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External knowledge sharing and radical innovation: the downsides of uncontrolled openness

Paavo Ritala (Lappeenranta University of Technology, Lappeenranta, Finland)
Kenneth Husted (Department of Management and International Business, University of Auckland Business School, Auckland, New Zealand)
Heidi Olander (School of Business and Management, Lappeenranta University of Technology, Lappeenranta, Finland)
Snejina Michailova (Department of Management and International Business, University of Auckland Business School, Auckland, New Zealand)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 14 February 2018

Issue publication date: 15 June 2018

2877

Abstract

Purpose

Inter-firm collaborative innovation typically requires knowledge sharing among individuals employed by collaborating firms. However, it is also associated with considerable risks, especially if the knowledge sharing process is not handled using proper judgment. Such risks have been acknowledged in the literature, but the underlying empirical evidence remains unclear. This study aims to examine how sharing of business-critical knowledge with external collaboration partners affects firm’s innovation performance.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors develop a mediating model and hypotheses predicting that the uncontrolled sharing of knowledge leads to accidental knowledge leakage, which, in turn, hinders particularly firm’s radical innovation performance. The authors test the model by using a survey of 150 technology-intensive firms in Finland and a partial least squares structural equation model. The mediating model is tested with incremental and radical innovation performance, and the authors control for firm size, age, R&D intensity and industry.

Findings

The authors find strong support for the model in that uncontrolled external knowledge sharing leads to accidental knowledge leaking and to lower radical innovation performance. The same results are not found for incremental innovation, implying that uncontrolled knowledge leakage is especially detrimental to radical innovation.

Originality/value

These findings help in better understanding some of the downsides of too much openness and lack of judgment about knowledge sharing beyond the boundaries of the firm. Thus, firms pursuing radical innovation should carefully guide their employees with regard to what knowledge they share, to what extent they share it and with whom they share it.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation) for financial support that made conducting this research possible.

Citation

Ritala, P., Husted, K., Olander, H. and Michailova, S. (2018), "External knowledge sharing and radical innovation: the downsides of uncontrolled openness", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 22 No. 5, pp. 1104-1123. https://doi.org/10.1108/JKM-05-2017-0172

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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