Ambition is nothing without focus: Compensating for negative transfer of experience in R&D

A. Ghosh, Xavier Martin, J.M. Pennings, F.C. Wezel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Organizations create high-impact inventions when they combine disparate strands of technology in their corporate research and development. We theorize that when undertaking complex inventive search characterized by high breadth, i.e., drawing on multiple diverse technology components, an organization’s propensity toward high-impact inventions depends on its stock of experience with recombining such components and on the focus of its inventive search. Building on learning transfer theory, we argue that the complexity and causal ambiguity of higher-breadth projects is such that experience with similar inventive search will be a poorer guide, comparatively reducing their inventive impact; however, this negative effect can be attenuated by the degree of focus of an organization’s contemporaneous inventive search. Using a longitudinal data set of patents from the photographic imaging industry, we find support for our predictions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)572-590
Number of pages19
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number2
Early online date17 Sept 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Technology recombination
  • Organizational learning
  • Organizational inventive focus
  • Patent citations
  • Photographic imaging industry


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