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Managing the Repertoire: Stories, Metaphors, Prototypes, and Concept Coherence in Product Innovation

49 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2013 Last revised: 17 Apr 2014

Victor P. Seidel

Babson College; Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; University of Oxford

Siobhan Clare O'Mahony

Boston University School of Management

Date Written: January 17, 2014

Abstract

A recognized challenge in innovation scholarship is how to coordinate the efforts of many minds contributing to the design of a single artifact. Much research shows that product concept representations can help coordinate design tasks, but we know little about the practices that make representations more or less effective. We used an inductive approach to examine how six teams in three industries used concept representations when creating novel products. All six teams crafted three types of representations: stories, metaphors, and prototypes. However, merely using representations did not ensure a shared repertoire and concept coherence — a common understanding of desired product attributes. Teams that failed to consistently engage in three practices — 1) collective scrutiny of representations; 2) linking representations to design constraints; and 3) active editing of representations — produced concept disunity, with disparate understandings of desired product attributes. Teams that maintained concept coherence were better able to coordinate design tasks than teams that experienced concept disunity. Our research explains how the ultimate effect of concept representations on the coordination of innovation is contingent upon the practices used to manage a repertoire of representations in use.

Keywords: Product innovation, representations, boundary objects, coordination

JEL Classification: O32

Suggested Citation

Seidel, Victor P. and O'Mahony, Siobhan Clare, Managing the Repertoire: Stories, Metaphors, Prototypes, and Concept Coherence in Product Innovation (January 17, 2014). Organization Science, 2014; Boston U. School of Management Research Paper No. 2013-10. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2343944

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences ( email )

Cambridge, MA
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.seas.harvard.edu/directory/vseidel

University of Oxford ( email )

Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
Great Britain

HOME PAGE: http://www.sbs.ox.ac.uk/community/people/victor-seidel

Siobhan Clare O'Mahony

Boston University School of Management ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA MA 02215
United States

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