Incumbent capability enhancement in response to radical innovations

Soumodip Sarkar, Oleksiy Osiyevskyy, Stewart Clegg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Schumpeterian market disequilibrium marked by entrepreneurial entry and incumbent exit has long held an important place in management literature. The extant literature has overwhelmingly championed the newcomer, despite incumbents’ obvious advantages in resources, experience and market knowledge. The current research provides evidence for the effectiveness of the incumbent's strategy of capability enhancement (along an established technological trajectory) while responding to radical technological innovations. We develop a cognitive process model that integrates managerial cognition with capability development and deployment views, depicting the dynamics of the incumbent's capability enhancement process. We analyze the cognitive drivers of organizational actions in all stages (rigidity, triggering event, and capability renewal) and elucidate the role of top management cognition in the processes of detecting and correcting errors in a strategic course of action. We ground our model in the case of a cork-stopper industry veteran's decline as corks ceded ground to screw tops and other stoppers in the wine industry. How a major company fought back in response to the emergence of these, in the industry context, radical technological innovations, provides the basis for our narrative. The proposed theoretical model contributes to literature on technology management (with regard to incumbent strategies in response to radical innovation threats) as well as the role of cognition in strategy (providing an explanation of the cognitive underpinnings of capability development).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-365
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Management Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2018


  • Capability enhancement
  • Managerial cognition
  • Radical change
  • Sensemaking
  • Turnaround


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