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The Slow Pace of Rapid Technological Change: Gradualism and Punctuation in Technological Change


  • Levinthal, Daniel A


Discussions of technological change have offered sharply contrasting perspectives of technological change as gradual or incremental and the image of technological change as being rapid, even discontinuous. These alternative perspectives are bridged using the punctuated equilibrium framework of evolutionary biology. Using this framework, it is argued that the critical event is not a transformation of the technology, but speciation--the application of existing technology to a new domain of application. As a result of the distinct selection criteria and the degree of resource abundance in the new domain, a new technological form may emerge. The new technological form may be able to penetrate other niches and, in particular, may precipitate a process of 'creative destruction' and out-compete prior technologies. This framework is applied to an historical study of wireless communication from the early experimental efforts of Hertz to the modern development of wireless telephony. Copyright 1998 by Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Levinthal, Daniel A, 1998. "The Slow Pace of Rapid Technological Change: Gradualism and Punctuation in Technological Change," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(2), pages 217-247, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:7:y:1998:i:2:p:217-47

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