This is a pre-print of an article accepted for publication in the Technology Analysis & Strategic Management journal.

Selected papers by Sebastian K. Fixson are available on SSRN at


This paper investigates the effect industry life cycle phase shifts have on the effectiveness of firms’ knowledge creation strategies. Building on literature streams on strategic knowledge management and industry life cycles, we develop theoretical arguments for why the best knowledge search strategy should be different before the emergence of an industry compared to afterwards. Testing our hypotheses empirically in the emerging U.S. automotive airbag industry confirms the powerful forces of industry emergence: the best knowledge search strategy is initially one that looks inward into the organization but outside of the technology area, and later shifts to one that is looking outward from the organization and the technology. As practical implication we derive that R&D managers should (i) adjust their teams’ knowledge search strategies depending on the industry life cycle phase in which they find themselves, and (ii) especially look for new applications of their firm’s existing knowledge in related fields.

Acknowledgements: The authors would like to thank Carliss Baldwin, Michael Heeley, J. Peter Murmann, Karl Ulrich, seminar participants at Wharton and MIT, and three anonymous Academy of Management Annual Meeting Reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. All errors remain our responsibility. The authors acknowledge financial support for this research from the National Science Foundation (SES-0620487).


Operations Research, Systems Engineering and Industrial Engineering