Innovation with Limited Resources: Management Lessons from the German Mittelstand
De Massis A
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SubjectInnovation strategy; Dynamic capabilities; Employee relations; Innovation performance; Resource-based view; Service innovation; International trade; Customer collaboration; Human capital
German Mittelstand firms are globally recognized for their innovation, especially regarding product, process, and service innovation. So what can scholars and managers across the globe learn from the success story of German Mittelstand innovation? Drawing on information collected on innovative Mittelstand firms and extant knowledge on innovation, the resource-based view, and family firm research, the authors investigate how these highly innovative firms flourish and achieve high innovation performance despite the severe financial and human capital resource constraints they face as compared with larger corporations. The authors then present a model identifying and integrating six salient traits of such firms that allow them to efficiently orchestrate their resources to innovate and outcompete their competitors in the global market, enabling those firms to overcome their resource-related weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Specifically, these traits are: niche focus and customer collaboration, globalization strategy, preference for self-financing, long-run mindset, superior employee relations, and community embeddedness. The power of this Mittelstand approach takes full effect only when all six traits operate in an integrated fashion, and the proposed resource-based model serves as a starting point for a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of firm ability to innovate and successfully compete within a specific context. The article outlines the implications of the model of German Mittelstand innovation for research conducted in different fields including innovation, entrepreneurship, strategy, dynamic capabilities, ecosystems, and family business. Finally, the article proposes a future research agenda aimed at improving current understanding of the German Mittelstand "innovation strategy" and its transferability to other contexts, and outlines practical implications for owners and managers worldwide wanting to emulate the German Mittelstand innovation model. © 2017 Product Development & Management Association.
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