Fail Often, Fail Big, and Fail Fast? Learning from Small Failures and R&D Performance in the Pharmaceutical Industry

49 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2015 Last revised: 14 Nov 2016

See all articles by Rajat Khanna

Rajat Khanna

Tulane University - A.B. Freeman School of Business

Isin Guler

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Kenan-Flagler Business School

Atul A. Nerkar

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Management-Strategy Area

Date Written: March 1, 2015

Abstract

Do firms learn from their failed innovation attempts? Answering this question is important because failure is an integral part of exploratory learning. In this study, we explore whether and under what circumstances firms learn from their small failures in experimentation. Building on organizational learning literature, we examine the conditions under which prior failures influence firms’ R&D output amount and quality. An empirical analysis of voluntary patent expirations (i.e., patents that firms give up by not paying renewal fees) in 97 pharmaceutical firms between 1980 and 2002 shows that the number, importance, and timing of small failures are associated with a decrease in R&D output (patent count) but an increase in the quality of the R&D output (forward citations to patents). Exploratory interviews suggest that the results are driven by a multi-level learning process from failures in pharmaceutical R&D. The findings contribute to the organizational learning literature by providing a nuanced view of learning from failures in experimentation.

Suggested Citation

Khanna, Rajat and Guler, Isin and Nerkar, Atul A., Fail Often, Fail Big, and Fail Fast? Learning from Small Failures and R&D Performance in the Pharmaceutical Industry (March 1, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2629419 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2629419

Rajat Khanna

Tulane University - A.B. Freeman School of Business ( email )

7 McAlister Drive
New Orleans, LA 70118
United States

Isin Guler

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Kenan-Flagler Business School ( email )

McColl Building
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3490
United States

Atul A. Nerkar (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Management-Strategy Area ( email )

Chapel Hill, NC 27599
United States

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