People Innovation Excellence

Collective Learning, Tacit Knowledge and Regional Innovative Capacity

by : Sevenpri Candra

One of the central lessons that emerged from the 1980s literature on industrial districts was that their technological dynamism depended on the firms within them sustaining a particular balance of co-operation and competition (PIORE and SABEL, 1984; DORE, 1987, pp. 153± 204; SENGENBERGER and LOVEMAN, 1987; SABEL, 1989, pp. 45± 52). The literature identified two principal aspects of co-operation among local producers. The first was the provision of collective goods and services, notably training or education and research and development, but also medical care and unemployment insurance. Co-operation might also take the form of adherence by producers to certain norms of reciprocity: sharing of technical information; subcontracting out to less successful competitors; and refraining from wage competition and labour poaching (RAVEYRE and SAGLIO, 1984; SABEL and ZEITLIN, 1985, pp. 146-49; BRUSCO, 1986; LORENZ, 1992).

Collective Learning and Organizational Learning

Organization learning can refer to the process of generating form of knowledge. The learning which leads to the development of ‘dynamics capability’, then, is of particular sort. It refers to the generation of knowledge concerning the methods that can be used to improve existing competences or to develop new ones.

Three central ideas can, be usefully extended to the analysis of collective learning amongst regionally clustered firms. The first idea is that learning depends on some knowledge being shared amongst the members of the organization and that this knowledge is mostly tacit and is embodied in organizational routines and procedures. The second idea is that generating new knowledge within the organization depends on combining diverse knowledge. The third idea, which is less well developed in the literature than the first two, concerns the problem of organizational inertia.

Tacit Knowledge and Regional Competitive Advantage

Foss, 1996, has recently argued that two prerequisites for a capability to be source of lasting competitive advantage to a region are that it cannot simply be purchased and transferred elsewhere (the question of regional specificity) and cannot easily be replicated elsewhere (the question of imperfect imitation). The first prerequisite may be satisfied due to the collective or ‘higher order’ nature of the capability. The second prerequisite may be satisfied due to the largely tacit nature of much of the knowledge underlying a regional capability, which makes imitation difficult.

Tacit Knowledge and The Innovation Process

Much of the existing literature on the nature of tacit knowledge and its relation to the firm’s conscious efforts to develop new product argues, at least implicitly, that is constitutes an obstacle that has to be overcome for further learning to occur. The third idea is that there is a cycling between tacit and articulated knowledge and that this is a key component in the product innovation process. Nonaka and Takeuchi see this cycle as involving four distinct stages. The first stages sharing tacit knowledge among organizational members. The second stage is when individuals which diverse and complementary knowledge come together and collectively seek to articulate their ideas about a new product or technology. The third stage is the innovation cycle where combining explicit knowledge with other known technologies and methods that may be incorporated into a new product. The fourth stage involves the movement from articulated back to tacit knowledge.


The importance of understanding those mechanisms by which shared knowledge, languages and cultures are diffused at the regional level. The importance of moments of rupture in routines, practices, etc. the relative success of a regional productive system may well depend upon forging a fruitful trade-off between the kinds of continuity that reproduce or transmit shared knowledge and the learning of ‘routines’ which enable capable behavior at the regional level, and those factors that disrupt, thus forcing tacitly-held knowledge to go through moments in which such knowledge is articulated and recombined.

References :

Lawson, C. and Lorenz, E. (1999). Collective Learning, Tacit Knowledge and Regional Innovative Capacity. Regional Studies. 33, 4. 305-317.

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