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Imprinting-Deprinting-Reimprinting: A Process Theory of Intergenerational Learning and Spin-off Entry


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Ferriani, Simone 
Garnsey, Elizabeth 
Lorenzoni, Gianni 


New entrants very often spin out from established firms and because they set on a course at founding, their learning and capabilities become inextricably linked to their organizational and technological heritage. But while this heritage may provide an initial advantage, it can also generate inertia and resistance to change, unless the new company is able to unlearn some practices from the parent company and learn something new in order to establish its own sources of competitive uniqueness. This tension between inherited path and new trajectory, imprinted past and search for newness is the object of this paper. Building on an in depth case study of Acorn Computers and ARM semiconductors we show that while there are strong influences from the parent company on the spinoff, these imprinted organizational effects can be overridden. We use the term deprinting to stress the reversible nature of this process in contrast with the irreversibility embodied by the classic imprinting notion. This is followed by a phase of intense learning efforts whereby the spinoff establishes its competitive identity based on a blending of retained routines, repeated improvisation and feedbacks from the market. We refer to this process with the term reimprinting, to emphasize the metamorphosis experienced by the spinoff as it sets on a new distinctive trajectory.



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