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Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning

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  • James G. March

    (Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305)

Abstract

This paper considers the relation between the exploration of new possibilities and the exploitation of old certainties in organizational learning. It examines some complications in allocating resources between the two, particularly those introduced by the distribution of costs and benefits across time and space, and the effects of ecological interaction. Two general situations involving the development and use of knowledge in organizations are modeled. The first is the case of mutual learning between members of an organization and an organizational code. The second is the case of learning and competitive advantage in competition for primacy. The paper develops an argument that adaptive processes, by refining exploitation more rapidly than exploration, are likely to become effective in the short run but self-destructive in the long run. The possibility that certain common organizational practices ameliorate that tendency is assessed.

Suggested Citation

  • James G. March, 1991. "Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 2(1), pages 71-87, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:2:y:1991:i:1:p:71-87
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/orsc.2.1.71
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    References listed on IDEAS

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