Department of Communication and Culture

Employee Interview #9 Peder Inge Furseth

Professor Peder Inge Furseth conducts research on leadership, innovativeness, and digital transformation, in addition to being a lecturer at BI Norwegian Business School. He recently published the book Innovation Capability and Digital Transformation in Norwegian Companies.

What has been your career path leading up to your current position?

I have a master’s degree in economics and a PhD in sociology, both from the University of Oslo. Economics and sociology are in many ways two contradictory fields of study, and I have learned a lot about interdisciplinarity by studying both subjects.

I am particularly interested in the subject of innovation, and within that field it is very interesting to know both economics and sociology. This is because innovation is a subject with contrasting views but without definitive answers. You must be able to handle different angles, whether qualitative, quantitative, or whether economic or societal factors are at the centre.

As for my career, I first worked as a research assistant at the Norwegian Institute for Consumer Research from 1988 to 1992. Then I received a Fulbright scholarship to be a visiting scholar at Berkeley for a year from 1993 to 1994 - a stay that was very inspiring. When I returned to Norway, I got a position as an associate professor at the Norwegian School of Trade and Retail Management from 1994, until it was acquired by BI in 2000. I have been employed here at BI since then and received the title of full professor in 2018.

What are your current research projects?

In my research, I focus a lot on innovation and digital transformation. I am deeply interested with culture for innovation and the development of sustainable business models.

In July my book entitled Innovation Ability and Digital Transformation in Norwegian Companies (Innovasjonsevne og digital transformasjon i norske bedrifter) was published. I discuss how companies must build their innovation ability before they can succeed with digital transformation.

Innovation ability is about creating value through innovation. I define innovation as innovation capacity plus innovation capability. The former is about resources the company has available. This can be employees, money, or physical premises. However, even if the innovation capacity is increased, this does not necessarily lead to more innovation or increased value. Yet, this is what most companies prioritize in their innovation work. This is because the innovation capacity is very visible, and the company can thus point to it and say that "we innovate".

The company's ability to innovate, on the other hand, is far more important for innovation, but more difficult to measure. Therefore, companies often lower the priority of developing their innovation capacity. An important insight I have gained through my research is that it is of no use to spend a lot of money on increasing innovation capacity if you do not have the ability to develop and implement innovation.

"By prioritizing the company's ability to innovate, one can create more innovation for less money. This is both smarter and more sustainable. "

Peder Inge Furseth

Professor, Department of Communication and Culture

What do you feel makes your job meaningful?

In my job I mainly do three tasks; I teach, I do research, and I network with actors in the business world. Through the research, I get to know new material, and I bring this into my teaching and business networks. I can again use insights from my business networks in my research projects. Through my annual BI seminars since year 2000, I have brought about 900 Norwegian executives to the San Francisco Bay Area and to the University of California, Berkeley. This hopefully has had an impact on some firms and persons’ increased motivation to think of innovation and to implement it. 

What makes my job feel meaningful is creating value for students and for companies, both in the public and private sectors. It is difficult to succeed with innovation projects, and if what I do at BI can contribute to some innovation projects being somewhat better or successful, that is incredibly good motivation for me. And most preferably when I do this in collaboration with colleagues at BI.

What is a challenge you have had to overcome in your job?

A few years ago, an article I had written was nominated for "best paper" at an Academy of Management conference. Afterwards, I submitted the same article to a well-known journal hoping to get it published, but the journal desk rejected the article and gave a harsh criticism in return. I was so surprised and disappointed because I had initially received such a good response to the article. In retrospect, I see this as a learning experience. Getting criticism and rejection is part of the job, and the experience has made me aware of being constructive when I comment on other people's work. A good critic should be able to point out ways to improve a script that the author may not be fully aware of.

Can you tell us a little about your teaching this semester?

Most of my teaching is connected to the Master of Management program Digitalisation, Innovation and Business Models. We have a total of 50 participants, and part of the program is a module in San Francisco with exciting lectures and company visits. In March this year, we visited Salesforce, the World Economic Forum, and Twitch, among others. I also lead an innovation course on the Master of Science program in Digital Communication Management. Half of the students are international, and I think that's really fun! When the group is multicultural, the course is enriched, because everyone has so many different experiences and knowledge.

Finally, can you share a fun fact about yourself?

My sister and I own a non-operative farm in Sunnmøre, and we had 150 acres of the forest on the farm turned into a nature reserve. This was approved by the Norwegian Cabinet (‘regjeringen’) in June 2020. In a nature reserve, the forest can never be cut down or used for commercial purposes. This particular forest is located in a very steep south-facing area in Liabygda in Stranda municipality to the west of Norway. No forest has ever been cut there, and the forest has therefore developed an impression of primeval forest. Among other things, there are five species of fungi threatened with extinction, such as the wax mushroom, several rare species in the flora such as the forest burdock, and rare nesting bird species such as the white-backed woodpecker. Now they are all guaranteed a safe 'home' for the future. I see the creation of the nature reserve as my family's modest contribution to a more sustainable planet.