Why are learning networks necessary? Because innovation is importent. The competitive advantage gained through knowledge or processes is transitory; it just doesn’t last very long in today’s complex dynamic business environment. Innovation and organization learning are needed to sustain competitive advantage and innovation grows out of collaborative processes, which can be enhanced by participation in network based learning platforms.
Our knowledge of learning networks is limited, but growing. Ozman has helped by compiling research on inter-firm networks.
Ozman, M (2009). Inter-firm Networks and innovation: a Survey of Literature.
What do Firm Gain from Networks
Firms benefit from network when they are able to fill structural hole (gaps in their knowledge) or response to complex problems by increasing their social capital. Increases in complexity tends to increase the importance of tacit knowledge, something that networks with members who have complimentary capabilities can be good at passing on, especialy in face to face situations. Filling structural holes is also a common problem when businesses are expanding into new lines of business or are in start-up mode and do not have all the knowledge needed.)
Trust, a Necessary component
The most important trait in networks seems to be trust among participants, followed by complementarities between participants (which I feel also implies diversity).
There are many questions that are not addresses like:
- Development – how do you start and grow networks
- Efficiency – how do you make networks into effective learning platforms
- Support – What types of institution supports are needed for best functioning
However, this is a start; a knowledge base from which to begin.