Inertia in Japanese organizations: knowledge management routines and failure to innovate

Collinson,, Simon and Wilson, David C. (2006). Inertia in Japanese organizations: knowledge management routines and failure to innovate. Organization Studies, 27(9) pp. 1359–1387.




This paper argues that features of Japanese organizations, previously held to be the foundations of innovation, change and flexibility, can equally be significant barriers to change, innovation and adaptation in turbulent economic environments. This paper draws on two in-depth case studies of Japanese organizations. It shows how, in both cases, these firms displayed specific weaknesses in the ways in which they integrate and bundle knowledge, in particular around their research and development (R&D) functions. Despite the adoption of strategies of technological innovation and internationalization, the data suggest that the pursuit of both strategies is beset by barriers of inertia. Embedded internal network connections and knowledge-sharing routines between central R&D and other divisions are inappropriate for the revised strategy. Existing external connections, with preferred suppliers and customers within keiretsu structures, and close relationships with existing R&D partners retard these firms’ strategic flexibility. With a limited variety of latent routines, knowledge, capabilities and agency to draw on when needed, these firms have limited organizational responsiveness and high levels of path-dependency.

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