Tradition-based companies’ path to innovation may be narrow and bumpy, but even the most legacy-bound of them can successfully develop a tradition-based innovation strategy, as Paola Dubini, Giulia Cancellieri and Ilaria Morganti (ASK Bocconi) theorize and empirically prove in Innovating within Tradition: The Case of Italian Opera, the prize-winning paper which won the Best Paper Award in the Management category at AIMAC 2013, the XII Conference on Arts and Cultural Management (Bogotà, Colombia, June 26-29, 2013).
As organizations with a mission of conservation and preservation of a traditional form of art, opera houses are a quintessential form of tradition-based companies. In their field radical innovation is practically non-existent (the most popular 20th century opera is ranked 73rd in the list of the most-played works), but incremental innovation is possible, in the form of reinterpretation of the past, i.e. production of unconventional, underperformed opera titles from the traditional repertoire.
Stuck between the rock of critics asking them to radically innovate the repertoire and the hard place of audiences always asking for more of the same, opera houses escape the pressures selecting forms of innovation that stem from tradition.
As opera houses need financial flexibility and artistic autonomy, the ASK scholars define opera houses’ performance as their ability to attract resources from a variety of stakeholders. They then draw a model which links opera houses’ artistic portfolio to their performance and test their hypotheses using data on 30 Italian opera houses, collected from 2006 to 2010.
As expected, they find that unconventional opera titles are positively related to opera houses’ revenue diversity, as long as these titles are drawn from the traditional repertoire. While expectation was that diversity of music styles and aesthetic innovation (in terms of scenes, costumes and stage directions) would strengthen the positive relation between non-conformity and performance, data show that this is not the case, confirming how narrow the innovation path is for tradition-based companies.