CSSO Speaker Series - Guest Tiona Zuzul

Friday, April 19, 2024 10:30to12:00

Guest: Tiona Zuzul 

Theme: -  Managing the promise-risk tension: Recrafting framing of innovation after catastrophic failure. 


Catastrophic innovation failure destabilizes firms, challenging them to address the causes of the failure internally while also reasserting the worthiness of their innovative efforts to external stakeholders. We examine how firms respond to this challenge by analyzing Virgin Galactic (VG)’s external framing in the aftermath of its fatal 2014 test flight crash and contrasting this framing with its internal design choices. Following the crash, we find that VG’s framing of its innovation efforts to external audiences did not align with its internal design decisions. Remedying the technical cause of the failure only required VG to make small improvements to its technology. In contrast, VG dramatically reframed its efforts by recalibrating two elements: the promise of the innovation (once completed) and the risk inherent in its development (as it is developed). While VG’s pre-crash framing elevated promise and downplayed risk, its post-crash framing amplified both. This new framing also decoupled both risk and promise from the technical reality of the firm’s innovation. The sum of these actions allowed VG to elevate the significance of its efforts and justify its continued quest. We draw on these findings to theorize the “promise-risk tension,” and propose how innovating firms can manage this tension to buffer against the destabilizing effects of a catastrophic innovation failure.

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