A Role-based Ecology of Technological Change

By Joel Podolny
1993| Working Paper No. 1254

In this paper, we develop a conceptual framework to explore why particular technologies become elaborated and extended, while others are forsaken. The core of the framework is the role-based conception of the technological niche, which is centered around a focal innovation and includes all innovations with which the focal innovation shares a knowledge-based tie. Given this conception of the niche, the technological status quo is manifested as an interlocking role structure, and the process of technological change can be framed as one of niche entry. We offer a eries of hypotheses about the properties of niches that we anticipate will affect the likelihood of niche entry. We then operationalize the conception of the niche and test our hypotheses using citation data from semiconductor device patents. Finally, we highlight a connection between technological change and market presence by exploring the impact of patent citations on a firm’s sales volume. Extensions are discussed.