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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Management

Year Degree Awarded

Summer 2014

First Advisor

Bruce C. Skaggs

Subject Categories

Strategic Management Policy

Abstract

Scholars frequently suggest that since tacit knowledge is valuable, heterogeneous among firms, and difficult to imitate, it has the potential to provide firms with a sustained competitive advantage. However, the nature of such knowledge can make it difficult for firms to expand and fully exploit its potential. Specifically, the individual orientation of tacit knowledge requires that such knowledge be transferred and replicated internally to achieve scale. This process is difficult and time intensive due to the articulation challenges associated with tacit knowledge. Thus, while tacit knowledge offers the potential for sustained advantage, the ability to realize such an advantage is constrained by the inherent transfer issues associated with this knowledge.

To date, there has been very little scholarly inquiry in the field of management regarding how such difficult to articulate knowledge is transferred and leveraged within firms. I addressed this omission in this dissertation by developing and testing an experience-based approach to the transfer of tacit knowledge. Specifically, I leveraged prior research from cognitive psychology to posit the impact of three experiential characteristics (variety, relatedness, and temporal spacing) on the time needed to transfer tacit knowledge among individuals within firms. I also examined how the differences in knowledge transfer brought about by the nature of experiences influenced the rate and mode of firm growth.

The validity of the conceptual model developed in this dissertation was tested using a unique multilevel dataset on knowledge-intensive firms. The results provide support for the idea that experiences are an important mechanism through which tacit knowledge is transferred and that differential rates of tacit knowledge transfer influence firm expansion. More specifically, I found that experience variety was positively associated with the rate of tacit knowledge transfer at the individual-level and that this effect was attenuated by the relatedness of the variety. I also found that the rate at which firms transferred tacit knowledge to new staff was directly associated with the rate of firm growth and inversely associated with the use of lateral hires as an alternative growth mode.

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