A Simulation-Based Approach to Understanding the Dynamics of Innovation Implementation


Nelson P. Repenning


Department of Operations Management / System Dynamics Group Sloan School of Management, E53-335
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02142
Phone: 617-258-6889 Fax: 617-258-7579
E-Mail: nelson@mit.edu

February 2001


Final Version Appears As:

Repenning, N. (2002).  A Simulation-Based Approach to Understanding the Dynamics of Innovation Implementation. Organization Science, 13, 2: 109 - 127.


* Support has been provided by the National Science Foundation, grant SBR-9422228, the Ford Motor Company and the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Both the content and the presentation of the paper have benefited from the comments of John Sterman, Julio Gomes, Edward Anderson, M. Anjali Sastry, Rogelio Oliva, Liz Krahmer, Julio Rotemberg, Steve Graves, Roger Saillant, participants in the MIT Operations Management Seminar, the Senior Editor and two anonymous referees. Special thanks to Laura Black for excellent research and editorial assistance. All contributions are gratefully acknowledged. An earlier version of this paper was entitled "Successful Change Sometimes Ends with Results: The Role of Path Dependence in Participatory Change Efforts."



The history of management practice is filled with innovations that failed to live up to the promise suggested by their early success. A paradox currently facing organizational theory is that the failure of these innovations often cannot be attributed to an intrinsic lack of efficacy. To resolve this paradox, in this paper I study the process of innovation implementation. Working from existing theoretical frameworks, I synthesize a model that describes the process through which participants in an organization develop commitment to using a newly adopted innovation. I then translate that framework into a formal model and analyze it using computer simulation. The analysis suggests three new constructsreversion, regeneration and the motivation threshold characterizing the dynamics of implementation. Taken together, the constructs provide an internally consistent theory of how seemingly rational decision rules can create the apparent paradox of innovations that generate early results but fail to produce sustained benefit.

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