Although research and development (R&D) is a key indicator of (technological) innovation, scholars have found mixed results regarding its effect on product innovation and firm performance. In this paper, we claim that variations in R&D effectiveness can be explained by changes in a firm’s social system, in particular in its management innovation. It is still unclear how management innovation influences R&D effectiveness in terms of product innovation. In this study, we address this theoretical and empirical gap in the innovation literature. Our theoretical arguments and findings from a large-scale survey among Dutch firms show that R&D has a decreasingly positive relationship with product innovation, particularly for firms with low levels of management innovation. However, in firms with high levels of management innovation, this relationship becomes more J-shaped, especially in small and medium-sized firms. Our findings also appear to indicate that management innovation may be more important for competitive advantage than just R&D. Overall, our insights reveal that management innovation is a key moderator in explaining firms’ effectiveness in transforming R&D into successful product innovation.
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© 2019 The Authors. R&D Management published by RADMA and John Wiley & Sons Ltd