Academic journal article Academy of Strategic Management Journal

Technology Strategy and Organizational Learning: Applying Population Ecology to Understanding the Influence on Firm Survival

Academic journal article Academy of Strategic Management Journal

Technology Strategy and Organizational Learning: Applying Population Ecology to Understanding the Influence on Firm Survival

Article excerpt


Developing management strategies in response to environmental fluctuations has traditionally been a theory proposed by leading thinkers in the field (Andrews, 1987; Ansoff, 1986). However, most today would agree that static, reactionary strategy formulation is nearly impossible to maintain in an increasingly volatile business environment. Technology has created a knowledge-based society where organizations have become very effective at learning how to alter their strategic approach continuously to maintain their competitiveness. The notion of organizational learning is not a new concept, and businesses must learn to apply it to not only strategy implementation, but also to management of its technological resources. Firms that successfully and aggressively convert their knowledge into tangible performance parameters increase the likely of sustaining a long term competitive advantage.

To consider an evolutionary perspective of organizational development, academicians must take a longer time horizon to study the effectiveness of strategy formulation on firm performance. Ultimately, understanding firm survival rates provides an insightful view of whether or not certain strategic models work as expected. One of the concepts that originated the longitudinal perspective, in particular studying organizational survival, is population ecology theory (Hannan and Freeman, 1977). Using the biological concept of natural selection, the theory considers firms as a collection and suggests that they increase their changes of survival through strengthening their internal organizational structure. The increased survival rate is attributed to an inertia that provides a stability which allows a firm to withstand tumultuous environmental changes (Aldrich and Marsden, 1988; Hannan and Carroll, 1992).

This paper argues that establishing core technology resources is a primary contributor to creating a structural foundation for many organizations in today's business. This assertion becomes significantly accurate when firms are facing environmental turbulence that threatens to disrupt normal operations. Technology management then becomes an exercise in designing strategies that strengthen the organization's technological core, rather than one that is reactive to development life cycles or environmental crisis as contingency theory suggested (Freeman and Hannan, 1989). Subsequently, firms must implement comprehensive strategies to effectively manage its technology competencies and to enhance its long term performance, and consequently, its survival rate. Through a synthesis of the literature on technology strategy, organizational learning and population ecology more perspective is provided into the appropriate level of research to understand the interconnection between the concepts.


Harrison and Samson (2003) posit that proper management of a company's technology directly impacts effectiveness and competitive status. This notion has been proposed by theorists in the field of strategic management who have long maintained a link between management of technology resources and creating sustainable competitive advantage (Ansoff and Stewart, 1967; Prahalad and Hamel, 1990; Rumelt, 1974; Teece, 1986). Thus, the strategic focus on development, acquisition, and management of technology has become the critical determination of competitive status, regardless of industry.

While early on researchers considered the fields of technology management and strategic management as separate areas of study that has changes over the years. Itami and Numagami (1992) stated that "Technology is the most fundamental of the core capabilities of a firm" (p.199) and that the interaction between strategy and technology had been treated as too narrowly and static, focusing more on the effect of current technology on firm strategy. At one point, in the technology management literature the primary focus was on R&D management at the firm level and the process of technological innovation at the industry level (e. …

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