A Formal Model of Experimentation in Firms

21 November 2011 at 10:56 am Leave a comment

| Peter Klein |

Following Knight, Mises, and Lachmann, we have often characterized entrepreneurship on this blog (and the McQuinn blog, which should be on your reading list) as experimentation with combinations of heterogeneous capital resources. Experimentation itself is relatively understudied in the entrepreneurship and strategy literature — we have general theories about the nature and effects of experimentation, indirect empirical evidence on competition as experimentation (e.g., my relatedness stuff with Lasse), case-study evidence about experimentation and innovation within firms, but don’t fully understand the exact mechanisms.

Here’s a new paper that will not be to everyone’s taste, but tries to get at these issues in a formal model of interaction between experimenting firms:

The Role of Information in Competitive Experimentation
Ufuk Akcigit, Qingmin Liu
NBER Working Paper No. 17602, November 2011

Technological progress is typically a result of trial-and-error research by competing firms. While some research paths lead to the innovation sought, others result in dead ends. Because firms benefit from their competitors working in the wrong direction, they do not reveal their dead-end findings. Time and resources are wasted on projects that other firms have already found to be dead ends. Consequently, technological progress is slowed down, and the society benefits from innovations with delay, if ever. To study this prevalent problem, we build a tractable two-arm bandit model with two competing firms. The risky arm could potentially lead to a dead end and the safe arm introduces further competition to make firms keep their dead-end findings private. We characterize the equilibrium in this decentralized environment and show that the equilibrium necessarily entails significant efficiency losses due to wasteful dead-end replication and a flight to safety — an early abandonment of the risky project. Finally, we design a dynamic mechanism where firms are incentivized to disclose their actions and share their private information in a timely manner. This mechanism restores efficiency and suggests a direction for welfare improvement.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Recommended Reading, Strategic Management, Theory of the Firm.

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
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