Revisiting James March (1991): Whither exploration and exploitation?

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Organization Science, 2018, 16 (3), pp. 352 - 369
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We revisit March’s seminal 1991 article, “Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning”, and analyze the impact it has had on scholarly thinking, providing a comprehensive and structured review of the extensive and diverse research inspired by this publication. We show that although this influence has changed significantly over the years, there are still unexplored opportunities left by this seminal work. Our approach enables us to identify promising directions for future research that reinforce the themes anchored in March’s article. In particular, we call for reconnecting current research to the behavioral roots of this article and uncovering the microfoundations of exploration and exploitation. Our analysis further identifies opportunities for integrating this framework with resource-based theories and considering how exploration and exploitation can be sourced and integrated within and across organizational boundaries. Finally, our analysis reveals prospects for extending the notions of exploration and exploitation to new domains, but we caution that such domains should be clearly delineated. We conclude with a call for further research on the antecedents of exploration and exploitation and for studying their underexplored dimensions.
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