The Core Competence of the Corporation

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Acquiring core capabilities through organizational learning: Illustrations from the U.S. military organizations∗

Pierre Barbaroux♣


Cécile Godé-Sanchez♣

Research Center of the French Air Force

Defense and Knowledge Management Department CReA 10.401 – BA 701 – F-13661 Salon Air {pbarbaroux ; cgs}@cr-ea.net

Abstract. This paper focuses on the development of core capabilities through organizational learning. It insists on the variety of learning types which must be articulated in order to provide organizations with effective core capabilities. Principal illustrations are drawn from the U.S. military education and training initiatives in the context of the Network-Centric Warfare (NCW). Discriminating between various learning and training mechanisms according to their (i) type, (ii) level and (iii) context, we develop a conceptual framework to study organizational learning as a dynamic capability which enables the organization to develop core capabilities.

Key words. Organizational learning, Core capabilities, Dynamic capabilities, Military organizations.



Ideas expressed in this contribution are those of the authors and do not reflect the position of the French Ministry of Defense nor of the French Air Force.

1. Introduction

In the field of organization science and strategic management, the question of the acquisition of core capabilities is critical (Dodgson, 1993; Teece and Pisano, 1994). Within this framework, the central issue is to understand how organizations acquire, exploit and adjust their core capabilities in responding to complex circumstances. Many scholars refer to learning as a context-dependent process leading to the creation, storage, and further refinement of routines, competences and capabilities (Nelson and Winter, 1982; Teece et al. 1997; Prahalad and Hamel, 1990; Leonard-Barton, 1992). In this respect, learning is critical since (i) it represents the act to acquiring organizational knowledge, and (ii) capabilities become core through learning and experimentation. Despite a strong diversity1, learning usually splits into two broad categories: individual learning and organizational (social or collective) learning. The main difference between the two categories is not simply related to the adoption of a particular micro versus macro level of analysis. Argyris and Schön (1996) clearly state the relationships between individual and organizational types of learning. The authors explain that organizational learning always involves learning at an individual level. Organizations ‘learn’ thanks to the cognitive efforts dedicated by individuals to acquire knowledge, and to use it in organizational settings. However, Argyris and Schön argue that individual learning does not necessarily generate organizational knowledge. Organizational learning does not simply correspond to the aggregation of individual learning outcomes. It emerges from the frequent interactions and communications among knowledgeable individuals within a group, a team or a community (Brown and Duguid, 1991; Amin and Cohendet, 2004). Therefore one should consider that core capabilities emerge through the articulation of various types of individual and collective learning, each type requiring distinctive knowledge processes and contexts to be managed (Nonaka, 1994; Davenport et al., 2001; Zollo and Winter, 2002).

Focusing on the development of core capabilities through organizational learning, this paper insists on the variety of learning types, levels and contexts which must be articulated in order to provide organizations with core capabilities. The analysis is based on an explorative Examples of learning mechanisms in organizational life are learning by doing, learning, by using, imitation, emulation, education, adaptive learning, cognitive learning, social learning, single loop learning, double loop learning, deutero learning, etc. See, Pawlowsky (2001), Teece et al. (2001), Brenner (2006), and Wang and Ahmed...
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