Abstract: Making a Virtue of Necessity: Herman Miller's Model for Innovation

Stephen B. Adams


Herman Miller, Inc., has earned a global reputation as a paragon of creativity, which has been an integral factor in the company's position as an industry leader. Based on recent scholarship in regional studies, however, one would never have guessed that a company from Zeeland, Michigan, distant from creative enclaves such as New York and Los Angeles, would make such an impact. How does a company so reliant on creativity in design thrive outside the orbit of the creative class? I will show how the furniture industry predicament and practices and the company's location provided key constraints under which Herman Miller operated. The company's location helped dictate a distinctive business model, with no designers on staff and in which none of the designers doing work for Herman Miller had exclusive agreements. The result was surrender of a substantial portion of the firm's strategic direction to outsiders. I will show how the company's "inconvenient" location became a virtue when the company responded with a model that positioned the firm to initiate and benefit from disruptive innovation rather than be victimized by it.

BEH On-Line Paper