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Research projects

Unlocking Radical Innovation: Leveraging the Potential of Secret Innovation Projects

Cracking the code of radical innovation remains a formidable challenge for established companies. The big question is, how can these firms break free from their current ways of thinking and operating to come up with and execute groundbreaking ideas? This multi-year program builds on the fascinating insight that the spark of radical innovation often ignites within the secret projects brewing in the corners of companies. Diving into the world of these undercover or "bootlegging" projects, this program aims to shed light on how these hidden efforts can be a goldmine for radical innovation. By exploring these secret projects within tech-savvy multinational firms, we aim to uncover the individual experiences of the innovators, the organizational dynamics, managerial responses, and strategic steps essential for bringing these hidden projects to life and into the company's innovation portfolio. The program unfolds through two main strands:

1. Understanding the Dynamics of Secret Radical Innovation Projects

We delve into how employees’ attachment to their company influences their behavior in secret innovation projects. This part of the program helps us understand the mix of official duties and undercover activities by employees aiming to push the innovation envelope, and how managers' reactions can help maintain a good relationship with these innovative minds.

2. Bringing Secret Radical Innovation Projects into the Spotlight

We look at the challenges and strategies needed to successfully bring secret projects into the open and make them part of the company’s official innovation agenda. By studying several secret projects within a leading automotive organization, we outline crucial strategies like building the right connections, fitting projects in the right department, and effectively selling the project for a successful transition.

By diving deep into the dynamics of hidden innovation activities, this program aims to provide a clear roadmap for managers and executives on how to harness the power of clandestine innovation activities, boosting the company's ability to innovate radically amidst a complex play of company culture and norms. This exploration is not just a deep dive into organizational behavior in innovation settings, but a treasure trove of practical insights for leaders keen on nurturing and capitalizing on the hidden innovative spirit within their organizations.

Ongoing Impact

Selected, related publications in progress:

  • Bubenzer, P.; Stephan, Anika (2022). Learning from unofficial projects: a case study about differentiation between official projects and underground projects. Proceedings of the 38th EGOS Colloquium. Vienna, Austria.
  • Stephan-Korus, A. (2022). Bootlegging in a Technology-Driven Organization: Process, Challenges, and Opportunities, in: Augsdörfer, P. (ed.) (2022): Corporate Underground. 2022. Series on Technology Management, vol. Volume 39: 360.
  • Bubenzer, P.; Stephan, Anika (2021). Members or Mavericks? Organizational identification dynamics during secret innovation projects. Proceedings of the 81st Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
  • Stephan, Anika; Bubenzer, P. (2019). Ex tenebris: Challenges and strategies for surfacing and reintegrating secret innovation projects in a technology-driven automotive organization, Proceedings of the 79th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management


Beyond our publications, our insights are being put to work to improve accelerator processes and are being taught in executive classes at different leading universities in Switzerland.


Running time

2018 to 2022

Project manager

Philipp Bubenzer

Full Professor UAS/Institute Head

+41 26 429 63 65

Institute/Competence center

Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation