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Managing experts and competing through innovation: an activity theoretical analysis.

Blackler, Frank; Crump, Norman; McDonald, Seonaidh


Frank Blackler

Norman Crump

Seonaidh McDonald


An activity theoretical analysis is presented of an organisation that is operating in a rapidly changing sector and whose competitiveness depends upon the design skills of its engineers, a number of whom are world experts in their fields. The Company designs high-technology, make-to-order products. Like other organisations that compete through knowledge and innovation the prosperity of this Company depends upon its organisational learning, that is, upon the effectiveness with which it can mobilise, apply and develop its distinctive knowledge base as circumstances change. In the difficult context that the Company faces the speed with which projects can move from the initial concept phase through design to production has become especially important. The paper outlines a general strategy for change that was developed as the Company sought to control this process and traces the consequences for design practices. An activity theoretical approach is used to model the changes that were attempted, the outcomes which emerged and possible future options. The approach emphasises the relevance of an historical perspective on organisational change, features the changing nature of expertise in contemporary manufacturing and draws attention to the potential significance for collective learning of tensions and incoherencies within a work system.


BLACKLER, F., CRUMP, N. and MCDONALD, S. 1999. Managing experts and competing through innovation: an activity theoretical analysis. Organization, 6(1), pages 5-31. Available:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 28, 1999
Online Publication Date Feb 28, 1999
Publication Date Feb 28, 1999
Deposit Date Jun 10, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jun 10, 2015
Journal Organization
Print ISSN 1350-5084
Electronic ISSN 1461-7323
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 6
Issue 1
Pages 5-31
Public URL


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