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Learning across business sectors: facets of innovation in aerospace and construction

By S. Weller, S. D. Green and S. Fernie


Innovation is notoriously difficult to define and is invariably intertwined with issues of knowledge creation, continuous improvement and organisational change. An extensive literature classifies numerous types of innovation and militates against any simplistic attempt at definition. It is widely accepted that innovation is at least partly dependent upon the surrounding environment. Industry recipes and institutionally embedded practices shape the environment within which innovation occurs. Recent research directions have addressed the diffusion of innovation and its dependence upon social and institutional structures. In this respect, it is highly pertinent to compare the way that innovation is interpreted and enacted in different industrial sectors. The comparison between UK aerospace and construction is especially revealing because the two sectors are so different and therefore constitute radically different climates for innovation. Empirical research is reported based on semi-structured interviews with practitioners from both sectors. Interpretations of innovation are found to differ dramatically between aerospace and construction. Within the context of an ongoing struggle to define innovation, both industries are striving to become more innovative. The aerospace sector is found to emphasise technical innovation whereas the construction sector emphasises process innovation. An overriding cultural bias in Western economies towards technological innovation results in the common perception that aerospace is much more innovative than construction. The experienced realities of practitioners in the two sectors are much more complex

Year: 2004
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