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 Intermediate Learning and the (Re)creation of Knowledge:
How Firms Use Imitation to Introduce New Organizational Routines

Helena Barnard

University of Pretoria

Daniel Z. Levin
Rutgers University

Working paper

May 2013


We examine the learning processes of firms that use imitation to introduce a new routine. Prior research has emphasized the importance of imitation as a learning strategy, yet the actual elements of how firms imitate has rarely, if ever, been studied. In an inductive study of four firms introducing the same routine, we find that, although imitation is distinct from replication (copying exactly) and innovation (creating anew), imitation is in fact a hybrid, with elements of both replication (e.g., use of templates) and innovation (e.g., incremental learning, experimentation). Imitation is thus an example of an “intermediate” learning strategy, where content is neither altogether new nor already well-known to a firm. Moreover, we present evidence suggesting that imitated routines do not get fully routinized or learned unless elements of both the replication and innovation processes are present.

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