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How do different types of interorganizational ties matter in technological exploration?

Yu-Shan Su (Department of Industrial Education, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan)
Wim Vanhaverbeke (Department of Business Economics, Universiteit Hasselt – Campus Diepenbeek, Diepenbeek, Belgium)

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 2 April 2019

Issue publication date: 20 September 2019




Boundary-spanning exploration through establishing alliances is an effective strategy to explore technologies beyond local search in innovating firms. The purpose of this paper is to argue that it is useful to make a distinction in boundary-spanning exploration between what a firm learns from its alliance partners (explorative learning from partners (ELP)) and what it learns from other organisations (explorative learning from non-partners (ELN)).


The authors contend that alliances play a role in both types of exploration. More specifically, the authors discern three types of alliances (inside ties, clique-spanning ties and outside ties) based on their role vis-à-vis existing alliance cliques. Clique members are highly embedded, and breaking out of the cliques through clique-spanning and outside alliances is crucial to improving explorative learning. Thereafter, the authors claim that clique-spanning ties and outside ties have a different effect on ELN and ELP.


The empirical analysis of the “application specific integrated circuits” industry indicates that inside ties have negligible effects on both types of explorative learning. Clique-spanning ties have a positive effect on ELP, but not on ELN. The reverse is true for outside ties. The results show that research on explorative learning should devote greater attention to the various roles alliance partners and types of alliances play in advancing technological exploration.


The literature only emphasises the learning from partners, focussing mainly on accessing their technology. In sum, alliance partners play different roles in exploration, and their network position influences the role they are able to play.



Su, Y.-S. and Vanhaverbeke, W. (2019), "How do different types of interorganizational ties matter in technological exploration?", Management Decision, Vol. 57 No. 8, pp. 2148-2176.



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