Absorbing the Concept of Absorptive Capacity: How to Realize Its Potential in the Organization Field

Henk Volberda, Nicolai Juul Foss, Marjorie A. Lyles

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    Abstract

    The purpose of this Perspective Paper is to advance understanding of absorptive capacity, its underlying dimensions, its multi-level antecedents, its impact on firm performance and the contextual factors that affect absorptive capacity. Nineteen years after the Cohen and Levinthal 1990 paper, the field is characterized by a wide array of theoretical perspectives and a wealth of empirical evidence. In this paper, we first review these underlying theories and empirical studies of absorptive capacity. Given the size and diversity of the absorptive capacity literature, we subsequently map the existing terrain of research through a bibliometric analysis. The resulting bibliometric cartography shows the major discrepancies in the organization field, namely that (1) most attention so far has been focused on the tangible outcomes of absorptive capacity; (2) organizational design and individual level antecedents have been relatively neglected in the absorptive capacity literature; and (3) the emergence of absorptive capacity from the actions and interactions of individual, organizational and inter-organizational antecedents remains unclear. Building on the bibliometric analysis, we develop an integrative model that identifies the multi-level antecedents, process dimensions, and outcomes of absorptive capacity as well as the contextual factors that affect absorptive capacity. We argue that realizing the potential of the absorptive capacity concept requires more research that shows how “micro antecedents” and “macroantecedents” influence future outcomes such as competitive advantage, innovation, and firm performance. In particular, we identify conceptual gaps that may guide future research to fully exploit the absorptive capacity concept in the organization field and to explore future fruitful extensions of the concept.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
    PublisherCenter for Strategic Management and Globalization
    Number of pages42
    ISBN (Print)9788791815515
    Publication statusPublished - 2009
    SeriesSMG Working Paper
    Number10/2009

    Cite this

    Volberda, H., Foss, N. J., & Lyles, M. A. (2009). Absorbing the Concept of Absorptive Capacity: How to Realize Its Potential in the Organization Field. Center for Strategic Management and Globalization . SMG Working Paper, No. 10/2009