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Balancing exploration and exploitation of knowledge through an unlearning context: An empirical investigation in SMEs

Juan Gabriel Cegarra‐Navarro (Departament of Business Economics, Cartagena Polytechnic University, Cartagena, Spain)
M. Eugenia Sánchez‐Vidal (Departament of Business Economics, Cartagena Polytechnic University, Cartagena, Spain)
David Cegarra‐Leiva (Departament of Marketing and Market Research, University of Murcia, Espinardo, Spain)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 2 August 2011

Abstract

Purpose

SMEs may be trapped in a suboptimal stable equilibrium, as many overloaded managers are cutting back on their resources and may be over‐investing in the development of exploration and exploitation processes rather than investing in mechanisms to facilitate an unlearning context. This paper proposes an unlearning context to manage an appropriate balance between exploratory processes and exploitative processes.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper examines the relationship between and significance of two key factors of organisational learning (the exploration and exploitation of knowledge) within an unlearning context, and their effects on the improvement of the performance of SMEs. These relationships are examined through an empirical investigation of 229 SMEs in the Spanish metal sector.

Findings

The results indicate that the effects of exploration and exploitation of knowledge on organizational performance are mediated through an unlearning context.

Originality/value

The findings provide interesting insights into the drivers of organizational performance for SMEs using an unlearning context. SMEs need to provide for and support changes of perspective, of individual habits and in the framework for consolidating emergent understandings.

Keywords

Citation

Gabriel Cegarra‐Navarro, J., Sánchez‐Vidal, M.E. and Cegarra‐Leiva, D. (2011), "Balancing exploration and exploitation of knowledge through an unlearning context: An empirical investigation in SMEs", Management Decision, Vol. 49 No. 7, pp. 1099-1119. https://doi.org/10.1108/00251741111151163

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited