Learning from Successive Creative Innovations? The Case of Solo and Collaborative Facebook Application Development

Publication Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date



Performance improvements based on repetition have been one of the most consistent findings of the organizational learning school. Meanwhile, the general applicability of this core finding has increased ever so broadly, from medical surgery to accident prevention. This study examines the extent of these repetition-based performance improvements in a setting of creative innovations – where individuals have to conceptualize and decide on the purpose of their projects in addition to implementing them. By definition, no two creative innovations – from paintings to musicals – are exactly alike, and the equivalence of repetition-based performance improvements is therefore successive undertaking of creative innovations (of the same genre). This study examines the ever-increasing universe of Facebook applications developed by interested third-party users as a context of creative innovations. These applications have been downloaded and used by the Facebook community to decorate their respective Facebook pages, and to enhance communications within the community. In particular, many entrepreneurs were testing the profit potentials of their ideas in this embryonic medium when it was first launched to the public in 2007, with many continuing on to build formal organizations from these ideas. Tracking the download performance of Facebook ‘apps’ (i.e., applications) developed by individual third-party users within their first year in public domain, this study looks for evidence of performance changes over successive app creation in terms of downloads by other users. Integrating recent findings from the creativity literature and the organizational learning school, learning-related performance changes were examined from two perspectives: individuals working alone and in collaboration with others. In particular, individuals working alone on successive apps on average never yielded significant performance improvement – in fact they typically registered a performance decline over successive apps. Compared with apps developed by individuals working alone, those developed by collaborating partners generally yielded higher performance (consistent with theoretical predictions and prior studies). However, working with the same partner over successive apps does not always improve performance either. Some degree of comfort appears to be in place before progressive improvements can materialize. Working repeatedly with a right kind of partner can see one’s successive apps perform progressively better, while working repeatedly with another partner could see one’s apps perform progressively worse. These findings suggest an interesting limit to experience-based learning, either through task familiarity or team familiarity, on creative innovations.


Technology and Innovation

Research Areas

Strategy and Organisation


Organization Science Winter Conference


Organization Science Winter Conference

City or Country

Steamboat Springs, CO, USA

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