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2. Ecologies of Learning (Daniel Levinthal)

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

By Daniel Levinthal - Wharton


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Overview

Our studies of learning often adopt a singular lens. We often study aspiration learning in the absence of a consideration of capabilities adapting in parallel. We often treat the construct of “dynamic capabilities” as a conceptual monolith. But organizations are complex system, with processes of adaptation and learning occurring at multiple levels and are usefully understood as such. We learn what we like and we tend to become good at what we like, in conjunction with other actors engaged in the same process. Further, the evolving preferences of those who are hierarchically superior create a dynamic reward environment for those below them. In addition, organizations do not operate in isolated islands of action, but rather in a world populated by other organizations upon whom a focal organization may act upon as well as be influenced.


Required readings

Levinthal, D. and J. March (1993). “The Myopia of Learning”. Strategic Management Journal, 14: 95-112.

Levinthal, D. (2021). Evolutionary Processes and Organizational Adaptation: A Mendelian Perspective on Strategic Management. Oxford University Press. Chapter 4 “Selection”.


Discussion questions

  1. Consider some of the challenges and potential pathologies of the ecology of learning at the individual level: preferences, beliefs, aspirations, skills, other.

  2. Consider some of the challenges and potential pathologies of mutual learning processes (two or more actors who are interdependent).

Consider an organization as a hierarchical structure with lower-level actors in learning process subject to selection/reward processes of higher level organizational actors. How does such a structure and process change our perspective on the exploration/exploitation tension and structures and processes to mitigate that tension from that of unitary actor facing this tradeoff?


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