Interorganizational Learing: The Effect of Outcomes on Learning from the Experience of Others

By Pamela Haunschild
1996| Working Paper No. 1377

In this study, we explore the issue of how and when firms respond to other firms’ experience with a given practice or structure. Existing theory has emphasized two ways this occurs: (1) firms tend to adopt practices that most other firms have adopted; and (2) firms tend to adopt practices that other firms posssessing certain traits have adopted. To these conditions, we add a third: firms learn from the outcomes of other firms’ actions, and adopt practices that produce positive outcomes for others. The purpose of this study is to see whether outcomes affect adoption, and if so, under what conditions. To study this issue, we look at the outcome of others’ use of a given investment banking firm — the premium paid on a acquisition, and test our hypotheses on 539 acquisitions that occurred during 1988-1993. Results show that outcomes experienced by one firm affect subsequent use of an IBanker or other firms, but only when they are very salient. We also find evidence that uncertainty and timing affect firm responses to other firms’ experience. Our findings support both neoinstitutional and organizational learning theories, highlight the contextual nature of vicarious learning, and suggest complex dynamics for population level transformations.