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Research projects

Identity-Driven Innovation Management: Understanding the Role of Identity for Innovation Success

The journey of innovation in established companies often hits a roadblock when established mindsets need to be overcome. Take the story of Polaroid: despite having all the resources and leading the digital sensor frontier, they ultimately failed at the digital photography revolution. Why? Because Polaroid saw itself as a chemistry and not an electronics expert. This program digs into how a company's identity, i.e. the self-image who we are and what we stand for, can be a game changer in its innovation journey - and how it may lead to fatal outcomes if not understood and actively managed. We aim to particularly unlock the human side of this challenge, delving into how our minds categorize and identify with innovations, and from there, creating practical tools for leaders. Our goal is to contribute to a new approach to innovation management that’s rooted in understanding and leveraging a company’s identity, ensuring companies don’t trip over the same stone as Polaroid did when identity-challenging innovations emerge. Here’s the journey we’ve mapped out:

1. Leading Identity Dynamics in Typical Innovation Contexts

We start by looking at how innovations are received in typical company settings, especially when they seem to challenge the company’s identity. By partnering with leaders like Novo Nordisk, we are uncovering ways leaders can frame innovations to align with the company’s identity, significantly upping their chances of success.

2. Exploring Identity Dynamics in Uncharted Innovation Territories

Then we dive into more unconventional contexts, like a corporate accelerator or hidden innovation projects among engineers. It’s an exciting exploration of how identity dynamics play out in these atypical settings and how they can be navigated.

3. Extending the study of Identity Dynamics and Innovations to External Stakeholders

Lastly, we explore how identity characterizes relationships with external stakeholders, like customers, and can influence how innovations are received. It's about understanding how external connections can either be a catalyst or a roadblock to innovation, viewed through the lens of identity and cognitive categorization at the individual level.

This program is not just an academic endeavor, but aims at developing practical toolkits and roadmaps for leaders keen on fostering a culture of innovation that resonates with and leverages the core identity of their organization and their members’ identification with it. However, our insights have also begin garnering scholarly attention, leading to a featured chapter in a reputable handbook by Oxford University Press, shedding light on how identification with products and the organization are closely tied, and suggesting exciting avenues for further research.

Ongoing Impact

Selected, related publications in progress:

  • Bubenzer, P. (2021) "Who are we becoming..."
  • Bubenzer, P.; Stephan, Anika (2021) "Members or Mavericks? Organizational identification dynamics during secret innovation projects..."
  • Bubenzer, P. (2021) "The innovator's attachment? Exploring the dark side of members' identification with established customers..."
  • Bubenzer, P., (2020) "Mind the Gap: Organizational Identity Comparisons at PHARMACO..."
  • Stephan, A., & Bubenzer, P., (2020) "Accelerators, Identities and Identifications..."
  • Ashforth, B., Moser, J., & Bubenzer, P., (2020) "Identities and Identification in Work Contexts..."

Beyond publications, our insights have been disseminated in different keynote speeches at Swiss companies and associations. CEI insights on identity and innovation are also regularly taught in master- and executive programs at different Swiss universities – and continue to challenge current thinking about innovation management – which is often too much focused on the substantive, tech-driven aspects of innovation while ignoring that the social psychology motivations run much deeper in collective human endeavors when change looms large – because current and future identity is at the heart of human self-awareness.

Running time

2019 to 2023

Project manager

Philipp Bubenzer

Full Professor UAS/Institute Head

+41 26 429 63 65

Institute/Competence center

Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation