©2011 Center for Organizational Learning,
Innovation and Knowledge
Tepper School of Business
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
412.268.3683 (phone)
412.268.9525 (fax)

About the Center

The ability to learn is an important competitive advantage for firms. Firms that are able to innovate or create new knowledge, to retain that knowledge and to transfer it throughout the enterprise are more productive and more likely to prosper than their counterparts that are less adept at organizational learning.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon are making fundamental contributions to our understanding of learning and innovation in groups, organizations, and social networks. Because learning and innovation are phenomena that cut across disciplines, scholars in a variety of disciplines (organizational behavior, psychology, economics, engineering, computer science, sociology and information systems) and at several schools at Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper School of Business, School of Computer Science, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Heinz School of Public Policy and Management and Carnegie Institute of Technology) are actively involved in center initiatives.

Three interrelated research thrusts have been established for the Center for Organizational Learning, Innovation and Knowledge:

(1) Behavioral Foundations of Group and Organizational Learning and Innovation

(2) Social Networks, Learning, Innovation and Knowledge Transfer

(3) Technology, Organizational Learning and Knowledge Transfer

Behavioral Foundations of Group and Organizational Learning and Innovation

Just as individuals learn at different rates, groups or organizations learn at different rates. Some firms learn from their experience very rapidly, while others exhibit little or no learning. Researchers aim to open up the "black box" of organizational learning in order to understand why some firms are better at learning and innovating than others. Because much of the learning that takes place in organizations occurs in teams or work groups, a particular focus of Center initiatives is group learning and knowledge transfer across groups. By identifying factors facilitating (or impeding) learning and innovation in groups and organizations, center researchers advance understanding of these important topics. Such knowledge also has the potential to advance practice by identifying factors that increase team learning, innovation and performance in firms.

Research in this area examines the effect of transactive memory, or knowledge of who knows what, on group learning and performance. The work examines the conditions under which investments in building a transactive memory are especially worthwhile for firms. Computational models are used to assess how the value of transactive memory varies as a function of group size, group task, and the competitive environment. The research conducted by Yuqing Ren (a graduate of the College of Humanities and Social Science now at the University of Minnesota), Kathleen Carley ( School of Computer Science) and Linda Argote (Tepper School of Business) is funded by the Army Research Institute. Results from the study are described in “When is it more beneficial to know what others know? The contingent effects of transactive memory,” Management Science in 2006. Results indicate, for example, that transactive memory is especially beneficial for large groups and for groups with changing tasks.

Yuqing Ren and Linda Argote provided an integration of the literature on transactive memory systems in a review piece that appeared in the Academy of Management Annals in 2011 (Volume 5, pp. 189-230). Linking research on transactive memory and strategy, Argote and Ren argued that transactive memory systems provide a micro foundation for the development of dynamic capabilities in organizations and thereby, are a source of advantage in firms. Their article appeared in the Journal of Management Studies in 2012 (Volume 49, pp. 1375-1322).

Research by Ray Reagans (formerly Tepper School of Business, now Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Linda Argote (Tepper School of Business) and Daria Brooks, M.D. (Northwestern University) examines whether organizational “learning curves” are due to individuals getting better at their jobs, to team members learning how to communicate and coordinate their activities better, or to the organization transferring knowledge across different teams. Experience working together in teams provides individuals the opportunity to learn who knows what and how to communicate and coordinate more effectively. Results are described in “Individual experience and experience working together: Predicting learning rates from knowing who knows what and knowing how to work together,” Management Science, June, 2005. Results have implications for how to design and staff teams to promote learning and performance.

Scott Rick (a Social and Decision Sciences graduate, now at the University of Michigan) and Roberto Weber (Social and Decision Sciences) examine how feedback affects learning. In "Reflective learning and transfer of learning in games played repeatedly without feedback," They analyze ways in which people learn in the context of strategic games. Experiments using several games demonstrate that a type of learning that occurs without feedback, termed 'reflective learning', is more profound and transfers to new contexts while a kind of reinforcement-based learning (that occurs with feedback) does not. These results, which appeared in Games and Economic Behavior in 2010, have important implications for the design of feedback and reward systems in organizations.

Another research project in this area focuses on knowledge transfer across groups. Organizations often have multiple groups or establishments performing similar tasks. How can organizations leverage knowledge acquired in one unit so that all units benefit? What facilitates the transfer of improvements made in one group to others? Aimeé A. Kane (a Tepper graduate and faculty member at Duquesne University), Linda Argote (Tepper School of Business) and John Levine (Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh ) examine how creating a shared social identity affects knowledge transfer. The work is funded by the Decision, Risk and Management Sciences (DRMS) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Results are described in “Knowledge transfer between groups via personnel rotation: Effects of social identity and knowledge quality,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Process, January 2005. The researchers find that sharing a superordinate social identity dramatically increases receptivity to ideas and knowledge transfer across groups. Aimeé Kane in "Unlocking knowledge transfer potential: Knowledge demonstrability and superordinate identity" further finds that a shared superordinate identity is especially important when knowledge is low in "demonstrability" or hard to evaluate. Her results appear in Organization Science in 2010.

"Balancing Innovation Attention-To-Detail and Outcome-Orientation to Enhance Innovative Performance," coauthored by Ella Miron-Spektor (Bar-Ilan University), Miriam Erez (Technion - The Israeli Institute of Technology) and Eitan Naveh (Technion - The Israeli Institute of Technology). The study tests the optimal combination of cultural values associated with innovation. The paper was chosen as a finalist in the Best Student Paper Competition of the TIM division, Academy of Management, 2007 and was included in the Proceedings of the Sixty-Five Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (CD), and presented in the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, in August 2007. Results appear in the Academy of Management Journal in 2011.

"The Effect of Paradoxical Cognition on Individual and Team Innovation," coauthored by Ella Miron-Spektor (Bar-Ilan University), Francesca Gino (Harvard University) and Linda Argote (Tepper, Carnegie Mellon University). This project examines the effect of paradoxical frames on individual and team innovation. It was included in the Proceedings of the Sixty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management (CD), and presented in the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management, August 2008. The research was published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes in 2011.

Social Networks, Learning, Innovation and Knowledge Transfer

Some organizations are designed with dense social networks where there are many connections between members; other organizations are designed with sparser networks that do not overlap much but reach into more knowledge pools. Center research in this area is aimed at identifying the advantages and disadvantages of such structures for innovation, learning and knowledge transfer.

A dissertation project in this stream by Marco Tortoriello (a Tepper graduate now at IESE Business School - University of Navarra) examines “The social underpinning of absorptive capacity: External knowledge, social networks and individual innovativeness.” The project, which is jointly funded by a grant from the Kaufmann Foundation to Marco Tortoriello, examines how knowledge acquired from outside the organization is internalized and used to create commercializable innovations inside the firm. Data were collected from 16 R&D labs of a multinational semi-conductor firm. The structure of an organization’s social network was found to affect innovation, which involves new combinations of knowledge. The research sheds light on how to design social networks to promote learning and innovation in firms. Marco successfully defended his dissertation, which was chaired by Bill McEvily, in 2006. A manuscript from this line of work, “Activating Cross-Boundary Knowledge: The Role of Simmelian Ties in the Generation of Innovations,” coauthored by Marco Tortoriello and David Krackhardt appeared in the Academy of Management Journal in 2010. Another contribution, “Bridging the Knowledge Gap: The influence of strong ties, network cohesion and network range on the transfer of knowledge between organizational units,” by Marco Tortoriello, Ray Reagans and Bill McEvily appeared in Organization Science in 2012. In addition, Gino Dokko, Aimee Kane and Marco Tortoriello analyzed how social identity and tie strength affected the creativity of boundary-spaning units in a paper that appeared in Organization Studies in 2014.

Technology, Organizational Learning and Knowledge Transfer

How can technology be used to enhance learning, innovation and performance in firms? Does technology facilitate the ability of firms to retain knowledge? Does technology enhance the ability of firms to transfer knowledge across geographically distributed units? These questions are addressed by Center researchers.

Elina Hwang (Tepper School of Business), Param Singh (Tepper School of Business) and Linda Argote (Tepper School of Business) are collaborating in an analysis of an online knowledge repository at a global IT consulting firm. The researchers study factors that lead individuals to participate in an online forum. Their work is jointly sponsored by the Center for the Future of Work at Heinz Collge, Carnegie Mellon University.

Youngsoo Kim (a graduate of Heinz School of Public Policy and Management, now at Singapore Management University), R. Krishnan (Heinz School of Public Policy and Management) and Linda Argote (Tepper School of Business) analyze learning curves of knowledge workers who provide information technology technical support services. The researchers aim to understand whether learning occurs in the service domain and whether knowledge transfer occurs across different problem types. Data were collected over three and a half years from a university computing services help center. Results were presented at the November 2005 meeting of The Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS). The researchers find that learning occurs in the call center: as the organization gains experience, problem resolution times decrease. Further, knowledge transfer across problems occurred: experience on one type of problem reduced problem resolution times on others. Their results, which appear in Information Systems Research in 2012, provide information about how to staff service centers to promote learning and performance gains.