The role of experiential and vicarious knowledge in inventor teams



Organizations develop knowledge along technological trajectories. While working on original inventions, teams gain experiential knowledge that could be applied in technologically related sequential inventions. If this knowledge is valuable and hard to transfer, inventor teams should remain stable over time. Yet, building only on experiential knowledge is associated with rigid mental models, lower perspective-taking, and creative deficits in the team. We therefore study whether a team benefits from experiential knowledge and if so, how much is too much? Furthermore, we ask what kind of knowledge newcomers who work on a sequential invention ideally bring to the table. This is important to optimize team composition. Specifically, we investigate whether vicarious knowledge – knowledge brought in by newcomers that is similar to the knowledge held by the old team – influences the usefulness of inventions and explore how vicarious knowledge interacts with experiential knowledge. Our findings suggest that experiential knowledge relates curvilinearly to the usefulness of sequential inventions, that vicarious knowledge has a positive main effect but that it attenuates the effect of experiential knowledge in complex ways. We discuss implications for team composition and effectiveness, tacit knowledge and knowledge transfer, as well as practical lessons for management of inventors, knowledge management systems, and personalization.