The literature on ambidexterity attributes the survival of an organization to two main entrepreneurial behaviours, the ability to continuously explore and identify new product and service opportunities, and the ability to exploit existing resources. A number of studies suggests that the effects of exploration and exploitation on company performance are direct, and argue that ambidextrous companies perform best (He and Wong, 2004). However, other researchers (for example Raisch and Birkinshaw, 2008) suggest that the relationship is more complex, with factors mediating or moderating these relationships.

This study introduces strategic learning (e.g. Mintzberg, 1985) as a mediating factor between exploration, exploitation and performance. Strategic learning is defined as an organization’s dynamic capability consisting of intra-organizational processes for the dissemination, interpretation and implementation of strategic knowledge (Kuwada, 1998; Thomas et al., 2001). Furthermore, this study seeks to contribute to entrepreneurship research by testing the moderating effect of exploitation on the exploration—strategic learning relationship.