Learning patterns in early stage R&D projects: Empirical evidence from the fibre raw material technology project in the Netherlands

Maryse M. H. Chappin*, Jan Faber, Marius T. H. Meeus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Past research has reported that learning processes in early stage R&D are either chaotic, or absent. We challenge this finding by elaborating Van de Ven et al.'s trial-and-error learning model and explore an alternative conceptualization. We explored the combinations of positive and negative outcomes and action course continuation and modification. We use data gathered in an R&D setting of a 4-years pre-competitive knowledge generation project in the Dutch paper and board industry. Whereas the Van de Ven and Polley (1992) approach applied on our data also would lead us to conclude that 'no learning' would happen, our decomposed model identified three distinct learning patterns: (1) a virtuous pattern of positive outcomes resulting in continuations of action courses; (2) a vacuous pattern of negative outcomes resulting in modifications of action courses; and (3) a verification pattern of positive outcomes resulting in modifications of action courses. We observed the virtuous and verification patterns during the first 2 years and virtuous and vacuous learning in the second 2 years. These results might be useful for R&D managers since they provide insight into how an early stage R&D project can develop and where managers might intervene and adjust action courses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)684-695
JournalR & D Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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