Three Facets of Organizational Adaptation: Selection, Variety, and Plasticity

Daniel A. Levinthal, Reginald H. Jones Professor of Corporate Management, Chair, Management Department, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and Alessandro Marino, Department of Business and Management, LUISS Business School

Organization Science, Volume 26, Issue 3

Abstract: When considering the adaptive dynamics of organizations, it is important to account for the full set of adaptive mechanisms, including not only the possibility of learning and adaptation of a given behavior but also the internal selection over some population of routines and behaviors. In developing such a conceptual framework, it is necessary to distinguish between the underlying stable roots of behavior and the possibly adaptive expression of those underlying templates. Selection occurs over expressed behavior. As a result, plasticity, the capacity to adapt behavior, poses a trade-off as it offers the possibility of adaptive learning but at the same time mitigates the effectiveness of selection processes to identify more or less superior underlying roots of behavior. In addition, plasticity may mitigate the reliability with which practices are enacted. These issues are explored in the context of a computational model, which examines the interrelationship among processes of variation, selection, and plasticity.

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