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Radical, Disruptive, Discontinuous and Breakthrough Innovation: More or the same?

Author

Listed:
  • Adrián Kovács
  • Cristina Marullo
  • Dennis Verhoeven
  • Alberto Di Minin
  • Bart Van Looy

Abstract

The scholarship on innovation has stressed the importance of distinguishing ‘exceptional’ innovation from ‘run-of-the-mill’ innovation in both conceptual and empirical terms. Over recent decades, various labels have been coined to denote the exceptional nature of innovation. At the same time, research on this topic has been critiqued for its ambiguity in accurately defining and delineating the phenomena under study and, consequently, putting in jeopardy the development of a cumulative body of understanding. We revisit this concern by systematically reviewing three decades of research advanced under the labels of radical, disruptive, breakthrough and discontinuous innovation. We combine two bibliometric techniques – bibliographic coupling and co-citation analysis – to (i) explore the theoretical foundations of these labels and (ii) delineate the thematic orientation of the scholarship pursued under these labels. Our results reveal a dense and growing network of publications that build, in large measure, on the same scientific foundations. In terms of thematic orientation, five overlapping clusters are present, with specific labels scattered across the thematic landscape. These findings suggest that the different labels do not denote clearly distinct bodies of academic scholarship. A subsequent content analysis of the definitions advanced in the most cited papers reveals two discrete underlying dimensions: novelty and impact. Yet, none of the labels characterize innovations across these two dimensions with any consistency. Although this ‘lack of rigor’ would seem to yield no detrimental effects in terms of growth (of scholarship), we argue that conflating novelty and impact can result in ambiguous results. We conclude, therefore, that consistency in the use (and operationalization) of both dimensions would benefit our (cumulative) understanding of the (complex) phenomena involved.

Suggested Citation

  • Adrián Kovács & Cristina Marullo & Dennis Verhoeven & Alberto Di Minin & Bart Van Looy, 2019. "Radical, Disruptive, Discontinuous and Breakthrough Innovation: More or the same?," Working Papers of Department of Management, Strategy and Innovation, Leuven 636820, KU Leuven, Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB), Department of Management, Strategy and Innovation, Leuven.
  • Handle: RePEc:ete:msiper:636820
    Note: paper number MSI_1904
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    File URL: https://lirias.kuleuven.be/retrieve/537762
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    Cited by:

    1. David Audretsch & Dirk Fornahl & Torben Klarl, 2022. "Radical innovation and its regional impact—a roadmap for future research," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 58(2), pages 1153-1156, February.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    radical innovation; disruptive innovation; discontinuous innovation; breakthrough innovation; bibliometric analysis;
    All these keywords.

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