From scout to scout: the network of opportunity search in a corporate scouting community

Jakob Hoffmann, Robert Panitz, Johannes Gl├╝ckler


The professionalization of innovation activities in MNCs during the last decades has led to the development of specific organizational forms, such as innovation scouting units. However, while the formalization of innovation promises efficiency increases, mechanisms such as serendipity dictate that innovation is rarely fully plannable. To address this discrepancy, we study innovation scouting activities in a multinational chemical firm, utilizing a framework that integrates both formal and informal forms of scouting. By means of a network survey on a sample of 431 scouts, we find that a considerable amount of total scouting time (44%) and output (53% of project involvements) is due to informal scouts. However, formal and informal scouts differ with respect to the intensity and the reach of their participation in the organization's scout community, with the latter being more peripheral. Furthermore, holding a central position in the scout knowledge network is positively associated with the provision of scouting knowledge to internal projects. Based on these findings, we conclude that to make the most of informally scouted knowledge for the organization, formalized channels for the implementation of ideas as well as the scout community need to be visible and accessible not only for formal scouts but also for informal scouts.

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