Kevin Reuther

A systems theory perspective of interconnected influence factors on front-end innovation: the role of organisational structures

University of the West of Scotland
PhD awarded November 2019

Dear members of the Research and Development Management Association, dear R&D Management researchers and students,

My name is Kevin Reuther, I work as a deputy professor at the West Saxon University of Applied Sciences in Zwickau teaching innovation management and research methodology. Moreover, I am the Executive Director of the British Academy of Management’s Continental Network aiming to connect scholars and practitioners from the UK and Continental Europe.

As a RADMA scholar, I was very pleased to be asked by the association to share my experiences of the support I received with you and to provide some insights into my research. My main interests in this respect include systems theory approaches in the areas of innovation processes and entrepreneurship. I think a few lines on my doctoral thesis funded by RADMA give a good impression of what I am dealing with in this context:

I (and many others) consider Innovation to be a key for organisations to thrive. However, despite great efforts in research, we find no standardised procedures that guarantee innovation success yet. It is well-known that organisational structures allowing open communication and time for improvisation are an important factor in this respect. However, as previous research has often focused only on single influence factors, there is a clear gap in understanding the interconnected role of organisational structures and their impact on innovation processes in their respective interaction with other factors. Many researchers argue for novel approaches to acknowledge this complexity and that systems approaches are especially required in innovation research.

This is the gap I addressed in my thesis by adapting the Systemic Sensitivity Analysis of Vester (2000) to research the role of organisational structures and related influence factors on the early stages of innovation processes known as the fuzzy front-end (FFE). I used focus groups, semi-structured interviews and observation studies in the German high-tech sector to gain a deeper understanding of interdependencies among influence factors on innovation in an organisational system. The result of this research is a complex System Model of potential interconnected or interdependent influence factors at the FFE, providing a comprehensive overview which, in contrast to a specific consideration of individual factors, can better describe their modes of action.

The main contributions of my thesis to the academic debate are

  • a consolidation of previous research on single influence factors on innovation, particularly at the FFE,
  • the identification of potential connections between such influence factors,
  • providing a comprehensive System Model for how such influence factors can be interconnected and interdependent and
  • deriving the interconnected role of organisational structures and how that jointly impacts innovation processes.

It moreover contributes to business practice by providing a deeper understanding of the roles that a variety of factors can play within an organisation, particularly in relation to innovation processes. This allocation of roles helps to identify appropriate levers to steer an organisational system and discard factors that should not be considered as such, because they would solely lead to cosmetic corrections rather than real improvements.

Currently, I am preparing several publications on this topic and beyond that you can find via my ORCID (

I would finally like to once again thank RADMA, their chairman Dr Jeremy Klein and all trustees for supporting my PhD research with the RADMA Doctoral Students award. The full scholarship enabled me to conduct my doctorate in an inspiring intercultural research environment in Germany and the UK, which would not have been possible without this outstanding support.