How Organizations Learn from Success and Failure

Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge; M. Dierkes, A. Berthoin Antal, J. Child, and I. Nonaka (eds.); Oxford University Press, 2001

26 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2015 Last revised: 29 Dec 2015

See all articles by William H. Starbuck

William H. Starbuck

University of Oregon - Charles H. Lundquist School of Business; New York University (NYU) - Department of Management and Organizational Behavior

Bo Hedberg

Stockholm University

Date Written: 2001

Abstract

This chapter analyzes the effects of successes and failures on organizational learning. The analysis contrasts behavioral and cognitive approaches, illustrating these with an example of technological development by an interorganizational coalition and an example of industry-wide development during a business cycle.

Behavioral approaches explain as much behavior as possible without allowing for conscious thought, so learning arises from automatic reactions to performance feedback. Because it is learners’ environments that generate this feedback, environments strongly influence what is learned. One advantage of behavioral approaches is that they can explain how effective learning can occur in spite of learners’ perceptual errors.

Cognitive approaches describe learners as being able to perceive, analyze, plan, and choose; learning modifies cognitive maps that guide action. Cognitive approaches make effective learning dependent upon realistic perceptions, so these theories have difficulty explaining how learners can improve even though they misunderstand their environments. On the other hand, cognitive approaches can explain how people and organizations suddenly act in dramatically novel ways.

These two approaches coexist because they can explain different phenomena and neither is adequate by itself. Most studies of learning by individual organizations have taken a cognitive approach; most studies of learning by populations of organizations have taken a behavioral approach. However, the distinction between behavior and cognition may be an abstraction that does not exist in the realities of daily life.

Keywords: learning, success, failure, organizations

Suggested Citation

Starbuck, William H. and Hedberg, Bo, How Organizations Learn from Success and Failure (2001). Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge; M. Dierkes, A. Berthoin Antal, J. Child, and I. Nonaka (eds.); Oxford University Press, 2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2708267

William H. Starbuck (Contact Author)

University of Oregon - Charles H. Lundquist School of Business ( email )

1208 University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403-1208
United States

New York University (NYU) - Department of Management and Organizational Behavior ( email )

44 West 4th Street
New York, NY 10012
United States

Bo Hedberg

Stockholm University ( email )

Universitetsvägen 10
Stockholm, Stockholm SE-106 91
Sweden

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