Innovation and Resistance: Perspectives of Deviance in Innovation

Naoki Takada
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Innovation Management, Management of Technology

1. Innovation and resistance

Innovation in the sense of "new things that bring social and economic value" has two distinct aspects. One aspect is as something that is "welcomed" by the people. Many of you may be familiar with the discourse that innovation is the engine of economic and corporate growth, and that innovation makes life more convenient, safer, and more exciting.

The other aspect of innovation is as something that is "resisted" by the people. Innovation replaces the old with the new, so those who are being replaced are adversely affected. For example, the Luddite movement during the Industrial Revolution can be viewed as a resistance movement by workers facing the threat of various innovations. Furthermore, even within corporate organizations that are trying to generate innovation, resistance to innovation arises for various reasons, such as fluctuations in the structure of resource allocation and power within the organization.

One of my research themes is management and employee behavior for achieving innovation by overcoming such resistance. More specifically, my research is based on an awareness of the issue of what individual and organizational practices exist or are effective when innovative efforts are made against opposing forces inside and outside the organization. In this paper, I would like to introduce the concept of focusing on deviant behavior, which is a practice that ignores the rules and norms of the organization, as well as present research conducted to date and some future prospects.

2. Creative deviance

Innovative ideas and inventions are sometimes pointed out as involving "rule-breaking." This point is based on the assumption that employees who aim to bring innovation in a corporate organization face serious difficulties. In a typical business organization, resources are not allocated to projects or activities without approval by an official authority. However, innovative ideas and inventions (or the activities to bring innovation) are highly uncertain due to their innovative characteristics, and it is difficult to guarantee the return of economic value in advance. Accordingly, employees cannot obtain resources unless they can demonstrate the potential value of an attempt. Furthermore, as employees do not possess resources to prove the value in the first place, the seed of innovation may be culled.

When reexamining the issue from the employee perspective, employees placed in difficult situations have multiple options which include engaging in persuasion or resigning from their job. Another option is the rule-breaking or deviant behavior that is mentioned above. In recent years, this option has been discussed under the concept of creative deviance. Creative deviance refers to "the violation of a managerial order to stop working on a new idea" (Mainemelis, 2010). This is equivalent to the term of underground research as used in Japan. The concept of creative deviance has been attracting attention around the world as a perspective that can clarify measures for realizing innovation in rigid large corporations, and as an old yet new theme.

3. Creations of deviants

From the explanation given above, readers may feel that rule-breaking is important for achieving innovation within a corporate organization (especially a large organization). However, there is no guarantee that deviants will produce innovative results. On the contrary, deviants may end up wasting corporate management resources as a result of selfish behavior. Currently, researchers have accumulated almost no empirical evidence as to which possible result is closer to reality.

I would like to introduce my past analysis (Takada, 2020) regarding this point. The purpose of my analysis was to clarify the relationship between the degree of deviation of in-house inventors and the novelty of inventions. More specifically, for inventors of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation and Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, I measured the degree of deviation of inventors based on inventor citation data described in patent documents, and compared said degree with the patent (invention) in order to analyze the relationship with technical novelty. The results of the analysis suggest that moderately deviant inventors tend to produce innovative results, while inventors with extremely high or low degree of deviance tend to produce inventions (low novelty) based on gradual progress. However, there were several issues with my analysis; for example, I only targeted patented inventions and there were problems with the validity of concepts used when constructing my deviation measurement scale. Therefore, caution must be given when interpreting the results.

One possible reason for this interesting trend is that R&D activities in corporate organizations are conducted on a group basis rather than on an individual basis. Assuming that R&D activities require not only management resources but also division of labor and coordination with other members, deviants who have difficulty obtaining cooperation from others due to lacking official authority will not be able to conduct efficient activities. As a result, the achievements of deviants are ultimately rehashes of existing inventions, and the energy of deviants dissipates before reaching innovative achievements. Although the specific reasons have not yet been clarified, the adage that innovation requires rule-breaking is nothing more than an awareness fostered by a few heroic tales, and it may not grasp the full reality.

4. Issues for further investigation

The statement that deviants do not actually produce innovative results is only a matter of overall trends, and some deviants have achieved breakthroughs. While it is dangerous to cling to the anecdotally portrayed image of the deviant, it is equally dangerous to dismiss rule-breaking as meaningless. Instead, it is important to explore what separates good rule-breakers from bad rule-breakers.

One useful concept for examining this point is the discussion of the ideator's bias (Fuchs et al., 2019). This concept refers to how identity-induced self-efficacy drives overestimation in employee-driven process innovation. When driven by ideator's bias, overconfident deviants can end up immersing themselves in ideas (which are actually of low quality), thereby resulting in wasting management resources. Behind the scenes, self-perception as a deviant may also contribute to overconfidence.

The concepts which I have discussed in this article are only a portion of an unverified hypothesis. It goes without saying that it is necessary to accumulate empirical studies in conjunction with many other hypotheses. That aside, my intention in writing this article is to show the significance and appeal of focusing on the deviant behavior of employees as a perspective for clarifying the innovation process in a corporate organization, especially a process in an organization where there is no room for bottom-up innovation. Interaction among people with different intentions and desires can lead to unexpected or unintended results. These kinds of unanticipated phenomena make social science so interesting. I hope that this article conveys even a small portion of that appeal.


・Fuchs, C., Sting, F. J., Schlickel, M., & Alexy, O. (2019). The ideator's bias: How identity-induced self-efficacy drives overestimation in employee-driven process innovation. Academy of Management Journal, 62(5), 1498-1522.
・Mainemelis, C. (2010). Stealing fire: Creative deviance in the evolution of new ideas. Academy of Management Review, 35(4), 558-578.
・Naoki Takada (2020). Deviant Inventors and Novelty of Invention: An Exploratory Analysis with Patent-Based Indicators, Journal of Business Management, 45, 54-66.

Naoki Takada

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Innovation Management, Management of Technology

Naoki Takada was born in Sapporo City, Hokkaido Prefecture in 1991. He graduated from the Department of Business Management in the Faculty of Commerce and Management, Hitotsubashi University. He completed the Master’s Program and the Doctoral Program in the Graduate School of Commerce and Management, Hitotsubashi University. He obtained his Ph.D. (commerce) in 2019. He served as a Part-Time Instructor and a Specially-Appointed Instructor (Assistant Professor) in the Yokohama National University Institute of Advanced Sciences before assuming his current position in 2021.

He specializes in innovation management and management of technology.