Imitation to Innovation: Late Movers’ Catch-up Strategy and Technological Leadership Change


Little attention has been devoted to the question of how late movers overcome first-mover advantage and catch up with incumbents. We examine the role in catch-up of late movers’ optimal resource allocation between innovation and imitation. Building on Nelson and Winter’s (1982) technology learning and competition model, we develop computational models of late movers’ R&D allocation strategy and technological leadership change. The results suggest that one-sided dependency upon either imitation or innovation deters technological leadership change by late movers in the long run, since the leading firms are moving targets. Furthermore, when a late mover’s technology level is low, the late mover should focus on imitation and build technological capabilities and absorptive capacity; then, as the technological gap decreases, the late mover should allocate more R&D resources to innovation and attempt technological leapfrogging. This transition from imitation to innovation plays a critical role in catch-up. We also test our models including a range of technological environment variables such as appropriability, cumulativeness, and technological opportunity. Our model shows that our original findings are resilient across a wide range of technological environment variables.


Number of Pages in PDF File: 47

Keywords: imitation, innovation, technological catch-up, technological leadership change, technological environment

JEL Classification: O31, O32

[Link to the paper on SSRN]


Author: sungyongchang

Hi! I am Sungyong Chang, an assistant professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School. My research interests lie in the area of creativity & innovation, and computational social science. You can also find my working papers in my CV, and on my SSRN page and Google Scholar. I graduated from Columbia Business School in May 2018 and earned BA in Business and Economics as a valedictorian from Seoul National University. I like to read science fiction & mystery novels, play board games, room-escape games, and travel.

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