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Cognition and Capabilities: Opportunities Seized and Missed in the History of the Computer Industry


  • Richard N. Langlois

    (The University of Connecticut)


Despite the enormous literature devoted to the subject, there remains little consensus about the organizational sources of innovativeness and inertia. On the one hand, the evolutionary or "capabilities" view of the firm leads us naturally to expect organizational inertia as a natural by- product of competitive success, especially in complex, highly articulated firms. On the other hand, there is a tradition within what is broadly the same view of the firm that stresses the advantages for innovation of large, professionally managed firms over the "personal capitalism" of smaller, more synoptically managed enterprises. This paper attempts to develop a perspective on the debate by treating the organization as a cognitive structure within an evolutionary capabilities framework. It then canvasses the history of the computer industry for empirical examples. That history includes a diversity of organizational types confronting -- both successfully and unsuccessfully -- a significant number of cases of technological opportunity. The central conclusion of the paper is that innovativeness and inertia are not so much results of organizational form considered a priori but rather of the "fit" between the cognitive structure of the organization and the structure of the economic change the opportunity implies.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard N. Langlois, 1994. "Cognition and Capabilities: Opportunities Seized and Missed in the History of the Computer Industry," Industrial Organization 9406003, EconWPA.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpio:9406003
    Note: 40 pages. To appear in Cynthia A. Montgomery, ed., Evolutionary and Resource-based Approaches to Strategy. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1995.

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    Cited by:

    1. Richard N. Langlois, 2002. "Modularity in Technology and Organization," Chapters,in: Entrepreneurship and the Firm, chapter 2 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. Giovanni Cerulli & Bianca Potì, 2013. "Managerial capacity in the innovation process and firm profitability," CERIS Working Paper 201301, Institute for Economic Research on Firms and Growth - Moncalieri (TO) ITALY -NOW- Research Institute on Sustainable Economic Growth - Moncalieri (TO) ITALY.
    3. Peter Wirtz, 2003. "A resource based interpretation of performance enhancing capital structure changes: The O.M. Scott LBO revisited," Working Papers CREGO 1030302, Université de Bourgogne - CREGO EA7317 Centre de recherches en gestion des organisations.
    4. Roger Koppl & Richard Langlois, 2001. "Organizations and Language Games," Journal of Management & Governance, Springer;Accademia Italiana di Economia Aziendale (AIDEA), vol. 5(3), pages 287-305, September.
    5. S. Bhaduri & H. Worch, 2008. "Past Experience, Cognitive Frames, and Entrepreneurship: Some Econometric Evidence from the Indian Pharmaceutical Industry," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2008-04, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    6. Malerba, Franco, 2002. "Sectoral systems of innovation and production," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 247-264, February.

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    JEL classification:

    • L - Industrial Organization


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