Christer Windeløv-Lidzélius


Innovation In Complex Systems: An Exploration In Strategy, Leadership And Organization

December 2018

Innovation is a multi-faceted term that has gained much prominence in our time. Much of perceived organizational survival and success in the marketplace is attributed to the capacity to innovate. While much research is indeed devoted to the subject of innovation, it remains difficult for organizations to make it work. This thesis concerns innovation in complex systems. The research question “How do organizations go about developing capacity for bringing about innovation in complex systems?” is unfolded in an exploratory way. Literature on the subject of innovation is researched, using complex systems theory and social constructionism, to generate emerging questions that are used as a backdrop to the empirical research. The methodological approach combines qualitative and quantitative research, with an emphasis on the former. The empirical data-generating practices follow a similar explorative nature, with findings from the different empirical sources generating emergent views, reflections and questions that are brought forwards. The case study follows the Research and Development Department of Telefónica Digital in Barcelona (part of Telefónica, S. A.) and its transition into a new entity called Telefónica Alpha.

The research process began with an action research phase in which the researcher was contracted as a consultant by the Research and Development Department (PDI) of Telefónica Digital in Barcelona, working with them for around 18 months. This phase also included 13 interviews that were conducted with the management team. As a supplement, a quantitative research phase in which 103 subject-matter experts were invited to offer their perspectives on innovation, was also conducted. As the PDI – indeed the whole division of Telefónica Digital – was dissolved and/or transformed approximately three years later, five interviews were conducted to offer insight into what had emerged instead and how a particular unit (Alpha) served as one answer to the question of how to bring about innovation in complex systems. Finally, the findings and emerging questions were brought into a focus group with five other subject matter experts for further discussion, reflection and co-construction. The empirical study led to an exploration of a relatively new phenomenon – a new form of “R&D” facility championed by the likes of Google, Facebook and others. Telefónica, S. A. started its own version of this (Alpha) not only as way to tap into perceived opportunities, but also as way to counter the appreciated challenges of today and those foreseen in the years to come.