Different truths in different worlds

Kent D. Miller*, Shu Jou Lin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Models of organizational learning typically assume that organizations rely upon performance feedback and that an exogenous (uncontrollable) environment presents the problems that organizations seek to solve. By contrast, we consider how different epistemologies within organizations, or combinations of epistemologies, and the degree to which the environment is amenable to organizational control jointly affect learning over time. This study presents three different epistemologies expressed in interpersonal learning: pragmatism (learning beliefs from better performers), coherentism (learning beliefs that fit together), and conformism (adopting beliefs that are popular). We also examine the learning implications of a dominant coalition that can promulgate its preferred beliefs throughout an organization. Outcomes from our agent-based model point toward key epistemological and environmental contingencies affecting the dynamics of organizational learning. Organizations filled with pragmatists learn effectively if the environment is fixed or controllable. Coherentists and conformists advance in knowledge only to the extent that they can control the environment. Adding pragmatists to organizations with coherentists or conformists produces a nonlinear (S-shaped) effect on knowledge achieved as different proportions of pragmatists alter social networks. Models involving learning from a dominant coalition affirm March's trade-off between learning speed and eventual knowledge achieved only for organizations filled with pragmatists and operating in an uncontrollable environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-114
Number of pages18
JournalOrganization Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010 Jan
Externally publishedYes


  • Agent-based model
  • Computer simulation
  • Epistemology
  • Ontology
  • Organizational learning
  • Social construction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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