Cognitive Distance in and Between COP’s and Firms: Where do Exploitation and Exploration take Place, and How are they Connected?

B. Nooteboom

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This paper contributes to the analysis of where and how both exploitation and exploration may take place inside and between communities and organizations. It connects with the discussion of differences between communities of practice and epistemic communities. The analysis allows for differences in cognition within communities of practice (‘cognitive distance’). Such distance yields potential novelty but creates problems in utilizing that potential. In communities of practice and epistemic communities different trade-offs are made between the advantages and disadvantages of cognitive distance. Communities of practice are more oriented at exploitation, at relatively small cognitive distance. Exploration may take place in epistemic communities, with larger internal cognitive distance, but may also arise from interaction between different communities of practice, utilizing the distance between them. Organizations serve to provide the basis for the governance of such interaction. This, however, does limit the cognitive distance, and hence exploration potential, within an organization. For more radical exploration, interaction is needed between organizations, at the price of greater efforts to set up and govern collaboration. Next to communities of practice, epistemic communities and organizations, the analysis also includes communities of professionals across different organizations. They also have a role to play in a wider system of organizational forms for exploitation and exploration.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationTilburg
Number of pages25
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Publication series

NameCentER Discussion Paper


  • innovation
  • exploration and exploitation
  • communities of practice


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