencies between different innova-
tive mechanisms. Maximizing scale of inputs does not equal maximizing
innovative outputs. Recognizing this, managers should resist the siren
song of the innovation grab bag in favor of a more deliberate approach to
innovation that weighs not only where the organization is today, but
where it was yesterday and where it hopes to be tomorrow.

Frank T. Rothaermel is the Angel and Stephen M. Deedy Professor
of Strategy in the College of Management at the Georgia Institute
of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, and an Alfred P. Sloan Industry
Studies Fellow. Andrew M. Hess is an assistant professor of man-
agement at the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of
Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. Comment on this article or
contact the authors through smrfeedback@mit.edu.

Reprint 51313.

Copyright © Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2010. All rights reserved.

THE EFFECTS OF SIMULTANEOUS INNOVATION STRATEGIES
Our detailed study of
large pharmaceutical
companies’ innovation
strategies in biotech-
nology found that
combining some strate-
gies tended to result in
synergies that im-
proved innovation
performance, but other
strategy combinations
interacted negatively. Green arrows denote strategies that go well together, while red arrows show combinations that can reduce the effec-
tiveness of a company’s investments in innovation. Blue boxes indicate that there was neither a synergistic effect nor one that decreased
expected innovative performance.

NON-STARS STARS R&D ALLIANCES ACQUISITIONS

NON-STARS — ! ■ ” ■
STARS ! — ” ■ ■
R&D ■ ” — ! ■
ALLIANCES ” ■ ! — !
ACQUISITIONS ■ ■ ■ ! —

RELATED RESEARCH
F.T. Rothaermel and A.M.
Hess, “Building Dynamic
Capabilities: Innovation
Driven by Individual-,
Firm-, and Network-Level
Effects,” Organization
Science 18, no. 6 (November–
December 2007): 898-921.

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