Outcomes and Antecedents

A great number of studies have examined the antecedents and especially outcomes of absorptive capacity. A wide variety of insights have been gained in the past two decades, but such insights have also been obfuscated by the different ways in which absorptive capacity has been operationalized and by the different levels of analysis at which absorptive capacity’s antecedents and outcomes have been examined.


Research on the various outcomes of absorptive capacity is extensive (see Table 13.3). One of the main reasons for Cohen and Levinthal (1990) to introduce absorptive capacity was to explain the side effects of research and development and their relation to innovation. In line with their argument, other research has adopted research and development-based measures as proxies for absorptive capacity to understand its effect on innovation. The evidence gained so far is mixed. Current insights lean towards a positive effect (e.g. Tsai, 2001), but studies have surfaced reporting negative (e.g. Ernst, 1998) and zero (e.g. Singh, 2008) effects of these measures on innovation. Also more complex relationships have been found. For example, Stock et al. (2001) found that absorptive capacity contributes to new product development up to a certain point but then its effect starts to decrease and becomes negative. Since research and development-based measures are antecedent to absorptive capacity and capture more than absorptive capacity alone, it remains to ...

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