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|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||تعداد صفحات مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی|
|20134||2011||13 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید|
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Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Technovation, Volume 31, Issues 5–6, May–June 2011, Pages 203–215
Learning capacity is a critical factor for a firm’s innovation and competitiveness. This study explores the issue of how knowledge in inter-firm relationships with distributors influences manufacturers’ exploitation- and exploration-based innovations and performance. The empirical model examines the effect of three different types of knowledge-related issues in inter-firm relationships: (i) the acquisition of substantial knowledge (about products, technology, or markets) from distributors; (ii) the learning about collaborating with each distributor as the relationship evolves; and (iii) the general firm’s knowledge about managing distributors. A model of learning—innovation—performance is developed and tested in a sample of 201 firms in the food and beverages sector. The results reveal that: (i) knowledge about managing distributors promotes continuous learning from them; (ii) learning to collaborate is critical, as it favours knowledge acquisition and both types of innovations (exploitation- and exploration-based); (iii) learning from distributors weakens firms’ tendency to stress one type of innovation strategy over another; and (iv) knowledge in inter-firm relationships with distributors affects performance in a completely mediated way, that is, through innovation. Theoretical and managerial implications of these findings are discussed in the conclusion of the paper.
This study’s purpose is to examine how the manufacturers’ knowledge in inter-firm relationships with distributors influences their exploratory and exploitative innovations and performance. Its interest lies on the fact that the last decades of research have demonstrated that innovation is an important source of competitive advantage (Adner and Kapoor, 2010 and Song and Thieme, 2009). Among the different factors that may contribute to innovation success (see for instance, Song and Parry, 1997) knowledge- and learning-related issues have entered in the literature in more recent times, as knowledge is recognised as a vital resource—not only for the development of specific innovations in products and processes but also for the effective implementation of other resources in the overall innovation process (Garcia et al., 2003). In particular, learning from external relationships is important, as it expands the firm’s knowledge base (Amara et al., 2008 and Bierly et al., 2009), so that the firm’s ability to recognise the value of new information from external relationships and then apply it to commercial ends—which constitutes a firm’s so-called ‘absorptive capacity’ (Cohen and Levinthal, 1990)—is increasingly associated with successful innovation (e.g., Lane et al., 2006, Spithoven et al., 2010 and Zahra and George, 2002). This highlights the importance of external knowledge sourcing with regard to the development of the innovative capability of a firm (Li and Tang, 2010). Whereas research on this topic has notably increased lately, there are issues that still require clarification. First, empirical studies have tended to focus on knowledge transfer and its internalisation by the firm (e.g., Kale et al., 2000) with relatively little consideration of the multiple types of knowledge-related issues involved in inter-firm relationships. This study addresses this gap in the literature by taking into account three types of knowledge: (i) acquisition of substantial knowledge related to product, technology, or markets; (ii) the learning about how to collaborate with specific relationships; and (iii) the firm’s accumulated knowledge about the management of inter-firm relationships. Secondly, although the literature highlights the importance of external learning in promoting innovation (Dyer and Singh, 1998), empirical investigation of the extent to which inter-firm learning influences exploration- and exploitation-based innovations is scarce and very recent (Gobbo and Olsson, 2010, Holmqvist, 2009 and Bierly et al., 2009). Therefore, this study is one attempt to give an answer to Holmqvist’s (2009) call “to extend the small but growing inter-organisational learning literature by empirically linking inter-organisational learning processes to the problem of exploitation and exploration” (p. 282). Moreover, although knowledge is of the utmost importance for any firm that wishes to sustain a competitive advantage through product, process, and/or organisational innovation (Wernerfelt, 1984, Grant, 1996 and Garcia et al., 2003), empirical work concerning the impact of inter-firm knowledge-related issues on a firm’s competitiveness is scarce. For instance, Yeoh (2009) has recently stated that testing the effects of inter-organisational learning on firms’ performance still remains intellectually challenging. Finally, research on inter-firm learning is frequently concentrated in the area of strategic alliances (e.g., Kale et al., 2000), especially with regard to R&D collaborations in high-tech industries (e.g., Lane and Lubatkin, 1998), whereas traditional industries have captured a marginal degree of attention (see Spithoven et al., 2010 for one exception). The study of this phenomenon in supply-chain, vertical relationships in mature industries like the food and beverages industry is scarce, even though inter-organisational learning is an important contributor to supply chain relationships’ performance (Hernandez-Espallardo et al., 2010) and the food and beverages industry is of high economic and social relevance (Pfitzer and Krishnaswamy, 2007). Innovation activity is very important in this industry, with a strong emphasis on product innovations addressing new and differentiated demands as well as health, safety and quality concerns, with market dynamics dominating the reasons for innovations (Hauknes, 2001). Moreover, process innovations are commonplace as the result of supply chain integration initiatives directed to reduce costs and improve efficiency. The food and beverages supply chain is in the front line with respect to supply chain practices like EDI (Electronic Data Interchange), VMI (Vendor Managed Inventory), QR (Quick Replenishment), CM (Category Management), or CPFR (Collaborative Planning, Forecasting and Replenishment) (Van Donk et al., 2008). Particularly interesting is the adoption of ECR initiatives that not only encompass logistical process-oriented improvements but also collaborative frameworks between distributors and manufacturers to optimise new product developments (Corsten and Kumar, 2005 and ECR Europe, 2005). Therefore, this industry is a clear example of a demand-oriented industry and, as a result, knowledge inputs regarding markets and trends are central elements in its innovations (Stewart and Martinez, 2002). As a result, the channel of distribution acquires a great relevance as an external source of innovation for food and beverages manufacturers (Hauknes, 2001). This sector has evolved in recent decades in the direction of a greater degree of influence of distributors (Cosgrove, 2003). In this study, we use the term ‘distributors’ with a wide perspective to refer to those independent firms that participate in the manufacturer’s channel of distribution, which may include manufacturers’ local agents, wholesalers and retailers. With respect to innovation in the industry, the distributors participate actively not only in initiatives to get operational efficiencies through the expansion of process innovations (e.g., CM) but also on the manufacturers’ product innovation programs with the purpose of getting products better fitted to the distributors’ strategy and final market demands (Deromedi and Körber, 2003). This type of collaboration relationship-based innovation between distributors and suppliers has therefore been recognised as a major supply chain trend (Ganesan et al., 2009) and is accompanied by a call to perform research on the role and influence of supermarkets on the R&D agenda of manufacturers (Estrada-Flores, 2008). The present research represents one effort in this direction. The remainder of this paper is arranged as follows. The next section presents the conceptual model for the study and explains the hypothesised relationships among the constructs in the proposed model. Later, we present the empirical test of the model and the results. The paper concludes with a discussion of the main results and their managerial implications.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
This study extends our understanding of the role of external knowledge on innovation decisions, providing empirical proofs of the links in the sequence external knowledge-innovation-performance (Ellonen et al., 2009). In particular, we develop and test a comprehensive model of the influence of knowledge in relationships with distributors on the manufacturers’ exploitation- and exploration-based innovations. Previous studies have recognised the role of customers and competitors in guiding the adoption of exploitation and exploration competences for product innovation (e.g., Atuahene-Gima, 2005). This research focuses on distributors as a powerful group that influences manufacturers’ innovation decisions, a supply chain vertical relationship that, in spite of its importance for manufacturers’ success, has been scarcely studied in the innovation literature (one exception is Song and Zhao, 2004). Moreover, the fact that we perform this research in the food and beverages industrial setting contributes to compensating for other important bias, that is, the neglect of so-called low-tech and mature industries in innovation studies (Hauknes, 2001). As a matter of fact, the issue of alliance formation for innovation purposes (i.e., new product development) is well documented in the literature (e.g., Rothaermel and Deeds, 2004). Nevertheless, as the success of innovations depends also on how they are marketed, the value of this research lies in the fact that it constitutes a seminal approach to figuring out how knowledge in inter-firm relationships and innovation strategy are related in the commercialisation phase of the value chain. In this value-chain relationship, the use of knowledge from distributors provides a way to link and leverage the voice of the consumer to the manufacturers’ innovation activities. As Danskin et al. (2005) affirm, “while anecdotal evidence suggests that some firms are building knowledge management systems that include both proactive and passive systems to provide feedback loops throughout the value chain, there is no empirical research relating these developments to strategy, value chain position, and firm performance” (p. 96). This study is a first attempt to relate knowledge obtained in supply chains to innovation and performance, and the results allow us to recommend the implementation of inter-firm knowledge management systems to sustain innovations. From a theoretical point of view, our model and results confirm the postulate of the knowledge-based view of the firm concerning competitiveness as the result of the firm’s ability to generate, acquire, and integrate both internal and external sources of knowledge (Rosenkopf and Nerkar, 2001). Specifically, we observe the issue of how knowledge in inter-firm relationships with distributors is incorporated into the dynamics of innovation. From a managerial point of view, our results confirm that the external knowledge coming from vertical relationships is relevant for management, as advocated by Grant and Baden-Fuller (2004). Because it is a challenge for managers to turn knowledge into internal competencies for innovation (Kogut and Zander, 1992), by focusing on the link between learning from distributors and innovation, this study meets this challenge and presents a new perspective on the role of learning capabilities in vertical relationships with distributors. To ensure the effective development of innovations, managers should work to improve their firm’s internal capacity to absorb external knowledge (Xia and Roper, 2008). Our results confirm that the firm’s absorptive capacity depends on individuals who stand at the crossroad of the firm and the external environment (Spithoven et al., 2010), with the manufacturers’ departments and personnel in contact with distributors (e.g. trade marketing and key accounts managers) playing a very important role. In line with this, firstly, managers are advised to take care that these personnel and organisational functions contribute by developing the cultural values, and the learning structures and processes considered in our three-dimensional construct of knowledge in inter-firm relationships with distributors (knowledge acquisition, learning to collaborate, and knowledge about managing distributors) as an effective mechanism of leveraging market-oriented innovations (Kok and Biemans, 2009). Secondly, manufacturers should implement mechanisms to interlace these personnel and departments in contact with distributors with the R&D function to mutually interchange knowledge and to collaborate for the initiation and success of innovations (Spithoven et al., 2010). Moreover, the finding of a significant mediating role of exploitation- and exploration-based innovation strategies in the relationship between knowledge related to distributors and performance suggests that only those firms that develop their capacity to learn from distributors to leverage innovation may benefit from learning with distributors. These innovation strategies enable manufacturers to reap the benefits of learning with distributors, a relevant result for managers, who should design their structures and processes of interaction with distributors with the innovation strategy in mind (and vice versa). To the best of our knowledge, this is the first empirical endeavour that simultaneously deals with the three types of knowledge-related issues in inter-firm relationships (i.e., knowledge acquisition, learning to collaborate, and knowledge about managing distributors). The study of the relationships among these three dimensions allows us to observe that the stock of knowledge accumulated by manufacturers about how to manage distributors is of the utmost importance to improve collaboration and to internalise knowledge from distributors. This confirms the important role played by the knowledge about managing distributors as an essential precondition to learning, innovation and performance. Regarding this, literature on alliances has exhibited some evidence of the effect of the accumulated firm’s stock of knowledge about managing alliances on the firm’s stock market (Kale et al., 2002), on a general subjective evaluation of performance of one specific alliance (Kale and Singh, 2007), and on the performance of all the firm’s alliances (Draulans et al., 2003). Zollo et al. (2002) consider the effect of alliance capability on subsequent knowledge acquisition from the alliance. They use the firm’s satisfaction with the knowledge accumulated from participating in the collaborative agreement, as “alliance research identifies knowledge accumulation as a key organisational outcome of inter-firm collaborations” (p. 706). However, it is just one of the three items used to build a summed scale of performance (the others are “the extent to which the alliance created new opportunities for the firm” and “the degree to which the alliance satisfied the partnering firm’s initial objectives”). Compared to that article, we present an original contribution by empirically delving into the black box of the effect on a firm’s performance of the firm’s stock of knowledge about managing relationships. We theoretically justify and empirically confirm that knowledge about managing distributors positively influences the acquisition of substantial knowledge from distributors and the collaboration with them, as learning to collaborate is enhanced. From a managerial point of view, this result suggests that manufacturers’ investments in developing this capability pay off in terms of its ability to continue learning from distributors. In general, we observe that learning in relationships with distributors is more influential on exploitation-based innovations than on exploration-based innovations. Koza and Lewin (1998) defend the idea that, because of returns associated with exploitation are more visible, proximal in time, and certain, the application of inter-organisational learning to exploitation strategies is favoured against exploration. In any case, both learning to collaborate and acquiring knowledge from distributors are variables that influence manufacturers’ innovations. However, learning to collaborate with distributors is confirmed as a more decisive variable in our model. It not only contributes to the firms’ acquisition of distributors’ knowledge but also contributes directly to both exploitation- and exploration-based innovations. Therefore, the logical relationship between resources, innovation and performance is supported and better understood by explaining how firms prioritise their resources to exploitation vs. exploration depending on their knowledge in inter-firm relationships with distributors. This study offers new empirical evidence to the literature dealing with the exploitation–exploration dichotomy of innovation strategies. Empirical confirmation of hypotheses H3 and H4 indicates that learning from distributors is one issue that simultaneously favours exploitation and exploration, thus contributing to weakening the dynamics of concentration in one at the other’s expense. Holmqvist (2009) describes learning from inter-firm relationships as a relatively complicated affair that generates slowness in learning from experience, complicating learning and impeding the prominence of any strategy over the other, as no clear-cut relationship between experience and success can be easily established. Moreover, learning from distributors consists of learning from a portfolio of other firms that are heterogeneous about their own state in the exploitation vs. exploration dichotomy in one specific moment and with variations of their particular states in different moments (Koza and Lewin, 1998). Knowledge acquired from this diverse portfolio of distributors and the adaptation to their demands will favour the simultaneous adoption of exploitation- and exploration-based innovations as a result of the incorporation of learning from distributors into the firm (Im and Rai, 2008). Therefore, managers must pay attention to maintaining and nurturing a portfolio of relationships with distributors that maximises the number of strategic opportunities for innovation and also that minimises the potential for negative biases on the choices and restrictions of the actions through agreements and operational standards of behaviours (Gobbo and Olsson, 2010). Additionally, our empirical evidence shows a relative imbalance between the effects of each type of innovation on performance, as exploitation is only positively related to open-system performance, while exploration is positively related to both types of performance. This is explained by the fact that the scale used to measure open system performance accounts for innovation’s intermediate results, which are independent of the firm’s competitive environment (e.g., product quality or adaptation to the market demands). These results can be achieved with incremental innovations that characterise an exploitation-based innovative strategy. However, final results in the market like those considered in the scale of rational goals (e.g., market share, sales or profitability) are very dependent on the firm’s competitive environment so that, to achieve these goals, according to our results, only an exploitation strategy will not be enough. In fact, we found that the effects of exploration-based innovations on a firm’s rational goals are higher than those obtained with exploitation-based innovations. As exploration-based innovation strategy involves an accumulation of resources and capabilities (Danneels, 2002), it seems more adequate to achieve those goals that are more dependent on the competitive environment.