This paper assesses the effectiveness and differential performance effects of learning
mechanisms on the evolution of alliance capabilities. Relying on the concept of capability
lifecycles, prior research has suggested that different capability levels could be identified
in which different intra-firm learning mechanisms are used to enhance a firm’s alliance
capability. However, empirical testing in this field is scarce and little is known as to what
extent different micro-level learning mechanisms are indeed useful in advancing a firm’s
alliance capability. This paper analyzes to what extent intra-firm learning mechanisms
help firms evolve their alliance capability and create competitive heterogeneity.
Differential learning may induce firms to yield superior returns in their alliances in comparison to competitors. We present a conceptual model that assumes capabilities
evolve through different types of learning. The results show that different learning mechanisms have different performance effects at different stages of the alliance capability development process. This points to differential learning effects of learning mechanisms at the different levels of alliance capability. The main lesson from this paper is that firms can influence the evolution of their alliance capability as different mechanisms have differential performance effects and are more appropriate at different levels of alliance capability.
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