You are currently managing an action research project at Ericsson AB in Gothenburg-tell us how it came about?
"One of the product development units at Ericsson AB is implementing design thinking (DT) in their innovation work, while at the same time trying to increase their overall innovation capability; as it happens, exactly the issues I focus on in my research! I combine the post of Assistant Professor at CBI and Chalmers with a consulting assignment at Ericsson. During my work at Ericsson, one of the goals is to conduct research that benefits the company. The project started in August 2014 and ends this summer."
What does action research mean to you?
"Action research means that you work close to the company and create value for both academia and the company in question. As a researcher you can be more or less involved, but at the heart of action research is the ambition to lead the company through change and create mutual learning. In practice this means that I work operatively in an innovation team, but I also conduct interviews and write regular reflections. We have an insider/outsider set-up where Ingo Rauth, my colleague at Chalmers, conducts recurring interviews with me."
What is this project about?
"My engagement at Ericsson deals with two connected areas: implementation of DT, and the building of innovation capability at Packet Core, Lindholmen. As a researcher I try to understand the conditions for innovation work as well as different aspects surrounding the implementation of DT, and how the use of DT suits an organisation like Ericsson. As a practitioner, I support the organisation in this work. I have contributed with theories of innovation capabilitiy, and support the management team in developing a strategy to succeed in this area. To build innovation capability means different things on different levels of the company, and I am particularly interested in how to bridge the gaps between these levels to move in the same direction. This clearly connects to another project at CBI where my colleagues Sofia Börjesson and Maria Elmquist study the conditions for how innovation capability is built. I am also interested in which role an innovation support team can play, and the challenges with that role.
In the daily work I conduct interviews and work together with an innovation team at Ericsson. We are currently running an innovation training for managers within the company where we utilize existing knowledge within the area while also developing knowledge about innovation capability in real time. We use DT as a way to work within the team, run DT workshops for educational purposes, and spread the knowledge about DT as a way to work with innovation. DT is suitable for explorative work, and is usually referred to as dealing with “wicked problems” that are social, complex and both difficult to define and solve. How to build innovation capability in a large organisation is precisely such a wicked problem. Therefore, it is extremely exciting to deal with this via DT."
Isn’t this more like consultancy work?
"Yes and no. To convey already existing knowledge certainly is a consultative role, and I am employed as a consultant. However, since knowledge about innovation capability and DT and most important the building of innovation capability is limited, my involvement is about parallel (and mutual) learning. I also work systematically with data collection and reflection with the aim of writing scientific publications."
What is Ericsson’s point of view? They are used to research collaborations within different technical areas, but what about collaboration with innovation researchers?
"This is a rather new phenomenon to Ericsson, and before hiring me, my managers wondered what I was going to do – since they wanted to employ a designer who could help with DT. Eventually, they realized that I contributed with valuable knowledge about innovation and that affected, to a large extent, the way we worked with strategy to build innovation capability, later on. Even though the company communicates that innovation is high up on the agenda, I think that there is relatively little known about how you build such a capability, possible career paths on innovation, and so on. They were very positively surprised by our research, that it was so applicable, and see a possibility to build innovation capability locally, thanks to the collaboration with CBI amongst other things."
Interview by: Sofia Börjesson
Translation: Louise Rönnestad
Photo: Lisa Carlgren