A Knowledge Accessing Theory of Strategic Alliances


The emerging knowledge-based view of the firm offers new insight into the causes and management of interfirm alliances. However, the development of an effective knowledge-based theory of alliance formation has been inhibited by a simplistic view of alliances as vehicles for organizational learning in which strategic alliances have presumed to be motivated by firms’ desire to acquire knowledge from one another. We argue that the primary advantage of alliances over both firms and markets is in accessing rather than acquiring knowledge. Building upon the distinction between the knowledge generation (‘exploration’) and knowledge application (‘exploitation’), we show that alliances contribute to the efficiency in the application of knowledge; first, by improving the efficiency with which knowledge is integrated into the production of complex goods and services, and second, by increasing the efficiency with which knowledge is utilized. These static efficiency advantages of alliances are enhanced where there is uncertainty over future knowledge requirements and where new products offer early-mover advantages. Compared with alternative learning-based approaches to alliance formation, our proposed knowledge-accessing theory of alliances offers the advantages of greater theoretical rigour and consistency with general trends in alliance activity and corporate strategy.

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