Re-Thinking Competitive Advantage from Human Capital: How the Concept of Firm-Specificity has Led Theorists Astray

20 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2010 Last revised: 26 Jul 2012

See all articles by Benjamin A. Campbell

Benjamin A. Campbell

The Ohio State University - Fisher College of Business

Russell Wayne Coff

Wisconsin School of Business

David Kryscynski

Emory University - Department of Organization & Management

Date Written: February 19, 2010

Abstract

There continues to be tremendous interest in human capital as a potential source of competitive advantage among firms. Indeed, knowledge can be valuable, rare and hard to imitate for a variety of reasons. However, we contend that extant theory over-emphasizes the role of firm-specificity as a condition for competitive advantage. The implicit assumption is that labor markets for general and industry-specific human capital are sufficiently frictionless that it is not possible for a firm to enjoy an advantage. Here, we adopt more realistic assumptions about labor markets and explore how firms might gain advantages. We also examine the extent to which firm-specificity serves as the barrier to mobility assumed throughout much of the literature. We conclude with a richer understanding of how and when human capital may lead to advantages and suggest a research agenda that differs markedly from current trajectories.

Suggested Citation

Campbell, Benjamin A. and Coff, Russell Wayne and Kryscynski, David, Re-Thinking Competitive Advantage from Human Capital: How the Concept of Firm-Specificity has Led Theorists Astray (February 19, 2010). Academy of Management Review (37), 376-395, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1555934 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1555934

Benjamin A. Campbell

The Ohio State University - Fisher College of Business ( email )

2100 Neil Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210-1144
United States

Russell Wayne Coff (Contact Author)

Wisconsin School of Business ( email )

975 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
United States

David Kryscynski

Emory University - Department of Organization & Management ( email )

1300 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

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