Purpose – Until now there has been little attention paid to the emotional costs of innovation failures, and in particular, how prior innovation failures hinder subsequent new, related innovation. The saga of Sun Microsystems' Sun Ray computer illustrates the devastating impact of institutional innovation failure trauma. This paper aims to investigate its development. Design/methodology/approach – The authors trace the development of Sun Microsystem's Sun Ray offering, which replaced its failed JavaStation product. As it was launched, the Sun Ray endeavor encountered the classic “innovator's dilemma” problems that are well known to those who attempt to champion disruptive innovations. Findings – But despite its many strong competitive advantages, the Sun Ray computer has unsuccessfully struggled to catch hold with customers. To a large degree the causes are Sun Microsystems' inability to learn from its earlier innovative JavaStation failure and to recover from the trauma of that failure. Research limitations/implications – To understand Sun Ray's story, the authors interviewed nearly 40 key people and compiled nearly 300 documents, from internal memos to market analyses to press releases to meeting minutes. Practical implications – Companies can develop proactive management practices to prevent major trauma and consequent innovation paralysis. Six ways to do so are offered. Originality/value – This is a study of a radical innovation that could have changed computing history. But Sun Ray, Sun's computing innovation was too closely associated with an earlier, highly traumatic and publicized failure of JavaStation and never really got a chance to prove its mettle. Overcoming such innovation trauma is a critical but underappreciated aspect of innovation management in companies such as Sun Microsystems that depend on continuous innovation for their competitiveness.
Strategy & Leadership – Emerald Publishing
Published: May 9, 2008
Keywords: Innovation; Change management; Computers; Management failures