Recognition of the firm's tendency toward local search has given rise to concepts celebrating exploration that overcomes this tendency. To move beyond local search requires that exploration span some boundary, be it organizational or technological. While several studies have encouraged boundary-spanning exploration, few have considered both types of boundaries systematically. In doing so, we create a typology of exploration behaviors: local exploration spans neither boundary, external boundary-spanning exploration spans the firm boundary only, internal boundary-spanning exploration spans the technological boundary only, and radical exploration spans both boundaries. Using this typology, we analyze the impact of knowledge generated by these different types of exploration on subsequent technological evolution.
In our study of patenting activity in optical disk technology, we find that exploration that does not span organizational boundaries consistently generates lower impact on subsequent technological evolution. In addition, we find that the impact of exploration on subsequent technological evolution within the optical disk domain is highest when the exploration spans organizational boundaries but not technological boundaries. At the same time, we find that the impact of exploration on subsequent technological development beyond the optical disk domain is greatest when exploration spans both organizational and technological boundaries. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.