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Cognition and Capabilities: Opportunities Seized and Missed in the History of the Computer Industry

Paper:ewp-io/9406003
From: Dick Langlois Obfuscate("WUVMD.wustl.edu","UConnVM.UConn.Edu")  > 
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 94 16:01:21 EDT

Abstract:
Despite the enormous literature devoted to the subject, there remains little consensus about the organizational sources of innovativeness and inertia. On the one hand, the evolutionary or "capabilities" view of the firm leads us naturally to expect organizational inertia as a natural by- product of competitive success, especially in complex, highly articulated firms. On the other hand, there is a tradition within what is broadly the same view of the firm that stresses the advantages for innovation of large, professionally managed firms over the "personal capitalism" of smaller, more synoptically managed enterprises. This paper attempts to develop a perspective on the debate by treating the organization as a cognitive structure within an evolutionary capabilities framework. It then canvasses the history of the computer industry for empirical examples. That history includes a diversity of organizational types confronting -- both successfully and unsuccessfully -- a significant number of cases of technological opportunity. The central conclusion of the paper is that innovativeness and inertia are not so much results of organizational form considered a priori but rather of the "fit" between the cognitive structure of the organization and the structure of the economic change the opportunity implies.

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EconWPA began as a conversation between Bob Parks and Larry Blume on January 28, 1993. I located Paul Ginsparg's archive (then xxx.lanl.gov) and he graciously installed his software on a Sun Sparc system which was supporting the department of economics email and computation. EconWPA began accepting papers July 1, 1993 and had ftp, email, gopher and web interfaces. The web interface for submissions was engineered into existence in July 1995. A complete and catastrophic machine failure in 1999 caused the loss of EconWPA's email new paper announcment service at which time there were over 15,000 subscriptions with over 8,000 unique email addresses.

In 2005, Arts and Sciences commandeered the computing services that I had provided to the Department of Economics since 1987. Some might say that the department was sold out, others would (erroneously) claim that centralization is efficient, and still others would claim that I have few marketing skills.

I was told that I could keep operating EconWPA (as well as many other services including rfe.wustl.edu, barnett.wustl.edu, and three RePEc servers) but I would receive no support (hardware, software, or anthing else) and (as had been the case) no compensation. At that point, given the apparent low valuation of my activities by the department, and university, it made no sense for me to continue operating EconWPA or other services.

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A Chinese curse states May you live in intersting times. I have. Bob Parks - Jan 2006