Learning across business sectors: Knowledge sharing between aerospace and construction
This report addresses the extent that managerial practices can be shared between the aerospace and construction sectors. Current recipes for learning from other industries tend to be oversimplistic and often fail to recognise the embedded and contextual nature of managerial knowledge. Knowledge sharing between business sectors is best understood as an essential source of innovation. The process of comparison challenges assumptions and better equips managers to cope with future change. Comparisons between the aerospace and construction sectors are especially useful because they are so different. The two sectors differ hugely in terms of their institutional context, structure and technological intensity. The aerospace sector has experienced extensive consolidation and is dominated by a small number of global companies. Aerospace companies operate within complex networks of global interdependency such that collaborative working is a commercial imperative. In contrast, the construction sector remains highly fragmented and is characterised by a continued reliance on small firms. The vast majority of construction firms compete within localised markets that are too often characterised by opportunistic behaviour. Comparing construction to aerospace highlights the unique characteristics of both sectors and helps explain how managerial practices are mediated by context. Detailed comparisons between the two sectors are made in a range of areas and guidance is provided for the implementation of knowledge sharing strategies within and across organisations. The commonly accepted notion of ‘best practice’ is exposed as a myth. Indeed, universal models of best practice can be detrimental to performance by deflecting from the need to adapt continuously to changing circumstances. Competitiveness in the construction sector too often rests on efficiency in managing contracts, with a particular emphasis on the allocation of risk. Innovation in construction tends to be problem-driven and is rarely shared from project to project. In aerospace, the dominant model of competitiveness means that firms have little choice other than to invest in continuous innovation, despite difficult trading conditions. Research and development (R&D) expenditure in aerospace continues to rise as a percentage of turnovers. A sustained capacity for innovation within the aerospace sector depends crucially upon stability and continuity of work. In the construction sector, the emergence of the ‘hollowed-out’ firm has undermined the industry’s capacity for innovation. Integrated procurement contexts such as prime contracting in construction potentially provide a more supportive climate for an innovation-based model of competitiveness. However, investment in new ways of working depends upon a shift in thinking not only amongst construction contractors, but also amongst the industry’s major clients.