Coolly provocative: a microfoundational framework of interorganizational cultural distance and exploratory innovation

Pamsy P. Hui, Jeanne Ho Ying Fu, Yuk yue Tong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Purpose: Interorganizational collaboration has been a major source of exploratory innovation. Despite much research, the authors’ understanding about how partner cultural distance is harnessed for exploratory innovation is limited. The authors’ conceptual framework aims to address this gap by explaining the social-psychological processes between perceived partner cultural distance and exploratory innovation. Design/methodology/approach: Drawing on research in organizational learning and culture mixing, the authors propose a multilevel model with two parallel processes – cultural brokering and cultural defense. If managers are engaged in the former and are protected from the latter, then the partnership will produce more exploratory innovation. Cultural brokering is encouraged by prompting a learning mindset, while cultural defense is preempted by dampening social categorization across organizational boundaries. Findings: Cultural brokering can be encouraged by building operational-level managers' (OLMs') collaborative strength through developing a learning orientation, allowing them delivery for exploration, cultivating mutual trust with partners. Cultural defense can be preempted by protecting OLMs from intergroup anxieties through providing organizational support to the OLMs, bridging social categorization faultlines and setting shared collaborative goals. Whether an alliance can unleash its potential depends on not just how cultural brokering is enabled but also how cultural defense is curtailed. Originality/value: This paper takes a microfoundational approach and considers micro-level processes in a partnership. Furthermore, the model takes the operational managers' perspective and defines culture at the organizational level. All these differences allow us to provide a nuanced picture of how diverse partnerships can be harnessed for exploratory innovation through a few easily-implementable measures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-347
Number of pages24
JournalCross Cultural and Strategic Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 Apr 2023


  • Cultural brokering
  • Cultural defense
  • Cultural distance
  • Exploration
  • Innovation
  • Interorganizational collaboration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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