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    Learning to innovate collaboratively with technology: Exploring strategic workplace skill webs in a telecom services firm in Tehran

    Náder Alyani

    A Thesis Submitted for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

    (Social Science)

    LLAKES Centre Institute of Education

    University College London

    October 2017

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    Abstract

    This thesis explores innovation and learning within the context of an entrepreneurial new

    technology based firm (NTBF), operating in the creative sector of telecommunications value-

    added services located in Tehran, Iran, along with a partner in London, UK. Whilst

    backgrounding the socioeconomic and geopolitical characteristics of the operating environment,

    and historical antecedents of independence and self-sufficiency, plus chronic sanctions within the

    economy, the argument focuses on the interplay between intermediated learning via strategic

    ‘skill webs’ leading to innovation. Drawing on innovation and workplace learning corpus,

    collaborative innovation with technologies is organised as a competitive action in an unstable and

    unpredictable market: learning and skill enhancement in firms provides the stabilisers to remain

    and compete in the market.

    It is the juxtaposition of learning and innovation in service-innovation/-delivery design, while

    utilising pervasive and emerging telecoms technologies that provides the empirical base for this

    research. Conceptually, an emergent type of distributed learning, entitled as ‘DEAL’ (Design,

    Execute, Adjust and Learn) model, by enabling knowledge brokerage facilitated by ‘skill webs’,

    is identified and explored. This then acts as an analytical tool to examine the empirical elements

    which are in the form of longitudinal organisational ethnography on site visit waves, spanning

    2004 to 2013, focusing on project learning breakthroughs and cul-de-sacs as observed by learning

    episodes, often utilising informal networks and skill webs in technical and non-technical tasks.

    The case study findings within a conceptual model has implications for learning and education

    policy, and upskilling in firms located where regional clustering is not apparent. Furthermore,

    extrapolating on the theoretical and empirical inquiry and exploring policy vistas, emphasising

    the hybridised and socio-cultural nature of the innovation processes in transitional economies, the

    thesis highlights the paramount nature of NTBFs’ inquiry-based learning capabilities, and

    distributed interprofessional judgement formation evolving in an incremental and context-

    dependent manner, duly shaping the sustainability of learning to innovate.

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    Declaration

    I hereby declare that the work presented in this thesis is my own.

    [Signed in printed examined version]

    Náder Alyani

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    Acknowledgements

    An interdisciplinary and longitudinal project of this length and magnitude often becomes an

    intertwined labour of love and a journey of (at times, self-) discovery, weaving its own pragmatic

    skill webs. I am therefore naturally indebted to, and warmly appreciative of the academic mentors

    and senior colleagues, particularly for the feedback received at the different stages of this work,

    from Jan Derry, Michael Young, Richard Noss, Phillip Kent, Andrew Brown and Charlie Owen

    (at early and middle stages) and Laura James; Bente Elkjaer and Amy Edmondson (at later

    stages; and on exploring methods and methodological orientations); and for the intellectual rigour

    and timely advice of the UCL IOE Doctoral Examination Committee, and the gracious tolerance

    of UCL IOE Doctoral School’s colleagues; wonderfully inquisitive ‘nameless’ participants; and

    kindness of close friends, family and my students, and with sincere gratitude to Ali, Amir,

    Angeliki, Bradley, Enikő, Hamid, Marcel, Nasser, Shoaib, Simon, Vafa, Won-Joo, Yussra, and

    all colleagues generously offering their time, and for contributing to my intellectual trajectory.

    I am thankful to London Knowledge Lab, UK ESRC Centre for Learning and Life Chances in

    Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES Centre) at UCL’s Institute of Education; the

    former CNEM Group at London Business School; the Professional Education of Massachusetts

    Institute of Technology (& Sensei Jim Womack on ‘lean inquiries’) at Cambridge, MA; and

    Cyberspace Policy Research Centre at the University of Tehran, for their advice and assistance,

    inter alia, the much appreciated LKL/IOE research staff fee-wavers and MIT visiting scholarship.

    Whilst knowledge may be global, learning and skill most certainly unfolds locally: as a rare breed

    of the University of London doctoral scholars, as well as courses across the IOE, I was privileged

    to be able to participate in a number of specialist modules, and hold full library access on an

    intercollegiate level at Birkbeck (my first alma mater), LBS, LSE, SOAS and UCL, and draw

    upon the unparalleled resources at the British Library (and BLPES), for which I remain

    immensely grateful: the cool nights’ atmosphere of BL spaces and UCL Portico and Cloisters,

    under the glance of the Marmor Homericum depicting Homer’s scenes from Iliad and Odyssey,

    along with the pleasantly surreal, yet sobering company of Bentham whilst immersed in Art

    Pepper’s (apex of) art and craft or Whitney’s heavenly voice, shall remain with me for a while.

    Around the UCL IOE campus, Bloomsbury’s cherry blossom (桜の花) seasons were a treat and further away, Helsingin Yliopisto, MIT’s Dewey library and Országgyulési Könyvtár were gems.

    Like any arduous and long life journey, the joy is infinitely multiplied when travelling with a

    wise companion and in my good fortune, I have had the saintly delight of David, a decisive Tiger,

    taking on that scholarly role and the heavy burden perfectly and, although at times highly

    animated, patiently. Whilst I was supported to take the path less travelled with its new terrains, I

    learnt not only about the perils of thinking without acting/articulating; skating on thin ice; and

    sailing too close to the wind, but also the mediated transformation of a mentor to ‘a friend’ and

    then to further trust and submit to the guidance and grace of ‘the Friend’. Paraphrasing Alexander

    of Macedon; ‘I am indebted to my parents for living, but more so to my teachers for living well.’

    Heartened at the journey's interlude by Duna’s embankment in Budapest, London’s Bloomsbury,

    Tehran’s D3 and recently in Dhahran, Qonya and Medina, I cherish Rumi[Molavi]’s insights:

    Love is the ark appointed for the righteous,

    Which annuls the danger and provides a way of escape;

    Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment,

    Cleverness is mere opinion, bewilderment intuition.

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    Table of Contents

    Abstract ......................................................................................................................................... 2 Declaration ......................................................................................................................................... 3

    Acknowledgements ........................................................................................................................................ 4

    Chapter One: Introduction and overview ............................................................................................... 8 1.1 Background to the thesis ............................................................................................................... 9 1.2 Innovation and learning: rethinking the relationship with ‘skill webs’ ........................................11

    1.2.1 The context of the local telecoms sector: brief overview ........................................................13 1.3 Demarcation, methods and contribution of research ....................................................................18

    1.3.1 DEAL iterative model and a glance at methodology ...............................................................20 1.4 Thesis route plan and chapter outlines .........................................................................................26

    Chapter Two: Iran’s confrontation with modernity ...............................................................................30 2.1 Iran’s confrontation with modernity: from glocalisation to hybridisation ...................................34 2.2 Iran’s enduring pursuit of independence: revolutionary self-reliance and self-sufficiency .........52

    2.2.1 A brief re-assessment of the Iran and Iraq war (1980-1988) ...................................................53 2.2.2 A glance at the chronic international sanctions of the last decade ...........................................57

    2.3 Concluding remarks: framing Iran’s economic experiment and emerging transition ..................62

    Chapter Three: Tehran as a hybridised site and operating environment for innovating firms .................67 3.1 Overview of Iran as a hybridised operating environment for the innovating firm .......................67

    3.1.1 Moving from an static indust