How do new technologies traverse government innovation systems as they are matured from concept to flight?
R&D management practices typically conceptualize complex product innovation as a Stage-Gate process whereby novel concepts are matured through a succession of development stages and progressively winnowed down at each sequential gate. This view implicitly assumes that maturity is a monotonically increasing function of the technology in time, and that partially matured technologies can be restored from the “shelf” for future maturation, barring obsolescence.
However, in practice, the pathways taken by new capabilities do not respect these assumptions, with important implications. Based on longitudinal case studies of technology infusion in NASA’s Science Directorate, we develop an inductive process model that views the innovation process as a small number of epochs of persistent identifiable behaviors, punctuated by transition inducing shocks.
Where the more traditional Stage-Gate model leads to an emphasis on centralized flow control, the Epoch-Shock model acknowledges the decentralized, probabilistic nature of key interactions and highlights which aspects may be influenced.