And here is the script that I more or less stumbled through.
So, what is absorptive capacity?
According to the seminal 1990 article by Cohen and Levinthal it’s “a firm’s ability to recognize the value of new information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends”
Extending this, Zahra and George (2002) say it is ‘‘is a set of organizational routines and strategic processes by which firms acquire, assimilate, transform, and exploit knowledge for the purpose of value creation.’’
They break that down into potential absorptive capacity – around acquiring and assimilating and realized absorptive capacity – around transforming and exploiting. Too much of the later – from routinising, can lead to a competence trap, but I’m digressing…
There’s also “relative absorptive capacity” – which firm has more, but I’m digressing…
It’s tied up with notions of innovation, organisational learning (natch), dynamic capabilities, competence traps, deliberative learning, knowledge management combinative capabilities and a bunch of other interesting terms.
Ways to think about it
Don’t think of a sponge though – that is too passive a metaphor. So is a bunch of keys that would “unlock” other knowledge.
It’s much messier, more fluid and iterative than that, and as Aribi, A. and Dupouet point out it is a non-linear process with feedback loops within and between the stages.
There are lots and lots of unanswered research questions for the capitalists, check out Volberda et al. 2010 for a nice listing. But
What are the barriers for social movement organisations?
- They don’t want or “need” to learn (our old friend the smugosphere)
- They have pitiful or absent knowledge management structures
- They have a high turn-over of personnel
- They are up to their neck in alligators, and have forgotten that they came to drain the swamp
Things you should read
Aribi, A. and Dupouet, O. 2016.Absorptive capacity: a non-linear process. Knowledge Management Research & Practice, Vol. 14, pp.15-26.
Gebauer, H. Worch, H and Truffer, B. 2012. Absorptive capacity, learning processes and combinative capabilities as determinants of strategic innovation. European Management Journal, Vol. 30, pp.57-73.
Jimenez-Barrionuevo, M, Garcia-Morales, V. and Molina, L. 2011. Validation of an instrument to measure absorptive capacity. Technovation. Vol. 31, pp.190-202.
Lichtenthaler, U., 2009. Absorptive capacity, environmental turbulence, and the complementarity of organizational learning processes. Academy of Management Journal 52 (4), 822–846.
Murovec, N., Prodan, I., 2009. Absorptive capacity, its determinants, and influence on innovation output: cross-cultural validation of the structural model. Technovation 29, 859–872.
Todorova, G., & Durisin, B. (2007). Absorptive capacity: Valuing a reconceptualization. Academy of Management Review, 32(3), 774–786.
Volberda, H., Foss N. and Lyles, M. 2010. Perspective – absorbing the concept of absorptive capacity: how to realize its potential in the organization field. Organization Science Vol. 21,(4), pp. 931–951.