Tradition Vs. Innovation: Long standing Dilemma

A widely held view on innovation and tradition is that these two phenomena are each other’s opposites. Although there are many different definitions of innovation, the two features common to almost all of them are value to product/process and novelty (see e.g. Crossan & Apaydin). Given the strong emphasis on novelty in innovation, it is thus hardly surprising that tradition, which refers to things related to the past in terms of knowledge, competencies, materials, processes, signs, values and beliefs (Petruzzelli & Albino), is frequently regarded as an obstacle to innovation. One thread of literature tends to see tradition as synonymous with the ideas of obsolescence, stasis, antiquity and inefficiency (Cannarella and Piccioni 2011) and thus quite contrary to innovation, which has its etymological roots in ‘innovare’, meaning ‘restoration’ or ‘renewal’

As per my understanding of the world, ‘Innovation’ and ‘Tradition’ might look very different from superficial standpoint but are deeply linked with each other. Innovation and Tradition could be considered two faces of a coin. Like a coin has no value if the other side is not there. What we call today’s tradition was an innovation couple of years ago. As one might know, Organisations are constantly changing over a period of time could be due to inner drive, external market drivers or sometimes even political influences. Hence,  Traditions incorporate the knowledge that a company can obtain by leveraging on its track record as well as its human competencies, documents, symbols and values. However, this knowledge was ingrained in the organisation as part of ideologies influenced by its leaders at that point in time, which one would have called innovation at that point in time.

So, it’s imperative that ‘Innovation’ is that little child which ‘Tradition’ has to father for growth and prosperity of families, society and organisations.

It is undeniable that there are new potential opportunities for innovation management, in which tradition is not regarded as an obstacle to innovation, but instead constitutes a potentially valuable resource that can be used to provide a competitive advantage. Nevertheless, this first step towards exploring the potential use of tradition as a component of innovation provides only limited knowledge about how tradition is used in meaning‐based design‐driven innovation.

‘Innovation Through Tradition (ITT)’ is a concept where one studies the tradition of the organisation before professing the innovations. The concept has been well received in traditional family businesses where operations and knowledge are handed over generations. Examples of such businesses would be small and medium enterprises in India, Wine making businesses in Italy and France, Family businesses in China. The main driver of this concept is understanding the traditions of the business as they are important to cater for the emotional bond one has with concerned people, process and procedures.  Hence, the organisation’s social ties become important determinants of innovative behaviour and can eventually lead to high innovativeness.

ITT strategy has increasingly finding applications in not only just traditional organisations but also in multinational corporations where different cultures are assimilated due to multi-geographical and talent positioning. They are also finding applications of this concepts in government owned enterprises which have a traditionally long history and a very set origanisational culture and behaviour.

As humans, we all are at precipice of seismic changes in every aspect of our lives. The way we are born, brought up, contents we are exposed to, communication, banking, manage relationships. The very definitions of our fundamentals are at the helm of massive changes. And these changes are going to happen in our lifetime. Hence, there is high probability one might completely forget the traditions. Hence, ITT becomes very fundamental to the upcoming innovations.

Nihit Mohan

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12 thoughts on “Tradition Vs. Innovation: Long standing Dilemma”

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Who is Nihit Mohan?

Nihit Mohan is a banker, author and a TEDx speaker. He was born & raised in the cradle of cultural diversity of India, & currently resides in Singapore. He did his education from seven schools spread across multiple cities & cultures. He is an engineer by education & has made a successful career in the financial services industry. He hails from a family of engineers, bureaucrats & academicians.

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