The dynamics of proactive striving: Initiating and sustaining development efforts in product design and entrepreneurship

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Not even brilliant ideas advance themselves. In all organizations, proactive efforts are required to translate opportunities into actual improvements. However, most research on proactivity in entrepreneurship and product design has addressed dispositional antecedents, and research in general tends to focus on goal setting, idea generation, and decision-making. But what happens after the initial decision to pursue an idea has been made? In this dissertation, a qualitative approach building on 4566 interview segments from 80 interviews in 13 organizations was used to explore how the process of proactive striving in product design and entrepreneurship is initiated and sustained. The four empirical essays included one experiment on how product design experts and students differed in their interpretations of design briefs. Proactive striving was observed already at this stage: more successful developers had more extensive, in-depth, and interconnected representations. The essays also included three naturalistic studies: idea advancement in two product design projects, attracting resources and other input in creating a new organization, and a longitudinal study of four new companies developing their first offering market-ready. In all of these studies, feedback from the environment emerged as a crucial mechanism for sustaining and even escalating proactive striving behaviors. Sometimes this required time-consuming inclusion and communication practices, creating the need for local inefficiency to produce global effectiveness. Based on the results, the generic idea development funnel can be modified into a process model of the enactment of proactive striving. In addition to recognizing the need for pruning non-action from fruitful action and progressively specifying actions in concrete iterations, the model makes two key contributions towards understanding the dynamics of initiating and sustaining proactive striving. First, it emphasizes potential discontinuities in efforts due to transitioning between three different levels of proactive effort manifestations: micro-level specific actions, intermediate-level activities, and global-level approaches. Second, it highlights the potential for positive spirals through individual-environment interaction: creating concretizing approximations of the pursued ideas in the form of boundary objects provided feedback on the feasibility of efforts, encouraged initial stakeholder input, and sustained efforts by energizing and committing developers and stakeholders alike. The model also illuminates several opportunities for enhancing development efforts with relatively minor interventions.
Translated title of the contributionProaktiivisen toiminnan dynamiikka – Kehittämisen käynnistäminen ja ylläpitäminen tuotesuunnittelussa ja yrittäjyydessä
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Vartiainen, Matti, Supervising Professor
Print ISBNs978-952-60-6366-9
Electronic ISBNs978-952-60-6367-6
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • proactive behavior
  • product design
  • entrepreneurial behavior
  • new ventures
  • idea development
  • innovation process
  • boundary objects

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