The role of organizational and social capital in the firm’s absorptive capacity

Amal Aribi (University of Angers, Angers, France)
Olivier Dupouët (Department of operations management, Kedge Business School, Talence, France)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Publication date: 14 September 2015



This paper aims to ask the question of the contingency of a firm’s absorptive capacity upon the type of expected outcome. Thus, this paper looks at different expected outputs in terms of more or less radical innovations and sees if there are consequences on the absorptive process underpinning cognitive structures and processes, as embodied in its organizational and social capital.


To do so, a qualitative study was conducted. In total, 23 persons in three French industrial firms were interviewed about their firm’s absorptive capacity. One of these firms aims at “new-to-the-firm” innovations, while the other two aim at “new-to-the-world” innovations.


Results suggest that while “new-to-the-firm” innovations tend to favor the use of social capital, “new-to-the-world” innovations tend to rely more on organizational capital. These rather counterintuitive results are interpreted by the necessity to take into account other variables than knowledge distance in the absorption of new knowledge. In particular, complexity and time-length would call for greater use of organizational capital, while speed and reactivity would instead require greater use of social capital.


This is to the best of the authors’ knowledge that one of the first study evidencing the contingent nature of the absorptive process. Further, results tend to show the form absorptive capacity takes depends not only on cognitive aspects but also on the particular environment the firm evolves in.



Aribi, A. and Dupouët, O. (2015), "The role of organizational and social capital in the firm’s absorptive capacity", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 987-1006.

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