Discontentment and knowledge spillovers in an emerging high-tech industry: a study of the emergence of the RFID industry
Finn, David J. (2009) Discontentment and knowledge spillovers in an emerging high-tech industry: a study of the emergence of the RFID industry. PhD thesis, Dublin City University.
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This thesis is an inductive study of how entrepreneurs and their collaborators use or encourage knowledge spillovers to fuel technological innovations during the emergence of a knowledge intensive industry. Drawing on theories of the entrepreneurial process, innovation during industry emergence, and knowledge spillovers, this thesis seeks to explain the process by which entrepreneurs, facing market, organizational and technological uncertainty, use their existing knowledge to procure, share and create new knowledge during the early stages of an emerging industry. The core research question is why, when and how do knowledge spillovers occur in an emerging industry?
The thesis is based on an extensive case study of the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) industry, including both interview data and analysis of patent data. The approach of data collection, analysis and theory development follows the systematic methodology articulated by Glaser and Strauss (1967), Glaser (1992) and Strauss and Corbin (1998) for developing a grounded theory. The qualitative research
involved 57 in-depth interviews (45 interviewees) from around the world with the inventors and entrepreneurs who have shaped the emerging RFID industry.
The thesis makes a number of important contributions to existing literature.
First, it provides a comprehensive description of the emergence of the RFID industry in the United States and Europe with a focus on patent activity surrounding specific innovations and the nature of information flows between firms in the value chain.
Second, core findings are that the discovery, evaluation and
exploitation of opportunities by individuals in the RFID industry were the result of knowledge spillovers that resulted from extensive social interactions; that knowledge spillovers can be instigated by entrepreneurs or their collaborators by molding or recognizing discontentment in potential knowledge workers, a process which is described as "discontentment provocation"; and that a core generative process to the emergence of a new industry is knowledge
spillover. Contrary to existing literature, patents played a relatively insignificant role in knowledge spillovers relative to social interaction in the emerging RFID industry. Furthermore, knowledge spillovers were not geographically bound and localized within spatial proximity
to the knowledge source.
Third, the analysis of the empirical data identifies the dimensions "discontentment", "human agency" and "social interaction" as underpinning the process that fostered the generation and propagation of knowledge during the emergence of this industry. The discontentment dimension, originating from negative forces, acts as a catalyst to trigger the process of human agency, the decision to pass
on information and knowledge to another party. Human agency then leads seamlessly into social interaction, resulting in the acquisition, interpretation and/or sharing of information and knowledge.
Discontented individuals were the knowledge conduits who diffused information and knowledge to entrepreneurs and their collaborators through social interaction.
Fourth, this thesis also advances the theory of knowledge spillovers in an emerging knowledge intensive industry by expanding upon the "Entrepreneurial Motivational Model" proposed by Shane et al. (2003). It introduces the triggering events that motivate an individual to seek change prior to the discovery of an opportunity and the social exchanges which take place during different steps of the entrepreneurial process.
Overall, this study has important implications for those studying the entrepreneurial process, the emergence of new industries, and knowledge spillovers.
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