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Noise as Signal in Learning from Rare Events

Author

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  • David Maslach

    (Department of Management, College of Business, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306)

  • Oana Branzei

    (Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6G 0N1, Canada)

  • Claus Rerup

    (Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, D-60322 Frankfurt am Main, Germany)

  • Mark J. Zbaracki

    (Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario N6G 0N1, Canada)

Abstract

Firms increasingly have access to information about the failure events of other firms through public repositories. We study one such repository that accumulates reports of adverse events in the medical device industry. We provide qualitative evidence that shows how firms select a sample of adverse events and then engage in inferential learning. We show that firms use the reports of others to extract new valid knowledge from the adverse events in other firms. We use quantitative evidence to explore how a public repository can be used to provide more direct evidence of vicarious learning. Our findings challenge some standard assumptions about vicarious learning. First, we show that the learning in a repository does not come from referent others. Instead, it emerges directly from failure events that might ordinarily be dismissed as noise. Second, we show that the learning does not come from copying others. Instead, it is constructed by firm members as they assemble individual failure events to identify possibilities they had not considered. Third, in contrast to vicarious learning, where the referent others and rare events provide the context, repository-based learning requires that actors impose their own context as part of the learning process. Our qualitative and quantitative evidence serve explanatory purposes by showing how firms use a repository of failure events to identify moments of valid learning, and they serve exploratory purposes by investigating how we can demonstrate reliable learning from a repository of failure events.

Suggested Citation

  • David Maslach & Oana Branzei & Claus Rerup & Mark J. Zbaracki, 2018. "Noise as Signal in Learning from Rare Events," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 29(2), pages 225-246, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:29:y:2018:i:2:p:225-246
    DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2017.1179
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