Can national culture influence success in open innovation?

Cultural differences among nations are not to be taken lightly. Especially, when it comes to innovation. A debate related to the influence of culture on innovation started in the 1980s’. Some studies of industrial innovation point to a so-called convergence hypothesis stating that industry managers from different cultures will eventually all adopt the same efficient management practices to be innovative. By contrast, other studies emphasise the so-called culture-specific perspective; when managers from various countries face similar challenges and a need for change, it is factors deeply rooted in their national cultural background that will influence their approach to innovation.

But we now live in a world where globalisation and international collaboration increasingly shape research and innovation. It is still difficult to gauge how the advent of open innovation will be influenced by national cultures. A number of studies, however, suggest that national culture still matters in an era of globalisation and enhanced international collaboration.

For example, one of these empirical studies on industrial innovation, examining the role of specific national cultural dimensions—such as individualism and hierarchical distance to power, originally devised by Hofstede—shows, among others, that low levels of individualism at national level are generally associated with higher levels of process innovation. Such arguments have to be nuanced, however, as cultural individualism is generally recognised as helping scientific progress and technological innovation (as measured by citation-weighted research publications and patents).

Clearly the success of open innovation hinges on the ability of individual researchers to collaborate with others. Hence, high level of individualism could prevail, even though scientists cannot escape deeply rooted cultural habits that could be more collectivist by nature, unless they have been exposed for a long time to diverse national culture via successive postdoctoral positions, for example.

Thus, today, the jury is still out on this debate. One thing is certain, however: open innovation is not happening in a vacuum. And taking into account its cultural and historical dimensions can only help devise better ways of creating collaborative research teams and stimulate creativity. Particularly, as science evolves towards a greater specialisation and higher interdependency though collaboration leading research and innovation practices to gradually open up.

Featured image credit: chatchaisurakram via Fotolia

Go back to the Special Issue: Open Innovation

Sabine Louët

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