Innovation – a New Guide

by Jan Fagerberg.

A few decades ago, it was still possible for a hard-working student to get a fairly good overview of the scholarly work on innovation by devoting a few years of intensive study to the subject. However, since then the literature on innovation has grown much larger. The demand for good overviews has from the early 1990s onwards has led to the publication of several “handbooks” on innovation or aspects thereof. As a result, there is no shortage of syntheses or overviews on specific topics within innovation studies. However, attempts to synthesize the syntheses, i.e., cover the entire area of innovation studies, emphasize the achievements that have been made, discuss the implications for policy and point to developments that require further research are more rare. The introductory chapter “Innovation: A Guide to the literature” in The Oxford Handbook of Innovation (2004) was an attempt to do that but as a guide it is by now a bit out of date. This paper is an attempt to update and extend it.

Growth of the Innovation Literature

Growth of the Innovation Literature

The structure of the paper is as follows. The 2nd section, entitled “What is innovation,” presents some basic concepts and discusses their interrelationships. This is followed, in section 3, by a discussion of three main topics in innovation research, at the micro, meso and macro level, respectively: innovation in firms; innovation systems; and consequences of innovation for social and economic change. Section 4 focuses on innovation policy, broadly defined, and the extent to which it can help in dealing with contemporary challenges. The most important contributions to innovation literature are presented in section 5. The final section considers the implications for the future agenda of the field.

Finally a word of caution: As every experienced traveler should know, a guide is just a (hopefully helpful) tool when entering a new territory, not a substitute for the actual travel. The same caution applies to reading.

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