Learning, capability accumulation and firms differences: evidence from latecomer steel

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This paper is concerned with the application of frameworks in order to explain how key features of the intra-firm learning processes influence inter-firm differences in technological capability accumulation in the late-industrializing or latecomer context. This relationship is examined in two of the largest steel firms in Brazil over their lifetimes of 40 and 60 years. These issues have been addressed, individually or together, in different studies of 'technological capability' and 'learning' in industrialized and latecomer firms. However, there is a scarcity of analytical frameworks and supporting empirical evidence to explore the practical implications of the underlying learning processes for inter-firm differences in technological capability-accumulation paths, particularly within the latecomer context. The framework for capability accumulation identifies different types and levels of technological capabilities. The framework for learning identifies four processes: external and internal knowledge acquisition, knowledge socialization, and knowledge codification. These are examined on the basis of key features: variety, intensity and functioning. Drawing on in-depth comparative case study methodology, the study has found that: (i) the technological capability accumulation paths followed by the two firms diverged and have proceeded at differing rates over time, and (ii) key features of the intra-firm learning processes have played a substantial part in influencing these differences. The paper suggests that, at least within large latecomer steel firms, purposeful, continuous and effective efforts to improve on key features of the underlying learning processes are likely to generate positive implications for the manner and rate of technological capability accumulation.

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