Absorbing the Concept of Absorptive Capacity: How to Realize Its Potential in the Organization Field

SMG Working Paper No. 10/2009

53 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2009 Last revised: 14 May 2014

See all articles by Nicolai J. Foss

Nicolai J. Foss

Bocconi University - Department of Management and Technology

Marjorie A. Lyles

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Management & Entrepreneurship

H. W. Volberda

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM); Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM)

Date Written: November 25, 2009

Abstract

The purpose of this Perspective Paper is to advance understanding of absorptive capacity, its underlying dimensions, its multi-level antecedents, its impact on firm performance and the contextual factors that affect absorptive capacity. Nineteen years after the Cohen and Levinthal 1990 paper, the field is characterized by a wide array of theoretical perspectives and a wealth of empirical evidence. In this paper, we first review these underlying theories and empirical studies of absorptive capacity. Given the size and diversity of the absorptive capacity literature, we subsequently map the existing terrain of research through a bibliometric analysis. The resulting bibliometric cartography shows the major discrepancies in the organization field, namely that (1) most attention so far has been focused on the tangible outcomes of absorptive capacity; (2) organizational design and individual level antecedents have been relatively neglected in the absorptive capacity literature; and (3) the emergence of absorptive ccapacity from the actions and interactions of individual, organizational and inter-organizational antecedents remains unclear. Building on the bibliometric analysis, we develop an integrative model that identifies the multi-level antecedents, process dimensions, and outcomes of absorptive capacity as well as the contextual factors that affect absorptive capacity. We argue that realizing the potential of the absorptive capacity concept requires more research that shows how “micro antecedents” and “macroantecedents” influence future outcomes such as competitive advantage, innovation, and firm performance. In particular, we identify conceptual gaps that may guide future research to fully exploit the absorptive capacity concept in the organization field and to explore future fruitful extensions of the concept.

Keywords: Absorptive capacity, knowledge management, organizational capabilities, multiple analytical levels, micro-foundations of absorptive capacity.

Suggested Citation

Foss, Nicolai J. and Lyles, Marjorie A. and Volberda, Henk W., Absorbing the Concept of Absorptive Capacity: How to Realize Its Potential in the Organization Field (November 25, 2009). SMG Working Paper No. 10/2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1513184 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1513184

Nicolai J. Foss

Bocconi University - Department of Management and Technology ( email )

Via Roentgen 1
Milan, MI 20136
Italy

Marjorie A. Lyles

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Management & Entrepreneurship ( email )

Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Henk W. Volberda

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) - Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) ( email )

P.O. Box 1738
Room T08-21
3000 DR Rotterdam, 3000 DR
Netherlands
+31 10 408 2761 (Phone)
+31 10 408 9013 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.eur.nl/fbk/dep/dep4/faculty_members/Henk_Volberda

Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM)

P.O. Box 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam
Netherlands

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