Thesis Defence Barend Klitsie

16 September 2021 15:00 till 17:00 - By: Communication

On Thursday 16 September 2021, Barend Klitsie will defend his thesis ‘Overcoming the Valley of Death in a Service Organisation: Designing Innovation Implementation’. The defence will take place at 15.00 in TU Delft’s Aula.

Read Barend's thesis here.

Many large and mature organisations struggle to innovate sustainably, in part because of their rigid structures and processes that maintain the status quo. To overcome this, organisations increasingly deploy ‘innovation hubs’. Innovation hubs are partially independent physical and managerial spaces intended as safe havens for exploratory activities. Examples of hubs are Xerox's’ PARC and Google X ‘the Moonshot Factory’. These are spaces where innovators find freedom to challenge the status quo and where there is space to consider alternatives, to experiment and to learn.  

However, many service organisations (such as airlines and banks) are finding that innovative concepts from these hubs rarely get implemented and integrated into the operation. This gap that exists between concept generation and implementation is called the ‘Valley of Death’. In this research, I explore how the Valley of Death manifests in service organisations, identify barriers that contribute to the Valley of Death and investigate how design practices can help mitigate the VoD and promote implementation.

The study was performed using an Action Research approach. For 14 months, I embedded at a large airline and engaged with employees from different levels of the organisation in action cycles and collective reflection. The data gathered during this period informed four sets of insights. For example, I found that the metaphor of a singular ‘valley’ between two contributing units appears erroneous, as implementation challenges exceed the dichotomous relationship between design and production. I also found, that when there is no ‘Shadow of the Future’ and when hubs have limited access to resources, they struggle to mitigate the VoD.

One principal contribution to literature is the reconceptualisation of service innovation implementation. Instead of three sequential phases, ‘elaboration’, ‘championing’ and ‘production’ may be viewed as three reiterating micro-processes. The findings also add to a growing body of knowledge that considers the role of institutions in realising (service) innovation. Finally, insights from this study suggest a complicated relationship between design innovation and the successful implementation of these innovations, which I call the ‘Design Implementation Paradox’.

Above all, this research emphasises the limits of the ‘rogue innovator’ narrative and provides principles for organisational leaders of service organisations that face transformation to mitigate their dependence on innovation champions and instead design organisational infrastructure that facilitates innovation implementation.