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Tainted Knowledge vs. Tempting Knowledge: People Avoid Knowledge from Internal Rivals and Seek Knowledge from External Rivals

By Tanya Menon, Leigh Thompson and Hoon-Seok Choi

Abstract

We compare how people react to good ideas authored by internal rivals (employees at the same organization) versus external rivals (employees at a competitor organization). We hypothesize that internal and external rivals evoke contrasting kinds of threats. Specifically, using knowledge from an internal rival is difficult because it threatens the self and its competence: It is tantamount to being a "follower" and losing status relative to a direct competitor. By contrast, external rivals pose a lower threat to personal status, so people are more willing to use their knowledge. We conducted three studies. Study 1 showed that internal and external rivalry involved opposite relationships between threat and knowledge valuation: The more threat internal rivals provoked, the more people avoided their knowledge, whereas the more threat external rivals provoked, the more people pursued their knowledge. Study 2 explored the types of threat that insiders and outsiders evoked. In particular, people assumed that they would lose more personal status if they used an internal rival's knowledge and, therefore, reduced their valuation of that knowledge. Finally, Study 3 found that self-affirmation attenuated these patterns. We suggest that the threats and opportunities for affirmation facing the self dictate how people respond to rivals and, ultimately, their willingness to value new ideas.self, threat, rivalry, knowledge valuation, insider, outsider

DOI identifier: 10.1287/mnsc.1060.0525
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