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Honor the old, welcome the new: an account of unlearning and forgetting in NPD teams

Adrian Klammer (University of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, Liechtenstein)
Stefan Gueldenberg (University of Liechtenstein, Vaduz, Liechtenstein)

European Journal of Innovation Management

ISSN: 1460-1060

Article publication date: 13 September 2019

Issue publication date: 15 June 2020




The purpose of this paper is to empirically investigate the antecedents, levers of control and outcomes of organizational unlearning and forgetting in new product development (NPD) teams.


This paper employs a holistic multiple-case study design. This paper gathered data from 30 individual semi-structured interviews in 10 different NPD teams as well as additional data to triangulate the findings.


The authors propose a model of unlearning and forgetting elements occurring in NPD teams. The two most prominent factors that hamper innovation are the inability to unlearn and involuntary forgetting. Failure to manage these antecedents results in the loss of crucial resources, missing innovations or intra-team tensions. Managing knowledge loss by promoting unlearning and reducing forgetting leads to enhanced creativity and flexibility, a higher chance of exceeding innovation goals, increased conversion efficiency and augmentation of existing knowledge.

Research limitations/implications

This paper contributes empirical evidence to the field of unlearning and forgetting. The model illustrates the NPD process from the perspective of organizational unlearning and forgetting. The authors examined the NPD process from an unlearning and forgetting perspective and proposed new categories of antecedents, consequences and managing unlearning and forgetting. This generates a more profound theoretical understanding of underlying knowledge loss processes in NPD teams.

Practical implications

Companies should promote unlearning and specify spatial and temporal freedom. In doing so, team members can identify outdated and obsolete knowledge. Being attentive to unlearning and forgetting processes allows teams to achieve increased creativity and flexibility.


This paper provides empirical evidence to generate a more profound understanding of the underlying mechanisms of knowledge loss in NPD teams. First, the authors propose a holistic model of antecedents, levers of control and consequences of both unlearning and forgetting. Second, the authors suggest that organizations can use these levers of control to successfully manage unlearning and forgetting in NPD teams.



The authors would like to thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for their valuable, helpful and constructive feedback as well as their useful suggestions.


Klammer, A. and Gueldenberg, S. (2020), "Honor the old, welcome the new: an account of unlearning and forgetting in NPD teams", European Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 581-603.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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