Protecting Strategic Knowledge: Insights from Collaborative Agreements in the Aerospace Sector
This paper explores the dilemma that firms face with respect to knowledge sharing in strategic alliances. On the one hand, alliance success is associated with high levels of interaction and co-operation between partners. On the other hand, full and open co-operation exposes a firm's distinctive knowledge and skills and makes it vulnerable to opportunistic moves by alliance partners. Hence firms experience a fundamental paradox: to gain the greatest benefits they must exchange information and knowledge with external parties yet, at the same time, they must protect themselves against knowledge appropriation. This dilemma is particularly acute in the aerospace sector where political imperatives strongly influence partner choice and collaborators are often strong rivals in other contexts. In this paper we use data drawn from four collaborative agreements in the aerospace sector to explore the ways in which a focal firm has sought to protect its strategic knowledge and manage knowledge flows in alliance relationships. We find that existing theoretical lenses provide valuable but partial insights into the question of knowledge appropriation in alliances and offer limited guidance to managers charged with making alliances work. We suggest that some rich insights can be gained by focusing on the overlaps and interstices between existing theories and that greater exploration of the everyday working practices in alliances may offer a useful starting point for improved theorising.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 2004-06-01