Learning to collaborate through collaboration: How allying with expert firms influences collaborative innovation within novice firms Academic Article uri icon


  • Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Research summary: Strategic alliances have been recognized as a means for firms to learn their partners' proprietary knowledge; such alliances are also valuable opportunities for partner firms to learn tacit organizational routines from their counterparts. We consider how relatively novice technology firms can learn intraorganizational collaborative routines from more experienced alliance partners and then deploy them independently for their own innovative pursuits. We examine the alliance relationships between Eli Lilly & Co. (Lilly), a recognized expert in collaborative innovation, and 55 small biotech partner firms. Using three levels of analysis (firm, patent, and inventor dyad), we find that greater social interaction between the partner firm and Lilly subsequently increases internal collaboration among the partner firm's inventors. Managerial summary: Can collaborating externally advance internal collaboration? Yes. Our research found that collaboration among scientists at small, early-stage biotechnology firms significantly increased after these firms formed highly interactive R&D alliances with a large pharmaceutical company known for its expertise in such collaboration. It is well known that alliances help new firms learn specific new technologies and commercialize innovations. Our study broadens the scope of potential benefits of alliances. New firms can also learn collaboration techniques, deploying them internally to enhance their own abilities in collaborative innovation. Managers should take this additional benefit into consideration in developing their alliance strategies. Pursuing alliance partners with expertise in collaboration and keeping a high level of mutual interactions with partner firm personnel should be important considerations to extract this value. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

altmetric score

  • 3.2

author list (cited authors)

  • Howard, M., Steensma, H. K., Lyles, M., & Dhanaraj, C.

citation count

  • 45

publication date

  • October 2016