Modern innovation management theory and the evolving US lighting industry

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to use a series of disruptive innovations in the 150-year history of the US lighting industry to test whether two key innovation management theories retain their explanatory power as market structures change. Design/methodology/approach – Historical case studies of four successive disruptive lighting innovations are used: incandescent light bulbs, fluorescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFBs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs). Descriptions of each innovation include the new technologies, the evolving market structures, and how the innovating companies managed their risks during the transitions. Findings – This paper finds that two contemporary theories on absorptive capacity and disruptive innovations retain validity and remain broadly applicable even as market structures change overtime from oligopoly and cartel to free market competition. Originality/value – By juxtaposing historic incandescent and fluorescent bulb innovations in constrained market conditions with modern CFB and LED innovations in free market conditions, this paper expands understanding of the lighting history to include the past two decades. It also expands the applicability of innovation theories by showing that they apply to various and changing market structures. © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

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