Managing the Exploitation/Exploration Paradox: The Role of a Learning Capability and Innovation Ambidexterity
Some researchers have proposed that practices facilitating learning and knowledge transfer are particularly important to innovation. Some of the practices that researchers have studied include how organizations collaborate with other organizations, how organizations promote learning, and how an organization's culture facilitates knowledge transfer and learning. And while some have proposed the importance of combining practices, there has been a distinct lack of empirical studies that have explored how these practices work together to facilitate learning and knowledge transfer that leads to the simultaneous achievement of incremental and radical innovation, what we refer to as innovation ambidexterity (IA). Yet, a firm's ability to combine these practices into a learning capability is an important means of enabling them to foster innovation ambidexterity. In this study, learning capability is defined as the combination of practices that promote intraorganizational learning among employees, partnerships with other organizations that enable the spread of learning, and an open culture within the organization that promotes and maintains sharing of knowledge. This paper examines the impact of this learning capability on innovation ambidexterity and innovation ambidexterity's effect on business performance. The resource-based view (RBV) of the firm is used to develop a conceptual foundation for combining these practices. This study empirically examines whether these practices constitute a learning capability by analyzing primary data gathered from 214 Taiwanese owned strategic business unit (SBUs) drawn from several industries where innovation is important. The results of this study make four important contributions. First, they demonstrate that the combination of these practices has a greater impact on innovation ambidexterity than any one practice individually or when only two practices are combined. Second, the results demonstrate a relationship between innovation ambidexterity and business performance in the form of revenues, profits, and productivity growth relative to competitors. Third, the results suggest that innovation ambidexterity plays a mediating role between learning capability and business performance. That is, learning capability has an indirect impact on business performance by facilitating innovation ambidexterity that in turn fosters business performance. This study also contributes to our understanding of ambidexterity literature in a non-Western context, i.e., Taiwan.