Assistant Professor of Strategy
Uncertainty; Technology Discontinuities; Organizational Adaptation; Knowledge Recombination; Innovation;
During technological discontinuities, incumbents frequently develop hybrids of competing technical generations. Although some prior work implies that such intergenerational hybrids may be the result of organizational dysfunction, the authors propose that in some cases hybrids may be sophisticated learning tools that shape organizational adaptation to a technological discontinuity.In this paper, the authors suggest two mechanisms through which intergenerational hybrids may affect organizational adaptation: spillbacks and spillforwards. In an empirical test among the population of automobile carburetor manufacturers during a technological discontinuity, the authors observe that organizations developing intergenerational hybrids capture spillback benefits—knowledge spillovers from an emerging technology generation to the current generation.Furthermore, the authors find that these same organizations also capture spillforwards—spillover benefits from developing higher-performing intergenerational hybrids that improve their product performance in the future technology generation.These results suggest that intergenerational hybrids may be stepping-stones for organizations to learn about and adapt to technology discontinuities.