Exploring Depth Versus Breadth in Knowledge Management Strategies

  • Scott F. Turner
  • Richard A. Bettis
  • Richard M. Burton


This paper provides an early attempt at operationalizing and testing the concept of knowledge strategy. Using a computer-simulated product development process, we compare the performance of generalist and specialist knowledge management strategies under conditions of market turbulence. The generalist knowledge strategy emphasizes breadth of knowledge in product development teams, while the specialist strategy focuses on depth of knowledge. Our generalist and specialist strategies are grounded in Eastern and Western perspectives of knowledge management, respectively. A primary difference between these two approaches is the strong emphasis on cross-learning, or learning across team members, in the Eastern perspective relative to the Western perspective. As such, we examine the performance implications of different modes of cross-learning for teams utilizing the generalist knowledge strategy. Specifically, we examine three modes of cross-learning, which are reflected in the use of three learning decision rules: (1) averaging, (2) majority, and (3) hot hand. A learning decision rule indicates how decision-makers learn from their fellow team members. Under the first rule, the decision-maker adopts an average of the beliefs held by fellow team members. Under the second rule, if a majority of fellow team members agree on a particular solution, then the decision-maker adopts the beliefs held by the majority. Under the third rule, the decision-maker learns from the team member whose beliefs have been consistent with market desires most recently. Surprisingly, we find that specialist strategies outperform generalist strategies under conditions of low and high market turbulence. We also find that cross-learning can be beneficial or detrimental, contingent upon the mode of learning. Generalist teams utilizing the averaging decision rule perform significantly worse, while generalist teams utilizing the hot hand decision rule perform significantly better.

knowledge management product development organizational learning computer simulation decision-making specialist generalist 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott F. Turner
    • 1
  • Richard A. Bettis
    • 1
  • Richard M. Burton
    • 2
  1. 1.Kenan-Flagler Business SchoolUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Fuqua School of BusinessDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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