Innovation may be externally induced; that is, an external threat or challenge such as the accident at the Three Mile Island (TMl) nuclear power plant sets the stage for outside parties such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to propose that new practices be adopted. Managers then must make choices about how their organizations will respond. This study shows how prior performance can affect organizational responses and how these responses in turn can affect subsequent performance. Vicious cycles are shown to exist in which poorly performing organizations respond with rule‐bound behavior, a response which only perpetuates their poor performance. Better‐performing organizations, on the other hand, retain their autonomy, a response which reinforces their strong performance.