Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2015

The Advocacy Trap: When Leaders' Legitimacy Building Inhibits Organizational Learning

by Tiona Zuzul and Amy C. Edmondson


This paper theorizes a relationship between legitimacy building and learning for new firms in nascent industries. We conducted a longitudinal study of a new firm in the nascent smart cities industry, and discovered that the firm's legitimacy-building activities provided benefits (leading diverse stakeholders to value the new firm and the new industry), but also created risks. Specifically, legitimacy building relied on and reinforced individual-level behaviors (an external focus and an advocacy orientation) that inhibited the firm's ability to learn. We propose that legitimacy building can comprise an advocacy trap that blocks meaningful learning vital to the success of a new firm. By suggesting a downside to legitimacy building and identifying a new barrier to learning, rooted in cognition and especially salient in new firms and nascent industries, our discovery opens new avenues for research on entrepreneurship and organizational learning.

Keywords: nascent industries; legitimacy; cognition; entrepreneurship; organizational learning; Business Model; Business Startups; Decision Making; Entrepreneurship; Innovation and Invention; Goals and Objectives; Environmental Sustainability; Social and Collaborative Networks; Strategy; Green Technology Industry; Real Estate Industry;


Zuzul, Tiona, and Amy C. Edmondson. "The Advocacy Trap: When Leaders' Legitimacy Building Inhibits Organizational Learning." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 11-099, March 2011. (Revised September 2015.)