Flexing the Frame: TMT Framing and the Adoption of Non-Incremental Innovations in Incumbent Firms

by Ryan Raffaelli, Mary Ann Glynn, and Michael Tushman

Overview — Organizations continuously face decisions about whether or not to adopt innovations. Often, however, senior teams do not adopt an innovation even when the organization has the resources to do so. Using real examples, this paper theorizes how the processes of cognitive and emotional framing inform managerial choices about whether or not to adopt innovations.

Author Abstract

Why do incumbent firms so frequently reject non-incremental innovations? One reason is due to the firm’s top management team’s (TMT) lack of frame flexibility, i.e., an inability to expand the organization’s categorical boundaries so as to encompass a wider range of emotionally resonate capabilities in the context of innovative change. For incumbent firms, we argue that the way the TMT cognitively thinks about, and emotionally frames, non-incremental innovation and organizational capabilities drives innovation adoption. We show that frame flexibility is both cognitive, through claimed beliefs and understandings, and emotional, through claimed appeals to feelings and aspirations. First, we reexamine an assumption that cognitive frames are static and suggest how they evolve to become flexible—via shifts in perceived categorical hierarchies and in the ability to reconcile incompatible organizational capabilities. Second, we theorize and attend to the role of emotional frames in innovation adoption. Thus, we advance a model that articulates how cognitive and emotional framing affects the likelihood of non-incremental innovation adoption and, over time, the breadth of the organization’s innovation practices. We delineate these processes, as well as the internal and external contingencies that influence them and offer directions for future research.

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