Comment on Paper by Gavin Wright, ‘Can A Nation Learn? American Technology as a Network Phenomenon’

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



University of Chicago Press


Research in economic history and administrative service in a university motivate both practical and scholarly interest in organizational persistence and dynamics. This conference has reinforced my belief in the value of an evolutionary perspective for understanding these phenomena. Such a perspective draws an analogy between the influence of environmental forces on the survival of organisms in biological populations, and corresponding processes affecting the persistence of organizations. There is one key difference, however, between natural selection as it occurs in the world of plants and animals and its functioning among organizations. This difference concerns the role of mutations, which in the biological context are largely random while in the organizational context are the results of specific human intervention. In a rapidly changing environment, a new strategic departure may enable a firm to persist or grow. But if the nature of the environmental change is misperceived, or misforecast, or if the costs and benefits of the mutation are improperly estimated, such initiatives can create problems and in the worst case prove disastrous for the firm or organization because they will draw financial resources and administrative attention away from its core activities: those activities that exploit the differential capabilities that have given the firm its competitive advantage.

Chapter of

Learning by Doing in Firms, Markets, and Nations


Peter Temin
Daniel Raff
Naomi Lamoreaux