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Absorptive Capacity: A New Perspective on Learning and Innovation

Wesley M. Cohen and Daniel A. Levinthal
Administrative Science Quarterly
Vol. 35, No. 1, Special Issue: Technology, Organizations, and Innovation (Mar., 1990), pp. 128-152
DOI: 10.2307/2393553
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2393553
Page Count: 25
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Absorptive Capacity: A New Perspective on Learning and Innovation
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Abstract

In this paper, we argue that the ability of a firm to recognize the value of new, external information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends is critical to its innovative capabilities. We label this capability a firm's absorptive capacity and suggest that it is largely a function of the firm's level of prior related knowledge. The discussion focuses first on the cognitive basis for an individual's absorptive capacity including, in particular, prior related knowledge and diversity of background. We then characterize the factors that influence absorptive capacity at the organizational level, how an organization's absorptive capacity differs from that of its individual members, and the role of diversity of expertise within an organization. We argue that the development of absorptive capacity, and, in turn, innovative performance are history- or path-dependent and argue how lack of investment in an area of expertise early on may foreclose the future development of a technical capability in that area. We formulate a model of firm investment in research and development (R&D), in which R&D contributes to a firm's absorptive capacity, and test predictions relating a firm's investment in R&D to the knowledge underlying technical change within an industry. Discussion focuses on the implications of absorptive capacity for the analysis of other related innovative activities, including basic research, the adoption and diffusion of innovations, and decisions to participate in cooperative R&D ventures.

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