While innovations and new technologies are often pivotal to the long-term prosperity of firms, such firm-level outcomes emerge from the actions and interactions of organizational members who develop innovations and use new technologies. The “microfoundations movement” seeks to understand how micro-level (e.g., individual) actions and interactions lead to macro-level (e.g., organizational) outcomes and mediate relations between macro-level variables. Although the movement has grown tremendously over the last decade, it has yet to deeply pervade the domain of strategic technology and innovation management. Due to its tremendous growth, it is quite fragmented and dispersed, which impedes the identification of the most promising opportunities for future research. To overcome this problematic situation, we conduct a systematic literature review of existing research on microfoundations in the strategic management of technology and innovation, synthesize it into an integrative framework, and chart promising paths for future research. Specifically, we apply a multi-coder, multi-step approach, identify 87 relevant articles published in 23 leading academic journals over the period from 2003 to 2022, and propose a research agenda comprising more than 20 promising avenues for future research based on the resulting insights. These findings have important implications for the academic literature and management practice.
It is widely accepted that individuals play a major role in producing innovations (e.g., Amabile, 1998, Dahlander et al., 2016, Felin and Hesterly, 2007, Simon, 1991). Nevertheless, the familiar image of “the lone inventor working tirelessly until one comes across the grand discovery, which is followed by shouts of Eureka and much excitement” (Friedman et al., 2008, p. 18; emphasis in original) is often misleading. Few inventors are actually “lone wolves”, but most are embedded in social structures that are key to the development of successful innovations (Dodgson and Gann, 2018, Grigoriou and Rothaermel, 2014). The great majority of successful innovations originate in firms and emerge through the interplay of numerous individuals (Schilling and Shankar, 2019, White and Bruton, 2010). At the same time, innovations are becoming more and more essential for the ongoing competitiveness and long-term prosperity of firms (Audretsch et al., 2014, Foss et al., 2011, Schilling and Shankar, 2019). The same holds true for new technologies, which often only deliver the value added desired by firms if they are well received and adequately put into operation by organizational members (Boothby et al., 2010, Hoppmann et al., 2020, Leonardi and Barley, 2010). Consequently, important interdependencies exist between individuals and organizations. While organizations influence the conditions in which individuals can be innovative and adopt new technologies, individuals affect the prosperity of their firm through their innovation-related actions and their use of new technologies (Felin and Foss, 2005, Grant, 1996, Schilling and Shankar, 2019).1
The recent growth in microfoundational research demonstrates the enormous potential of the microfoundations paradigm to advance our understanding of important phenomena. Current calls for further microfoundational work indicate that the microfoundations movement will likely continue to grow in the future (Elsahn et al., 2020, Loon et al., 2020, Raffaelli et al., 2019). At the same time, its rapid growth has led to a fragmentation that – if it were to remain unaddressed – could impede the identification of the most promising opportunities for additional research. A synthesis of existing microfoundational research can address this problem and provide a solid foundation for subsequent efforts (Barney and Felin, 2013, Felin et al., 2015). Our integrative literature review delivered this synthesis for microfoundational research in the STIM domain. We analyzed 87 articles published in 23 peer-reviewed journals over the period from 2003 to 2022. Together, these articles can be considered representative of present microfoundational research in the STIM domain. Our analysis found that some relevant topics have already gained considerable attention, whereas others have been under-researched so far.