Learning to Contract: Evidence from the Personal Computer Industry

Kyle J. Mayer, Nicholas S. Argyres
2004 Organization science (Providence, R.I.)  
O rganizational forms involving more detailed contracts than are found in traditional spot market exchanges appear to be increasingly prevalent. There has been relatively little analysis, however, of the extent to which firms learn how to use contracts to manage their interfirm relationships over time. In this paper, we conduct a detailed case study of a time series of 11 contracts concluded during 1989-1997 between the same two partners, both of whom participate in the personal computer
more » ... y, to explore whether and how firms learn to contract. We find many changes to the structure of the contracts that cannot be fully explained by changes in the assets at risk in the relationship, and evidence that these changes are largely the result of processes in which the firms were learning how to work together, including learning how to contract with each other. The nature of this learning appears to have been quite incremental and local, that is, not very far sighted. We suggest how and when contracts might serve as repositories for knowledge about how to govern collaborations, and suggest some boundary conditions for this phenomenon. Our findings also provide implications for the debate about whether contracts have a positive or negative effect on interorganizational trust. We conclude with suggestions for future research.
doi:10.1287/orsc.1040.0074 fatcat:zhoefv52sbbhldo3qs4cubbuqy