Andreas König, together with his co-authors Professor Nadine Kammerlander (WHU Vallendar) and Professor Melanie Richards (University of Bristol), has just published a new article, entitled “Why Do Incumbents Respond Heterogeneously to Disruptive Innovations? The Interplay of Organizational Domain Identity and Role Identity.” The paper will be enclosed in a special issue on “Managing in the Age of Disruption” edited by S. Ansari, R. Garud, and A. Kumaraswamy, in the Journal of Management Studies.
In the paper, the authors adopt a multifaceted view of organizational identity to contribute to research on organizational identity and incumbent adaptations to disruptive innovations, especially disruptions fueled by digitalization. Based on a qualitative, multi-case study on the responses of German publishing houses to the emergence of digitalization, they distill a novel and thus far disregarded facet of organizational identity: organizational role identity. The authors show how organizational role identity and organizational domain identity—the facet that has so far dominated research on identity and innovation—interactively determine how organizations interpret and respond to a disruptive innovation. In contrast to previous studies, the paper shows that incumbents experience dysfunctional identity-driven struggles when one of the two identity facets is challenged by the disruptive innovation while the other is enhanced. The authors also induce that domain and role identities might jointly determine how quickly incumbents react to a disruption, whether they adopt that disruption, and the innovativeness of their responses.
The paper has fundamental implications also for practicing managers. In particular, it study reiterates calls for greater managerial awareness of the specificities of disruptive or discontinuous change, and the need to adapt processes and structures to different levels of uncertainty. When facing a disruptive innovation, executives should try to assess evolving identity perceptions. Moreover, they should be keenly aware of the two facets of domain identity and role identity, and work to foster perceptions of what the authors call a “shaper” identity, which seems particularly useful in times of disruption. By extension, managers should view organizational struggles as potential triggers for particularly innovative responses. The struggle itself does not necessarily need to be avoided. Instead, dysfunctional struggles need to be transformed into functional ones. Altogether, these insights might be particularly important for companies struggling to adapt to the digital transformation.