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Formation mechanism of knowledge rigidity in firms

Zhong Zhou (PhD Candidate in the School of Business, East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai, China)
Zhigao Chen (Professor in the School of Business, East China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai, China)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 13 September 2011




Based on definition and characteristic analysis, this paper seeks to propose a formation mechanism of knowledge rigidity, which is constituted by the effects of three precipitating factors: time‐effectiveness of knowledge, reinforcing effectiveness, and sunk cost effect in knowledge selection mechanism.


By presenting knowledge time‐effectiveness model, reinforcing effectiveness model, and knowledge selection mechanism, the paper theoretically analyzes firms' rigid behavior of knowledge application. Theories of increasing returns and sunk cost are introduced to explain the formation process of knowledge rigidity in firms. Two cases are presented to analyze the knowledge rigidity in industrial firms basing on the proposed models and mechanism.


First, the lifecycle of knowledge rigidity is dynamically defined by knowledge time‐effectiveness. Second, the degree of rigidity and firm's dependence on specific knowledge are enhanced by reinforcing effectiveness during the process of application. At the end of the life cycle, the sunk cost mainly hinders a firm's decision making to replace ineffective knowledge.

Research limitations/implications

Quantitative research is needed to further explore the formation mechanism of knowledge rigidity and to present operational approaches for practitioners. The proposed models and mechanism are useful for understanding the knowledge rigidity and analyzing its formation mechanism in firms.

Practical implications

This paper provides theoretical support to realize knowledge rigidity in KM practice. Three indicators were proposed to evaluate the rigidity and action suggestions were given to help control knowledge rigidity in firms.


Causal analysis models and a formation mechanism are proposed to show how knowledge rigidity forms.



Zhou, Z. and Chen, Z. (2011), "Formation mechanism of knowledge rigidity in firms", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 15 No. 5, pp. 820-835.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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