Learning to Manage Breadth: The Effect of Experience in US Toxic Waste Management
Posted: 12 Oct 2018 Last revised: 25 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 22, 2019
We explore the extent to which the accumulation of experience and the breadth of that experience individually and jointly affect the performance of routine organizational activities. Research on technological search suggests that increasing search breadth, though costly, should allow an organization to learn more effectively. In parallel, research on organizational learning suggests that accumulation of focal experience — especially in operational contexts — is critical to improving performance. Bridging these streams, we consider how different levels of accumulated experience influence the performance for activities of different breadth. Using the context of U.S. manufacturing facilities reducing their toxic waste output from 1991 to 2014, we find that the costs of breadth are highest for firms with low experience, but these costs dissipate as experience increases. These results suggest that while experienced organizations may benefit from breadth in the structure of their activities, inexperienced organizations should not broaden their search and problem-solving activities.
Keywords: Experience, Breadth, Problem-Solving, Organizational Learning, Operational Performance
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