Networks and learning matter to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Networks and learning are also further elaborations on the exploration–exploitation (EE) dilemma. Ambidexterity, that is, managing this apparent dilemma, can be difficult as a result of many constraints. One of these constraints is that of mutually exclusive network structures. Consequently, ambidexterity is the ability to change networks, depending on need using mixed data on four small companies formed as part of an undergraduate management class, I hypothesize how specific network properties of the advice-seeking relationship, including density, cohesion, centralization, and embeddedness, affect two outcomes. Specifically, early exploratory learning is proposed to be positively affected by less-dense networks that maintain cohesion without centralization and do not have relations embedded in other relations. In contrast, later exploitative learning should be associated with denser networks that also have higher cohesion, higher centralization, and greater embeddedness. The results provide some support for these hypotheses and suggest further research in two areas that will benefit SMEs. One, how do early networks affect learning mode? Two, how does the ability to rewire networks provide the relational infrastructure to shift from exploration to exploitation – that is, to be ambidextrous in the face of the exploration–exploitation tradeoff?
I acknowledge the helpful comments of Mihai Banciu, Tammy Hiller, John Miller, Mark Ciaverelli, and Carl Milofsky as well as the editorial assistance of Michael Zimmerman and Tooba Ali
Comas, J. (2014), "Juggling Exploratory and Exploitative Learning with Dynamic Networks in the Early Days of Small Companies", Exploration and Exploitation in Early Stage Ventures and SMEs (Technology, Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Competitive Strategy, Vol. 14), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 319-357. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1479-067X20140000014011
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