ISM-Sem-B/M: Managing Digital Innovation – Sensemaking, recombination and the pursuit of digital innovation capabilities

Dozent: Prof. Dr. Daniel Beimborn



Since Schumpeter, continuous innovation has been regarded as the decisive economic driving force for the creation, maintenance, and expansion of organizational competitiveness. However, the ubiquity of digital technologies and their impact on the innovation process is changing the way companies operate in their competitive environment (Kohli & Melville 2018). Digital innovation, which is defined as “[…] new combinations of digital and physical components to produce novel products” (Yoo et al., 2010, p. 725), is characterized by its often disruptive character (Karimi and Walter, 2015). Even though examples such as Kodak and Nokia vividly illustrate the consequences of ignoring digital innovation (Lucas and Goh, 2009), recent surveys show that many organizations have no answer to the challenges of digital innovation (Kane et al., 2015). However, the ability to engage with digital technology and, thereby, align internal processes and outdated business models with the demands of an increasingly digitalized marketplace is critical for organizations (Nambisan et al., 2017). In order to overcome these hurdles, organizations and their managers need to be aware and able to make use of the value generation potential of digital innovation. First; in particular, they need to cognitively and physically understand the novel situation they are in, the need to make sense of it (I). In a second step, they need to understand the construct of digital technology and consequently digital innovation, which is expressed in the phenomenon of recombination (II). Only then, can companies finally derive specific actions, locate missing resources, and build missing capabilities (III). In this seminar, we want to take apart the phenomenon of digital innovation based on these three steps and analyze each of them carefully.


Topic I: Sensemaking in Digital Innovation Research

In the context of digital innovations users, managers and researchers alike are often confronted with novel, previously unknown events and processes that seem implausible or contradictory at first but require explanation and a frame of reference to literally make sense of them (Weick 1995). Sensemaking – as this phenomenon is called by researchers – refers to “processes by which people seek plausibly to understand ambiguous, equivocal or confusing issues or events” (Brown et al., 2015, p. 266) or “the process of attributing appropriate meaning to new experiences” (Mesgari and Okoli, 2019, p. 206). Research so far has generally found that in the context of digital innovation research “the sensemaking perspective […] suggests that continued IS use leads to greater returns for the firm through learning and exploitation” (Kohli and Melville, 2018, p. 210). It is therefore interesting and important to discover how sensemaking affects the role of digital innovations in organizations. Therefore, we want to look at three distinct phenomena that include sensemaking as a vital element:

1. Digital innovation, firm performance and sensemaking

An investigation on how sensemaking can influence the performance of digital companies (for instance in form of financial performance, share of revenue from new business or innovation output) over the short term and long term.

Kohli, R., & Melville, N. P. (2019). Digital innovation: A review and synthesis. Information Systems Journal, 29(1), 200-223.

Tallon, P. P., & Kraemer, K. L. (2007). Fact or fiction? A sensemaking perspective on the reality behind executives' perceptions of IT business value. Journal of Management Information Systems, 24(1), 13-54.

Thomas, J. B., Clark, S. M., & Gioia, D. A. (1993). Strategic sensemaking and organizational performance: Linkages among scanning, interpretation, action, and outcomes. Academy of Management Journal, 36(2), 239-270.

Vera, D., & Crossan, M. (2005). Improvisation and innovative performance in teams. Organization Science, 16(3), 203-224.


2. Digital innovation, sustainability and sensemaking

An investigation on how sensemaking can affect how people, teams and organizations deal with the external environment (i.e. coopetitive environmental factors (e.g. rivals, suppliers, substitutors, customers) and macro environmental factors (e.g. economic, social, technological or natural)) over the short term and long term.

Basu, K., & Palazzo, G. (2008). Corporate social responsibility: A process model of sensemaking. Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 122-136.

Hahn, T., Preuss, L., Pinkse, J., & Figge, F. (2014). Cognitive frames in corporate sustainability: Managerial sensemaking with paradoxical and business case frames. Academy of Management Review, 39(4), 463-487.

Seidel, S., Recker, J., & Vom Brocke, J. (2013). Sensemaking and sustainable practicing: functional affordances of information systems in green transformations. MIS Quarterly, 1275-1299.


3. “Digital roles” (CDOs, agile coaches, etc.) and sensemaking

An analysis to shed light on the extent to which sensemaking has an impact on digital roles and their success in an organization.

Cornelissen, J. P. (2012). Sensemaking under pressure: The influence of professional roles and social accountability on the creation of sense. Organization Science, 23(1), 118-137.

Kelley, K. M., & Bisel, R. S. (2014). Leaders' narrative sensemaking during LMX role negotiations: Explaining how leaders make sense of who to trust and when. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(3), 433-448.

Tumbas, S., Berente, N., & Brocke, J. V. (2018). Digital innovation and institutional entrepreneurship: Chief Digital Officer perspectives of their emerging role. Journal of Information Technology, 33(3), 188-202.


To start with sensemaking:

Brown, A. D., Colville, I., & Pye, A. (2015). Making sense of sensemaking in organization studies. Organization Studies, 36(2), 265-277.

Mesgari, M., & Okoli, C. (2019). Critical review of organisation-technology sensemaking: towards technology materiality, discovery, and action. European Journal of Information Systems, 28(2), 205-232.

Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409-421.

Sandberg, J., & Tsoukas, H. (2015). Making sense of the sensemaking perspective: Its constituents, limitations, and opportunities for further development. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 36(S1), S6-S32.

Maitlis, S., & Christianson, M. (2014). Sensemaking in organizations: Taking stock and moving forward. Academy of Management Annals, 8(1), 57-125.


Topic II: Recombination in Digital Innovation

“Recombination is the heart of innovation” (Henfridsson et al., 2018, p.1). Schumpeter’s (1934) core characteristic of combination in innovations gains even more relevance in the digital age through the reprogrammable, editable, and generic nature of digital resources (Yoo et al., 2010).

However, the field of recombination in digital innovation lacks sufficient research. The research on the distinction of recombinations, epitomized e.g. through the value spaces framework which explains that combinated innovations can be generated by firms and users (Henfridsson et al., 2018), provides already a hunch for the potential, but needs to be complemented and further investigated (Holmström, 2018). To trace digital innovation development in detail and enable recombinations of digital resources that are not driven by chance, research on this phenomenon is required.


4. How value-oriented combinations in digital innovation can be supported – Frameworks and success factors

An investigation on how firms can be supported when searching for innovations by recombining existent products, services, digital resources or knowledge through by identifying and analyzing literature on existent frameworks or building new frameworks by analyzing success factors.

Henfridsson, O., Nandhakumar, J., Scarbrough, H., & Panourgias, N. (2018). Recombination in the open-ended value landscape of digital innovation. Information and Organization, 28(2), 89-100.

Holmström, J. (2018). Recombination in digital innovation: Challenges, opportunities, and the importance of a theoretical framework. Information and Organization, 28(2), 107-110.

Fielt, E., & Gregor, S. (2016). What’s new about digital innovation?. Information Systems Foundations: Theorising Digital Innovation.


5. Combination habits of incumbents and start-ups: searching for the holy-grail of combinations

An investigation on how traditional companies of certain industry or technology areas combined digital resources, products or services in comparison to start-ups to potentially identify deltas.

Holmström, J. (2018). Recombination in digital innovation: Challenges, opportunities, and the importance of a theoretical framework. Information and organization, 28(2), 107-110.

Hjalmarsson Jordanius, A., Juell-Skielse, G., & Kailas, A. (2019, January). Digital innovation and incubators: A comparative interview study from the perspective of the automotive industry. In Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Bosler, M., Burr, W., & Ihring, L. (2020). Digital innovation in incumbent firms: An exploratory analysis of value creation. International Journal of Innovation and Technology Management, 2040003.


6. Exaptations in digital innovations - Revealing explanations for the process of recombination

Exaptation is a term used by biologists to describe unintended uses of things in a new context. For example, the initial purpose of bird feathers was to regulate temperature but over time, they were used to aid flight. Recombinations of digital resources often include exaptations and by identifying these in extant digital innovations, we can potentially find a way to predict combinations.

Henfridsson, O., Nandhakumar, J., Scarbrough, H., & Panourgias, N. (2018). Recombination in the open-ended value landscape of digital innovation. Information and Organization, 28(2), 89-100.


To start with exaptations:

Andriani, P., Ali, A., & Mastrogiorgio, M. (2017). Measuring exaptation and its impact on innovation, search, and problem solving. Organization Science, 28(2), 320-338.

Andriani, P., & Cattani, G. (2016). Exaptation as source of creativity, innovation, and diversity: introduction to the special section. Industrial and Corporate Change, 25(1), 115-131.

Beltagui, A., Rosli, A., & Candi, M. (2020). Exaptation in a digital innovation ecosystem: The disruptive impacts of 3D printing. Research policy, 49(1), 103833.


Topic III: Digital Innovation Capabilities, Actions und Strategies – How Organizations Innovate in the Digital Era

While extant research elegantly highlights the various challenges that arise during the creation of digital innovation (Henfridsson et al. 2018, Nambisan et al. 2017, Svahn et al. 2017), little is known about the capabilities organizations need or which specific actions they can take in order to succeed in a digital world. Thus, Kohli and Melville (2018) call for new theories on corresponding organizational capabilities. In their recent literature review, the authors conclude that there is inconsistent knowledge within the individual phases and design fields of the innovation process. Nylén and Holmström (2015, p. 59) directly ask “Can digital innovation be managed?” Porter and Heppelmann (2015), on the other hand, believe that, while digitization reveals new technological opportunities, the rules of competence and competitive advantage remain unchanged. “Hence, there appears to be a misalignment between demands in the marketplace and organizational capabilities to respond” (Kohli and Melville, 2018, p. 1). Therefore, in this section we want to focus on digital capabilities, actions, and strategizing practices in order to tackle the following questions:


7. The role of dynamic capabilities in digital innovation – How organizations behave in highly turbulent environments

Dynamic capabilities describe the competence to integrate, build, and recombine or orchestrate internal and external resources in order to adapt to, or even change, a rapidly changing business environment (Teece et al. 1997). The relevance of this widely used theory has now been questioned in the context of digitization. This now needs to be examined in more detail.

Karimi, J., & Walter, Z. (2015). The role of dynamic capabilities in responding to digital disruption: A factor-based study of the newspaper industry. Journal of Management Information Systems, 32(1), 39-81.

Pavlou, P. A., & El Sawy, O. A. (2010). The “third hand”: IT-enabled competitive advantage in turbulence through improvisational capabilities. Information systems research, 21(3), 443-471.


8. Managerial actions in the creation of digital innovation – Analyzing the relevance of specific practices in the  digital innovation process

Kohli and Melville (2019) synthesize extant literature and put forward a framework, encompassing “digital innovation actions” across different dimensions of the innovation process. The term ‘actions’ (i.e., managerial actions) is understood as specific and observable measures that management can take within each dimension to create digital innovation.

Ciriello, R. F., Richter, A., & Schwabe, G. (2018). Digital innovation. Business & Information Systems Engineering, 60(6), 563-569.

Hellwig, L., Pawlowski, J., & Schäfer, M. (2020, June). An Innovation Activity Framework for Digital Innovation. In Proceedings of the 2020 on Computers and People Research Conference (pp. 10-19).


9. Strategizing for digital innovation – How innovation can be strategically managed by digital entrepreneurs

With the assumptions that the benefits of products are clearly predetermined and that there are well-defined markets, management and innovation studies provide an essential understanding regarding strategy formation for new product development. The question is whether these strategic practices are still relevant for products that are constantly evolving through digital technology.

Antonopoulou, K., & Begkos, C. (2020). Strategizing for digital innovations: Value propositions for transcending market boundaries. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 156, 120042.

Arvidsson, V., & Mønsted, T. (2018). Generating innovation potential: How digital entrepreneurs conceal, sequence, anchor, and propagate new technology. the Journal of strategic information systems, 27(4), 369-383.

Nylén, D., & Holmström, J. (2015). Digital innovation strategy: A framework for diagnosing and improving digital product and service innovation. Business Horizons, 58(1), 57-67.


General literature to start with (for topics 1 to 9):

Kohli, R., & Melville, N. P. (2019). Digital innovation: A review and synthesis. Information Systems Journal, 29(1), 200-223.


The typical research method to be used for all topics except for topic 8 is a structured literature review (Webster and Watson, 2002), but in consultation with the supervisor it is also possible to deviate from this and work empirically, for example.



  • Dieses Seminar richtet sich an Studierende der Bachelor-Studiengänge IISM, Wirtschaftsinformatik und WiPäd/WI.
  • Das Seminar wird vorbehaltlich der geltenden Bestimmungen im Zuge von COVID-19 vom 02.- 06.07.2021 im Studienheim der Uni Marburg im Kleinwalsertal, Österreich stattfinden. Sollte eine Präsenzdurchführung nicht möglich sein, finden die Blocktage im gleichen Zeitraum digital statt.
  • Die zu erwartenden Kosten für Unterkunft und Verpflegung (Frühstück, 3-gängiges Abendessen sowie Möglichkeit eines Lunch-Pakets) belaufen sich auf ca. 175 EUR/Person. In diesem Preis enthalten sind die Nutzung der Gemeinschaftsräume und Sportanlagen sowie W-Lan Zugang.
  • Nicht im Preis inbegriffen sind Kosten für Getränke. Ebenso kommt die in Eigeninitiative zu organisierende An- und Abreise hinzu (per Bahn&Bus oder bilden von Fahrgemeinschaften).
  • Während der Seminartermine besteht Pflicht zur Anwesenheit und Mitarbeit. Die Seminarleistung besteht aus einer individuell anzufertigenden Seminararbeit (60% der Gesamtnote), einem Seminarvortrag (25%) sowie dem Verfassen von Reviews und der mündlichen Beteiligung bei der Diskussion der anderen Vorträge (15%). Das Seminar gilt nur dann als bestanden, wenn alle Bestandteile mindestens mit ausreichend (Note 4,0) bewertet wurden.
  • Das Seminar findet grundsätzlich auf deutscher Sprache statt, es besteht jedoch die Möglichkeit, die Seminararbeit zu Übungszwecken auf Englisch zu verfassen und/oder den Vortrag in englischer Sprache zu halten.
  • Hinweis: Bitte bewerben Sie sich bis 08.04.2021 per untenstehendem Online-Formular und geben dabei Ihre Themenpräferenzen an. Sie erhalten am 09.04.2021 die Mitteilung über die Zulassung zum Seminar.
  • Die zugelassenen Teilnehmer/innen werden vom Lehrstuhl im VC Kurs eingetragen.


Termine und Ablauf des Seminars

  • Bewerbungsdeadline bis 08.04.2021, end of day
  • Zusage/Absage über Teilnahme bis 09.04.2021
  • Einführung ins Thema und Themenvergabe: 14.04.2021, 18 - 20 Uhr (s.t.), Anwesenheitspflicht
  • Verbindliche Zusage per E-Mail und Nachweis der Überweisung der Kostenpauschale bis 16.04.2021, 12:00 Uhr. Sollte keine Zusage (und Überweisung) Ihrerseits bis zur genannten Frist eingehen, wird der Platz anderweitig vergeben.
  • Einführung in Wissenschaftliches Arbeiten: 21.04.2021, 14 -18 Uhr (s.t.), Raum tbd. Wenn ein entsprechender Nachweis (WAWI Modul abgeschlossen oder vorherige Seminarteilnahme) erbracht wird, ist die Teilnahme an diesem Termin optional, aber trotzdem empfohlen.
  • Halbzeitfeedback (Roundtable-Discussion und Präsentation des aktuellen Stands): 18.05.2021*, 14 - 18 Uhr (s.t.). Raum tbd. Anwesenheitspflicht.
  • Abgabe der finalen schriftlichen Arbeit: bis Freitag 11.06.2020, 12:00 Uhr. Die digitale Version per Upload im Virtuellen Campus (VC) und die Printversion inkl. unterschriebener eidesstattlicher Erklärung im Sekretariat des Lehrstuhls (WE5/01.029)
  • Vortragsschulung ("how to present"): 22.06.2021, 17 - 19 Uhr (s.t.), Raum tbd. Optional, aber empfohlen.
  • Blockseminar im Kleinwalsertal*: 02.- 06.07.2021, Anwesenheitspflicht.


*Änderungen vorbehalten


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