Scholars have argued that the exploitation‐exploration interaction provides a source of competitive advantage beyond that provided by each individually. However, we know little about the mutual effects of exploitation and exploration on either incremental or radical innovation performance. To address this gap, we examine data from 171 manufacturing firms. We find incremental innovation performance is highest when exploitation interacts with an intermediary level of exploration. Radical innovation performance, however, is solely driven by exploration. A coupling with exploitation is not effective. We contribute to the extant literature, first, by disentangling the interaction effects of exploitation and exploration on radical and incremental innovation performance, respectively. Second, we extend extant literature that agrees that maintaining an appropriate balance of exploitation and exploration is critical for innovation performance and that has conceptualized this balance as symmetrical presence and magnitude of exploitation and exploration. In particular, we provide evidence in support of an asymmetric relationship.