Deliberate Learning and the Evolution of Dynamic Capabilities

Ooh yeah!!! Academia that is useful!!

Zollo, M and Winter, S. 2002. Deliberate learning and the Evolution of Dynamic Capabilities. Organization Science, Vol. 13, (3), pp.339-351.

This fantastic article talks about

“the role of (1) experience accumulation, (2) knowledge articulation, and (3) knowledge codification processes in the evolution of dynamic, as well as operational, routines.” (Zollo and Winter, 2002: 339)

You can have lots of experience, but if you don’t think about it, it isn’t learning.  There’s that anecdote about someone saying to Shane Warne “Well, Monty Panesar is getting some experience – he’s played 30 tests” and Warne saying “No, he’s played the same Test thirty times”.  Ouch.

Zollo and Winter are modifying the concept of ‘dynamic capabilities‘ a bit, away from it only happening in conditions of rapidly changing environments to a more conscious effort (“deliberate learning”!)

Teece et al. (1997) define the concept of “dynamic capabilities” as “the firm’s ability to integrate, build, and reconfigure internal and external competencies to address rapidly changing environments” (p. 516). While this suggests something of what dynamic capabilities are for and how they work, it leaves open the question of where they come from. Also, the definition seems to require the presence of “rapidly changing environments” for the existence of dynamic capabilities, but firms obviously do integrate, build, and reconfigure their competencies even in environments subject to lower rates of change. We propose the following alternative:

DEFINITION. A dynamic capability is a learned and stable pattern of collective activity through which the organization systematically generates and modifies its operating routines in pursuit of improved effectiveness.
(Zollo and Winter, 2002: 340)

They are interested in the mechanisms of “collective Competence

We therefore direct attention to a second mechanism of development of collective competence, the process through which implicit knowledge is articulated through collective discussions, debriefing sessions, and performance evaluation processes.
(Zollo and Winter, 2002: 341)

They put forward the proposition that

” Dynamic capabilities emerge from the coevolution of tacit experience accumulation processes with explicit knowledge articulation and codification activities.”
(Zollo and Winter, 2002: 344)

They have some good words of warning for the timing of codification –

First, codification should aim at developing and transferring “know why” as well as “know how.” We have emphasized that codification efforts provide an occasion for valuable efforts to expose action-performance links. Aiming at process prescriptions alone forfeits this advantage and in- creases risks of inappropriate application. Second, codification efforts should be emphasized at an appropriate time in the course of learning. Attempted prematurely, codification efforts risk hasty generalization from limited experience, with attendant risks of inflexibility and negative transfer of learning.
(Zollo and Winter, 2002: 349)

But look The trouble is, that learning – knowledge acquisition, codification and then (which they don’t really talk about) overthrowing/massively modifying zombie repertoires – is a painful and disruptive process.  And if there is no selection pressure, because you basically live in the Smugosphere– then the chances of actual learning are pretty damn low.


There’s heaps of great stuff in this article, and I will be raiding it for various purposes as the carbon accumulates and the window of opportunity shrinks.  #carpethediems


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