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Routines as a Source of Learning and Innovation

Seminararbeit 2010 23 Seiten

BWL - Unternehmensführung, Management, Organisation



1. Introduction

2. Fundamentals
2.1. Organizational Learning
2.2. Innovation
2.3. Traditional View of Organizational Routines

3. New Understanding of Routines
3.1. Routines as Embodied Knowledge
3.2. Routines as Collective Competence
3.3. Routines as Social Practice

4. Routines as a Source of Learning & Innovation
4.1. Limitations of the Traditional View of Routines
4.2. Routines as a Source of Individual Learning
4.3. Routines as a Source of Organizational Learning and Innovation

5. Summing-Up


List of Figures

Figure 1: A Performative Model of Routine

Figure 2: A Performative Model of Learning in Routines

List of Tables

Table 1: Understanding of Routines - Levels of Development

1. Introduction

Organizational routines are a daily used term and an essential aspect of human or­ganization. But a “unified academic vision of the notion of routine does not exist” (Reynaud 1998: 468). The traditional view describes them as formal procedures or rules for repetitive actions. Rationalization, stability and inflexibility are linked to this con­cept. However, new understandings of routines challenge the traditional one. New theo­ries show, that routines can also be a source of flexibility and change. This extension of meaning provides approaches to analyze and describe a variety of topics in organiza­tional theory.

This paper pays attention to these new understandings of routines and investigates if and how they can be a source of organizational learning and innovation. What makes this topic so interesting? Individual learning takes place, when an individual responds on a same or similar stimulus in another, than the previous way. And as we know, inno­vation begins with a creative idea. Learning and innovation matter if organizations compete on markets. At first glance routines - in the traditional view - prohibit learning and innovation. But a deeper look at the new understanding of routines will give insight how they can foster organizational learning und innovation and contribute to long-term success of an organization.

The next chapter “fundamentals” offers basic information about organizational learning, innovation and the traditional view of routines. An own chapter about the dif­ferent approaches of new understandings of routines is used as a bridge to the main top­ic of this paper - routines as a source of organizational learning and innovation. There, new aspects and implications based on empiric studies and theory will be discussed and questioned. Finally a summing-up will give conclusions and outlooks.

In this paper the term routine has the meaning of organizational routines. Analogical the term learning has the meaning of organizational learning. Both involve multiple actors and are different to routines and learning of individuals. The next chapter gives fundamental information about both of them.

2. Fundamentals

2.1. Organizational Learning

As mentioned before, individual learning takes place, when an individual reacts on a same or similar stimulus in another than the previous way (Argyris and Schon 1978). But learning is not only a process that can be noticed on individuals. Learning can also occur in organizations.

One of the first attempts to describe organizational learning was done by Argyris and Schon (1978). They proposed a model that distinguishes between single-loop and double-loop learning. Single-loop learning is a process in which, actions are modified by individuals, groups, or organizations to fulfill expectations - errors are detected and corrected. Double loop learning is the learning about single-loop learning: Individuals, groups or organization review, question and reorganize existing norms, procedures or even objectives and adapt expectations - routines and competences are changed. Organ­izational learning can also be considered as a process to improve actions and routines (Fiol and Lyles, 1985). Individual experiences and activities of the past develop relevant skills and knowledge. Both enhance through subsequent operations the performance and competitiveness of an organization. Huber focuses on a “knowledge” perspective (1991). He identifies four stages of organizational learning. These are knowledge ac­cess, knowledge distribution, knowledge interpreting, and memory organizing. Accord­ingly, knowledge is the base of learning. The interaction between all knowledge and learning flows generates organizational learning. Schreyögg describes organizational learning similar as a process where organizations acquire knowledge, fix this knowledge in their knowledge base and reorganize this knowledge base for future problems (2008).

It’s observable that organizational learning is routine-based, history-dependent, and target-oriented. It allows organizations to solve duties and problems.

2.2. Innovation

The word innovation is derived from the Latin novus innovatio „something new created”. It can be defined in an organizational perspective as “...the (successful) em­ bodiment, combination, or synthesis of knowledge in original, relevant, valued new products, processes, or services”, (Luecke and Katz 2003). Baregheh et al. define inno­vation as the multi-stage process whereby organizations transform ideas into new/improved products, service or processes, in order to advance, compete and differ­entiate themselves successfully in their marketplace" (2009). Amabile et al. propose that innovation always begins with an creative idea and define innovation as “the suc­cessful implementation of creative ideas within an organization” (1996).

A consolidated view of all these factors indicates that innovation is a process that is linked to knowledge, learning and creativity, that helps organizations to compete on markets.

2.3. Traditional View of Organizational Routines

Routines are standardized actions or procedures that are followed repetitiously und regularly. They may be documented and formalized and can be connected to a number of contexts like behavioral theory, evolution theory and system theory. Compo­nents like technological standards, competencies and learning are linked to them. Or­ganizational routines are not individual routines; they involve multiple actors of an or­ganization. Feldman and Pentland define them as a “repetitive, recognizable pattern of interdependent actions, involving multiple actors” (2003: 96).

There are three metaphors for organizational routines. They can be seen as indi­vidual habits, programs or genetic material: The comparison to individual habits links the organization to an individual whose members are the legs and arms. There is no thought required, members work automated and there is no choice (Stene 1940; Nelson and Winter 1982). The metaphor of programs offers some room for choice. A program is a standard procedure, but there are decision points, choices and branches. (March and Simon 1958). However, a software developer defines and limits the actions of a pro­gram in advance. All fundamental choices are made ex ante. The third metaphor uses the parallels to genetic material. Routines “are a persistent feature of the organism (or­ganization) and determine its possible behavior” (Nelson and Winter 1982: 14). Follow­ing this, genealogical information is stored in routines and passed unchanged from one organization to another (Baum and Sight 1994: 3-4). These three metaphors give the impression that routines are stable and unchanging objects. This has several implica­tions.

On the one hand routines carry the potential to reduce complexity, foster efficien­cy and minimize costs (March and Simon 1958; Simon, 1981). They give managers control over the labor force (Braveman 1974), legitimate organizations as institutions (Feldman and March 1981) and avoid procedural warfare (Nelson and Winter 1982). On the other hand they carry the danger to become source of mindlessness (Ashford and Fried 1988), demotivation (Ilgen and Hollenbeck 1991) and inertia (Hannan and Freedman 1983).

Looked at in a nutshell, the traditional view of routines emphasize stability and ri­gidity. Routines are standardizes procedures. In contrast, the following chapter shows that they can also be seen as more complex. Routines are multilayered phenomena. An­other view on them gives new implications for organizational theory.

3. New Understanding of Routines

“Routines are difficult to study because they are essentially complex patterns of so­cial action” (Pentland and Rueter 1994: 484). This statement makes clear, why there are so many different approaches to define and explain routines. A number of authors deal with new approaches of the understanding of routines. Geiger and Koch categorize them into levels of development (2008). The traditional view of routines builds the lowest level, while the new understandings are located on higher levels: Routines as embodied knowledge (“Könnerschaft”) on second level, routines as collective competence (“kollektive Fähigkeit”) on third level, and routines as social practice (“soziale Praktik”) on highest level. This categorization can be used as a framework to give an overview over similarities and differences between different approaches, as well as relevant im­plications that occur.

3.1. Routines as Embodied Knowledge

More and more authors argue that routines are more than mindless, monotone and repetitive chains of activities. They regard routines as activities that contain implied and tacit knowing (Polanyi 1966; Schreyögg and Geiger 2005). A formal instruction is not sufficient to apply this knowledge. Individuals apply it only by exercise, practice and imitation (Polanyi 1958). Nonaka illustrates this with the example of baking bread: Even if a number of bakers use the same recipe, some of them are better versed in the art of kneading the dough. Costumers perceive unequal taste and quality between a number of bakers and their breads. The same routines produce different results (1991).

Compared to the traditional understanding of routines, there is a shift of relevan­cy. Routines are no longer mindless, as exceptional skills become a significant part of them. Geiger and Koch notice that embodied knowledge makes it impossible to describe routines completely ex ante. Embodied knowledge cannot be analyzed and formal de­scribed as traditional routines can (2008). Results - particular bread for example - can’t be linked to a recipe. It’s the recipe joined with the embodied knowledge of the baker that makes the bread particular. The individual embodied knowledge cannot be de­scribed formal as a routine can. There is a new component that differs in every partici­pant of a routine.

Geiger and Koch notice similarities between this new understanding of routines and the traditional one. Both, routines and embodied knowledge, need to be acquired by learning. Then repetition and practice form a habit out of formalized routines: At the starting of execution of each action, there is no long term thinking necessary. Processes become automated as soon as the acting person has achieved the required skills - rou­tines like bicycling and baking happen automated (2008).

An important implication occurs with the understanding of routines as embodies knowledge: The new understanding is tied to the traditional one, but it is no longer the ordinary that characterizes routines, it is the exceptional. Routines are linked to individ­uals and knowledge (Geiger and Koch 2008).

3.2. Routines as Collective Competence

Nelson and Winter use routines as “general term for all regular and predictable behavioral patterns of firms” (1982: 16). They introduce three types of routines that occur on different hierarchical levels: “Operational routines” are settled on the lowest level. They are comparable to the traditional view of routines and are uses to describe short term behavior of an organization. The routines settled on the next level are com­pared to “genes of the organization”. Examples are frequently performed routines like decisions about investments and budgeting. The routines on the top-level are described as “routines for modification”. They alter routines on the lower levels.

Following this approach, Geiger and Koch mention, that routines are more than processes for coordination: Working on a lower level they foster stability and reliability, in the mid-level the act as the memory of an organization and trigger processes of change and reorganization on the top-level. A minimal and continuous change - compa­rable to evolution - alters the temporal stable low-level routines (2008).

Tushman et al. use the term of “frame breaking routines” that trigger irregular occurring revolutionary change that happens parallel to Nelsons and Winter’s evolu­tional change (1994).

Feldman thinks a step ahead. She does not separate routines for stabilizing from routines for altering and change. An empiric study on routines of the management of residential homes led to her conclusion that routines change from iteration to iteration: “They [Routines] are often works in progress rather than finished products” (Feldman 2000). There occurs always a modification in routines that can even trigger changes on the whole organization. Actors access existing structures (that is the ostensive part of a routine), while they also build up new structures during the execution of routines (that is the performative part of a routine). In practice, both parts become a unity.

Following this approach, the character of routines has completely changed. Rou­tines are no longer a source of stability and inertia - as the traditional view and the low­er level of Nelsons and Winter’s definition of routines implicate.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
553 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Technische Universität Kaiserslautern – Lehrstuhl für Internationales Management
Routines Innovation Organizational Learning Source of Learning & Innovation Routines as Social Practice Routines as Embodied Knowledge Routines as Collective Competence Success of an Organization.



Titel: Routines as a Source of Learning and Innovation