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Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship

We conduct research in the area of technology and innovation management. We examine innovation management in both start-ups/SMEs as well as large organizations. For entrepreneurs of start-ups/SMEs, we are interested in examining the challenges they face, and what strategies, approaches and best-practices adopted by entrepreneurs best help them to effectively overcome these challenges. We also examine innovative business models and the use of approaches such as Design Thinking. In the case of large organizations, our research examines how researchers can successfully innovate, and how various expertise and cognitive profiles of people contributing to the creative endeavors of the firm matter to drive firms’ innovation. There are three research streams and programs that we are currently pursuing that will be described in detail below:​

  • Project 1. Understanding Innovation in Small Medium Enterprises and Start-Ups: Decision Making Preferences and Strategies Affecting Innovation, Growth and Survival

    Small- Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups in Singapore account for 99% of all enterprises, employing 70% of all workers . They are thus an important source of innovation, productivity and potential growth for the nation. In a large multi-year research grant funded by Singapore National Research Foundation amounting to almost $1million SGD, we embark on a multi-method, multi-phase, multi-source research project where we collected data from more than 350 entrepreneurs who are start-up co-founders and SME directors.

    We tested a research model that contains three major blocks—entrepreneurs’ decision making styles, business strategies and practices, and the start-up/SME firm performance. To test our research model, we adopted a variety of scientific methodologies and developed various assessment tool kits, including computer based simulations, survey questionnaires and interviews. The assessment tool kit was developed based on published studies in multiple disciplines, such as neuroscience, behavioral economics, entrepreneurship, organization science and strategy and management. Our research team visited each participant to administer all assessment tools face-to-face, and one-on-one, thus assuring the high quality of data collected.

    Further, we organized workshops to provide training services to our participants in return for their participation in the research program. In total, we organized 7 workshops, during which we provided individualized benchmarking reports for all participants who attended. The benchmarking report contains detailed explanations on each variable we measured in the entrepreneur survey. For each company, we provided comparisons between the company and the averages of all companies in our sample.

    Our research produced multiple papers that are in the process of publication. Some key findings are:

    1. We identified the following key challenges to innovation faced by local start-ups and SMEs:
      1. ​​Lack of knowledge
      2. ​​Scarce monetary resources
      3. Shortage of manpower
      4. Feasibility and technical challenges
      5. Market difficulties
      6. Unpredictability of environment

    2. When developing and implementing innovations, flexibility, both in adjusting the use of resources, and in changing of goals, are key to successful innovations. Four strategies used are:
      1. Recombining resources: Entrepreneurs need to think creatively about how they can recombine and use existing resources in new ways. Start-ups tend to be more effective at using and recombining existing resources while SMEs tend to acquire new resources when facing challenges.
      2. Exploiting contingencies: Effective entrepreneurs interpret and make use of contingencies, regardless of whether they are constraints or opportunities, in a favourable way.
      3. Willingness to “cannibalize” existing resources: Entrepreneurs need to evaluate how the decision to change the current course of actions will affect their existing investments. Entrepreneurs who are more willing to “cannibalize” existing investments are expected to be able to exploit new contingencies more effectively.
      4. Generating options: Entrepreneurs may develop ideas that are not immediately useful, but worth considering in future should the circumstances turn favourable. By cultivating different options, entrepreneurs keep their doors open to situations that may subsequently require the exercising of any of those options.

    3. Partnership is a key strategy used by firms to innovate when facing resource constraints. We examined the cooperative and trust tendencies of entrepreneurs. The results show that entrepreneurs in our study exhibited high levels of cooperative and trust propensities. Our results showed that the propensity to trust did not directly influence the extent to which firms engaged in partnerships, but instead, the propensity of trust influenced the likelihood that individuals will engage in various discovery behaviors (questioning, observing, networking and experimenting), which help entrepreneurs in opportunity identification. This highlights that entrepreneurs lacking the willingness to trust might also be reluctant to step out and pursue discovery behaviour that results in new opportunities.

    Details of the research project are available at:

  • Project 2. An Action Oriented Approach to Understanding Design Thinking in SMEs

    Innovation is the lifeblood of organizations today, fueling continued growth and sustainability of the firm. Design Thinking is a widely used tool and approach towards innovation and problem solving that helps organizations to use a systematic approach to generate creative insights and solutions to solve problems. Design thinking has become increasingly popular in the world of business, with many large firms like P&G and SAP using and advocating the Design Thinking approach. Design thinking emphasizes Human-Centered Design and empathy driven solutions. It has been promoted widely by design firms like IDEO and Stanford University’s D School. It has now become a must-know tool for companies keen to grow and flourish through continuous innovation. In particular, Design Thinking is a particularly useful tool to create in-depth understanding of customers and to generate creative ways to help customers meet needs that they are often themselves unable to articulate.

    While Design Thinking is widely used in large organizations, there is less evidence available about how SMEs might be able to use Design Thinking and key challenges they might face in using the Design Thinking approach to innovate. Using an action research perspective, this research projects examines how an SME can learn to conduct design thinking effectively. The research will identify key challenges faced by SMEs, and identifies changes that design thinking is able to introduce into SMEs, before and after the introduction of Design Thinking into the organization. In particular, the research will examine how Design Thinking can be applied to understand processes within organizations, and be integrated with concepts of Lean to improve productivity in organizations. ​​
  • Project 3. Role of Cognition and Information Processing amongst Innovators within Organizations

    In a series of studies, we examine the role of cognition and information processing in influencing individuals and their career success, as we recognize that individuals are the key architects to generate innovations for organizations.

    First, our study examines how inventors’ breadth and depth of expertise influence innovation in 3M, a company renowned for sustained innovation for over a century. Combining patent data with firm archival data and in-depth interviews with researchers in 3M, we provide a comprehensive view of how inventors’ expertise influences innovation and also show how inventors with different expertise profiles can contribute in unique ways to their organization. We differentiate between three indicators of a successful inventor: (1) the number of inventions generated; (2) the extent to which the inventor has a significant impact in his or her technical domain; and (3) the inventor’s career success, in terms of the commercial value they have brought by converting their inventions into products that generate sales for commercial organizations. We found that breadth of inventor expertise relates to the generation of many inventions, but not necessarily to those that are technically influential. Depth of inventor expertise enables individuals to generate technically influential inventions, as measured by patents granted. However, both breadth and depth of expertise are required for innovators to be deemed highly valuable, based on their records of effectively converting inventions into commercially successful products.

    In another research study, we examine how individuals’ cognitive flexibility influence their ability to perform in high-tech organizations that face a constant need to change and adapt to changes in the market, technology and their environment. The concept of exploration vs exploitation has frequently been used to explain how organizations can cope with such changes. We advanced this research by investigating individual cognitive flexibility, which reflects an individual’s ability to resolve the exploration-exploitation dilemma in the managerial perspective. We empirically examined cognitive flexibility of employees in three technology firms by adopting a reversal learning task adapted from the neuroscience domain, and combine the data collected about individuals with firm data about individuals’ work performance. We hypothesize that the relationship between cognitive flexibility and employee workplace performance is curvilinear (J-shaped), suggesting that cognitive flexibility is unrelated to employee performance when cognitive flexibility is below a moderate level (i.e., a threshold). Above this threshold, increased cognitive flexibility is related to higher employee performance. Building on social network theory, we further hypothesize that network centrality will moderate this curvilinear relationship. The results indicate that the J-shaped relationship only exists when employees’ network centrality is high, indicating that this curvilinear relationship between cognitive flexibility and performance needs to be leveraged by resources.

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