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Organizational Evolution with Fuzzy Technological Boundaries: Tape Drive Producers in the World Market, 1951-1998


  • Carroll, Glen R.

    (Stanford U)

  • Feng, Mi
  • Le Mens, Gael
  • McKendrick, David

    (Durham U)


We study how tape drive producers respond to the almost continuous emergence of new drive formats across the technology's history. The analysis characterizes the technological formats of tape drives according to their degree of contrast (distinctiveness and visibility) from other formats. High contrast implies strong boundaries, which prevent information leakage and appear to provide solid strategic footing because they are not easy to adopt and replicate; yet formats with strong boundaries may appear risky to potential customers who may prefer formats more readily substitutable. We develop and test arguments about how different types of tape drive manufacturers add and drop the production of formats as a function of the contrast of formats. A key distinction we make is between single-format producers whose format has high contrast (yielding a clear firm level identity) and multi-format producers whose various formats blur the firm's identity when they are high in contrast. In the empirical analysis, we find that single-format firms producing formats with high contrast experience a lower rate of mortality, while average high contrast in the technology portfolio of multi-format producers lowers their survival chances. We also find that single-format firms with technology formats characterized by high levels of contrast are: (1) more likely to add newly emerging formats and (2) less likely to drop existing formats. By contrast, multi-format manufacturers show mixed patterns.

Suggested Citation

  • Carroll, Glen R. & Feng, Mi & Le Mens, Gael & McKendrick, David, 2008. "Organizational Evolution with Fuzzy Technological Boundaries: Tape Drive Producers in the World Market, 1951-1998," Research Papers 1994, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:stabus:1994

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dosi, Giovanni, 1988. "Sources, Procedures, and Microeconomic Effects of Innovation," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 26(3), pages 1120-1171, September.
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