Journal Article

The Coevolution of Community Networks and Technology: Lessons from the Flight Simulation Industry

LORI ROSENKOPF and MICHAEL L. TUSHMAN

in Industrial and Corporate Change

Volume 7, issue 2, pages 311-346
Published in print June 1998 | ISSN: 0960-6491
Published online June 1998 | e-ISSN: 1464-3650 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/icc/7.2.311
The Coevolution of Community Networks and Technology: Lessons from the Flight Simulation Industry

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This paper explores how interorganizational networks coevolve with technology in the modern flight simulation industry. Since industries characterized by complex technologies, like flight simulation, rely on cooperative groups such as technical committees, task forces and standards bodies to adjudicate the process of technological evolution, we focus on these groups and term them ‘cooperative technical organizations’ (CTOs). Focusing on CTOs enables a multi-level examination of interorganizational networks, as individuals represent their employing organizations in CTOs, mapping into overlapping membership patterns which generate community-wide networks. We develop a set of propositions on the emergence, growth and re-formation of CTO networks, and explore how the evolution of these networks both shapes and is constrained by technological outcomes in the flight simulation industry. We argue that varying levels of technological uncertainty between eras of ferment (high uncertainty) and eras of incremental change (low uncertainty) engender fundamentally different modes of network evolution: social construction during eras of ferment, and technological determinism during eras of incremental change. More specifically, during the era of ferment, movement of new members into the CTO community enables the re-formation of interorganizational networks which select among competing technological alternatives. The selection of a dominant design, however, constrains the evolution of network structure, as subsequent CTO membership: remains relatively consistent. These dynamics have strategic implications for firms, as the era of ferment presents a window of opportunity where firms must seek to manage these community-level networks and selection processes to their advantage.

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Subjects: Industrial History ; Business History ; Innovation ; Technological Change; Research and Development ; Industry Studies

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