Since the 2015 fall semester, Professor DR. Karin Hoisl has headed the Chair of Organization and Innovation supporting the field of Management studies at University of Mannheim, Business School. Before her transfer to Mannheim, she conducted research in Munich especially in the field of Innovation Management, a concept that covers the efficient design of innovation processes from the finding of ideas up to the final product.
In this interview, she explains how innovations are made possible, how important it is to fail, and why young female scientists should be sponsored.
Innovations often have a difficult standing in corporations and are often not implemented. Under what circumstances can innovations succeed?
In Start-Ups they tend to succeed quite well: it is a very small environment where the risks aren’t as high. However, the risk for big businesses in innovations is very high and there’s much at stake if innovations should fail: their reputation, existing products on the market, customer contact or positions in the company. Moreover, the corporate culture factors in greatly. Innovation-friendly companies embody a so-called culture of failure. There, failure is not only permitted but even desired under the condition that there is something to be learned and improved upon next time round.
Here in Germany, failure is still seen as a personal failure. In the U.S., the attitude towards failure is more relaxed. What can German entrepreneurs learn from Americans?
There are still differences between the United States and Europe or rather Germany. But not as many as a couple of years ago when everyone who failed with their Start-Up never got a second chance. This is, in part, due to internationalization: for example, if you start an internet business, you’re not locally tied to Germany anymore. Investors come from all around the world, because founders are looking for investors internationally. Even the team is often located at different sites. What has changed is the aforementioned “culture of failure”. Failures, if unpleasant, are permitted with the hope of doing better next time.
For the takeover of the Chair of Organization, you’ve come from the LMU and the Max-Planck-Institute of Munich to Mannheim. What convinced you to transfer to Mannheim?
Mannheim is one of, if not the best, universities in the area of business administration in Germany. The university enjoys an excellent international reputation. Moreover, it is known for its outstanding research; a considerable incentive for me. The facilities in Mannheim are very good and the students are highly motivated. To work in such an environment is a lot of fun. Another nice implication is that we’re so close to the ZEW (Mannheim Centre for European Economic Research). There are many overlaps in research with their innovation department.
You are now one of six female professors at the Business School. Do you think the small percentage of female chair holders is connected to the “glass ceiling” that is referred to so often? Up to the doctoral thesis, the percentage of PhD students is balanced, then it often declines.
I believe that the “gender issue” has a much lesser meaning in research than in business. Indeed, the percentage of women up until their doctoral thesis in business administration is relatively balanced and after that it does decline. The question is if discrimination is really the cause, which I doubt. In the end it’s all about who, for example, has the best publications, but not if the publication was written by a man or a woman. Oftentimes it’s up to the women themselves: many women just don’t feel confident enough going into research and becoming a professor. That is why support programs for women are so important. I think it is the duty of female professors to talk to doctoral students directly and encourage them to start their scientific career. Together they should then plan how, for example, career and family can be balanced properly.
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