Keywords: absorptive capacity, knowledge integration, dynamic capabilities, exploration, exploitation, continuous innovation, engineering firms, Australia, knowledge strategies
Exploration and exploitation: the interplay between knowledge and continuous innovation
In rapidly changing environments, organisations require dynamic capabilities to integrate, build and reconfigure resources and competencies to achieve continuous innovation. Although tangible resources are important to promoting the firm's ability to act, capabilities fundamentally rest in the knowledge created and accumulated by the firm through human capital, organisational routines, processes, practices and norms. The exploration for new ideas, technologies and knowledge ? to one side ? and ? on the other one ? the exploitation of existing and new knowledge is essential for continuous innovation. Firms need to decide how best to allocate their scarce resources for both activities and at the same time build dynamic capabilities to keep up with changing market conditions. This in turn, is influenced by the absorptive capacity of the firm to assimilate knowledge. This paper presents a case study that investigates the sources of knowledge in an engineering firm in Australia, and how it is organised and processed. As information pervades the firm from both internal and external sources, individuals integrate knowledge using both exploration and exploitation approaches. The findings illustrate that absorptive capacity can encourage greater leverage for exploration potential leading to radical innovation; and reconfiguring exploitable knowledge for incremental improvements. This study provides an insight for managers in quest of improving knowledge strategies and continuous innovation. It also makes significant theoretical contributions to the literature through extending the concepts of absorptive capacity and how knowledge constructs capabilities for innovation.