What makes a person capable of transformative action has interested scholars in various fields.
The problem is that it is not easy to evaluate innovative abilities. Have you ever felt you could contribute in developing your field but others have ignored your attempts? Perhaps you did not even try because you anticipated you would fail.
In such a situation, others have defined your capabilities. This might be a natural outcome of what is expected from people in your position – a doctoral student, for example, is not usually expected to challenge traditions, or a grassroots employee to suggest renewing the business model of a company. These expectations are part of the schemas people share in their field.
We suggest it need not be so. Previous research shows that people identify, create, legitimize and use resources from various sources creatively to enact new schemas. This indicates that we are all surrounded by potential resources, such as pieces of information, trust, expertise, contacts, problems, and rules. They are just waiting to be put into use creatively. Whether this happens or not depends on your capability to identify them and to convince others of your abilities and opinion.
You may have two tactics to do so. The first is to negotiate. Your colleagues tend to value skills they have seen in action. This means that the skills you use in your daily work are credible in their eyes, whereas you need to prove your capabilities in other areas. You need to convince them of three issues; first, that you are capable of initiating change; second, that your approach is novel and interesting; and third, that it is valuable to their work. Knowing your colleagues’ current schemas is thus relevant in order to change them.
With the second tactic, you can make your point by using your novel resources directly at work. This is an option if you anticipate that negotiation will not work, but you have autonomy to act. According to our research, this happens in many service organisations where service providers interact with their customers directly. Convincing your colleagues may be easier once your ideas have already provided value for customers. The downside is that others may not perceive your ideas useful from their own perspective. Instead of seeing you as a change agent, they now see you as a rule-breaker.
But what would the world be like without such rule-breakers? For some people we have interviewed, being able to experiment with new ideas in responding to urgent situations in their work is worth the risk of colleagues’ unfavorable reactions. Instead of trying to change their current work, these individuals may find opportunities to use their skills in other fields where they are valued more – which may eventually bring benefits for all parties involved.
These insights show that resources, such as individuals’ skills, are socially constructed and situated – and therefore subject to re-evaluation, creative use, and transformation. Whether the tactic is to break rules or negotiate, we encourage innovation-minded people to believe in their skills and finding tactics to make other believe in them, too.
Stay tuned for updates and publications from our research!
- Feldman, M. S. (2004). Resources in Emerging Structures and Processes of Change. Organization Science, 15(3), 295–309.
- Heusinkveld, S., & Benders, J. (2005). Contested commodification: Consultancies and their struggle with new concept development. Human Relations, 58(3), 283 –310.
- Howard-Grenville, J. A. (2007). Developing Issue-Selling Effectiveness over Time: Issue Selling as Resourcing. Organization Science, 18(4), 560–577.