Modes of experimentation: an innovation process -- and competition -- variable

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Citation: Stefan Thomke, Eric von Hippel, Roland Franke (1998) Modes of experimentation: an innovation process -- and competition -- variable. Research Policy (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1016/S0048-7333(98)00041-9
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1016/S0048-7333(98)00041-9
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1016/S0048-7333(98)00041-9
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Modes of experimentation: an innovation process -- and competition -- variable
Tagged: Business (RSS) Innovation (RSS)


This paper speaks to the literature on innovation process more broadly which, the authors argue, remains largely understudied. The key argument in the paper is that the type of exploration through experimentation can lead to competitive advantages for firms who use better strategies.

The authors argue that much research happens through a trial-and-error method and forms of experimentation. They look at different possible strategies of experimentation and explore the possible benefits and costs of each strategy. In particular, they consider parallel and serial strategies for experimentation and they consider the "speed of learning" as a variable that can affect a serial strategy.

One important theoretical contribution of the paper is the introduction of the term value landscape which provides a useful way to think about a space in which there are hills and valleys representing value and the firms strategy as a means of exploring this landscape -- a model which bears similarities to the N-K models that will dominate strategy later. They look at experimentation as a means of search in this landscape and explore the benefits of different strategies in this space.

The second half of the paper is focused on issues of tools for improving experimentation processes and on a case study of the drug industry which follows a highly experimental approach to innovation. In particular, the paper goes into depth on computer simulation models more generally and then into depth on a field study of a new drug discovery method based on combinatorial chemistry which the authors show can result in a much cheaper and faster approach to trial and error than more traditional methods. The data presented in this final section is mostly based on interviews with chemists and drug developers.

The paper concludes by proposing that, "strategies and modes of experimentation can be an important factor in the effectiveness of a firm's innovation processes and its relative competitive position."

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Thomke et al.'s paper has been cited about 100 times in the literature on design and innovation.