Success Traps, Dynamic Capabilities and Firm Performance

Catherine L. Wang, Chaminda Senaratne, Mohammed Rafiq

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Dynamic capabilities (DCs) are fundamental to the understanding of differential firm performance. However, the question remains as to why some firms are better at developing and applying DCs than others. Especially, successful firms have been warned against the tendency to fall into a success or competence trap, where success reinforces exploitation of existing competences and crowds out exploration of new competences, hindering the development of DCs. Therefore, this study examines the effects of success traps on DCs and consequently firm performance, taking into account firm strategy and market dynamism. To facilitate this, our study also identifies the commonalities of DCs across firms. Drawing on survey data from 113 UK high-tech small and medium-sized firms, we find that success traps have a significant, strong negative effect on DCs, which in turn have a weak positive effect on firm performance; DCs are manifested through absorptive and transformative capabilities as two common features across firms. We also find that the development and application of DCs is related to internal factors (such as success traps) rather than external factors (such as market dynamism).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-44
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Management
Issue number1
Early online date11 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • Success Traps
  • Dynamic Capabilities
  • High-Tech SMEs
  • Firm Strategy
  • Market Dynamism
  • Firm Performance
  • Competence Traps

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