Learning to Learn from Failures: The Impact of Operating Experience on Railroad Accident Responses

Vinit Desai
Industrial and Corporate Change, Volume 25, Issue 2, Pp. 199-226

Failures are difficult to learn from, and organizations unable to learn may continue to fail. This study reconciles conflicting theoretical predictions regarding whether organizations are able to learn from failure, by examining the moderating role of knowledge gained through an organization’s operating experience. The study also forwards the possibility that generalist and specialist organizations systematically differ at this process. Hypotheses are tested on a panel of railroad companies. These tests provide strong support for the role of operating experience, and partial support for differences across generalists and specialists. Contributions to organizational learning theory and related literatures are discussed.