Archive for the ‘strategy’ Category

ISIS’ state building strategy

The SSRC blog, The Immanent Frame, has an interesting post on the strategy of ISIS. From Steve Niva:

In its particular contribution to “jihadi security studies,” The Management of Savagery provides what Will McCants and Jarret Brachman call the “playbook” for what is referred in these writings as “regional jihad”: the attempt to seize territory within the Muslim world and establish a self-governing Islamic state in a sea of hostile opponents backed by the West.

In order to do this, Naji’s strategic doctrine echoes Mao’s familiar three-phase theory of revolutionary warfare in which the insurgent organization can be in one or all phases simultaneously. In the first phase, the Islamist insurgent actor seeks to create or exploit “regions of savagery” through violent or shocking actions that collapse central authority or state control via “damage and exhaustion.” The second phase establishes primitive forms of government to “manage” such “regions of savagery,” which he claims would be accepted by shell-shocked people desperate for security. These forces would gradually expand government services while engaging in even more shocking violence in order to extend the “regions of savagery” and defend them. The final phase is the transition from the “administration of savagery” in various regions to a fully governed Islamic state under a Salafist version of Islamic law.

What is distinctive in Naji’s doctrine is his emphasis on shocking and spectacular violence as an asymmetric warfare strategya jihadist shock doctrine. One of most important lessons of Robert Tabler’s The War of the Flea is that insurgent actions must always mobilize a population to side with their cause. In a chapter dedicated to “Using Violence,” Naji emphasizes that shocking violence is not only effective for recruitment and instilling fear, but that it is the primary means to create a society-wide crisis that will polarize the population and drag everyone into the battle. Naji contends that, “We must make this battle very violent, such that death is a heartbeat away, so that the two groups will realize that entering this battle will frequently lead to death. That will be a powerful motive for the individual to choose to fight in the ranks of the people of truth in order to die well, which is better than dying for falsehood and losing both this world and the next.”

Interesting – the strategy is to make death so likely that you care about how you will die, so you are attracted to triumphalist ideologies. Niva’s essays take a Weberian turn. After ISIS creates perpetual crisis, then comes the phase of pacification and monopolization of violence.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 1, 2015 at 12:01 am

shimer college and the puzzle of declining liberal arts colleges

The Guardian recently ran an article about Shimer College, a tiny great books college in Chicago, Illinois. Originally, the authors wanted to know why it had been ranked so low by the Department of Education. The answer is that there is a fair amount of non-completion, people leave with debt, and they don’t get great jobs. Why? Shimer College takes all kinds of students and makes them go through this unique curriculum of great books for four years. It sounds like a wonderful institution, but not one that produces the “right numbers.” It’s also a college that is very close to closing due to extremely low enrollments.

When I finished reading the article, I realized that Shimer College represented a puzzle. Normally, in a large market, like higher education, we see an explosion of organizational forms catering to different market segments. And to some extent, that’s exactly what happened in higher ed. We have research schools, tribal colleges, cosmetology schools, and an army of biblical colleges. But the liberal arts sector keeps shrinking and shrinking. Is it really all that hard to find 200 people in a nation of 300 million that wants the free wheeling inquiry of Shimer College?

Here’s my solution to the issue. Start with the observation that there’s a negative association between price and risk tolerance. When college is cheap, people will try out all kinds of college experiences. As it becomes more expensive and tied to the labor market, there is a huge pressure for conformity. You get diversity when there is a strong social identity supporting an institution (e.g., ethnicity or religion) or when students simply can’t be shoe horned into existing structures (e.g., cosmetology students don’t need football stadiums). Thus, liberal arts schools exist only for a market segment that (a) needs the four year credential, (b) really, really doesn’t want the standard package offered by the big universities, and (c) has the cash to pay for such a specialized service. You also have some liberal arts schools that are bankrolled by others (e.g., Deep Springs or Berea). You probably get down to a few thousand students per year at most and there is stiff competition for their money. And as prices keep going up, the market gets smaller.

So yes, there are probably tons of students who would love the liberal arts education, but not many who would pay the full sticker price. I hope that people can create a model where you bring people back to this type of education at a more reasonable price.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 15, 2014 at 3:15 am

q&a with hahrie han: part 1


This week, we are having a Q&A with our recent guest blogger, Hahrie Han. She is a political scientist at Wellesley College and has a new book out on the topic of how organizations sustain the participation of their members called How Organizations Develop Activists. If you want, put any questions you may have in the comments.

How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century

By Hahrie Han (@hahriehan)

Question 1. Can you summarize, for the readers of this blog, your new book’s main argument? How do you prove that?

 The book begins by asking why some organizations are better than others at getting (and keeping) people involved in activism than others. All over the world, there are myriad organizations, campaigns, and movements trying to get people to do everything from signing petitions to showing up for meetings to participating in protest. Some are better than others. Why?

To answer this question, I wanted to look particularly at what the organization does. There are so many factors that affect an organization’s ability to engage activists that the organization itself cannot control. What about the things it can control? Do they matter? So I set up a study of two national organizations working in health and environmental politics that also had state and local chapters operating relatively autonomously. I created matched pairs of these local chapters that were working in the same kinds of communities, and attracted the same kinds of people to the organization. But, they differed in their ability to cultivate activism. By examining differences among organizations in each pair, I could see what the high-engagement organizations did differently. I also ran some field experiments to test the ideas that emerged.

I found that the core factor distinguishing the high-engagement organizations was the way they engaged people in activities that transformed their sense of individual and collective agency. Just like any other organization, these organizations wanted to get more people to do more stuff, but they did it in a way that cultivated their motivations, developed their skills, and built their capacity for further activism. Doing so meant that high-engagement organizations used distinct strategies for recruiting, engaging, and supporting volunteers, which I detail in the book. By combining this kind of transformational organizing with a hard-nosed focus on numbers, they were able to build the breadth and depth of activism they wanted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

November 18, 2014 at 12:01 am

ukraine, finland, and russia

It has recently been revealed that Russian/separatist forces are taking more territory in the Ukraine. What to do? There are few good options. Russia is so massive compared to neighbors. But history does have one example of semi-successful defense from Russian/Soviet incursion – the Winter War of 1940, when Finland resisted (sort of) a Soviet invasion.

Organizationally, the issue is that the Finns were simply outnumbered and had to build a new strategy to deal with that fact. The solution was to (a) exploit the geography, (b) come up with innovative tactics, and (c) preserve your own while maximizing enemy casualties. For example, the Finnish air force developed the novel tactics where they would refuse to defend and focus on attack; novel mining techniques (Finns learned how to put mines in frozen lakes); hijacking radio frequencies and misdirecting Soviet planes; and exploiting the Finnish geography with well placed garrisons and snipers.

The legacy of the Finnish war is ambiguous. According to the wiki, they inflicted massive casualties on the Soviets, forcing a settlement. But still, the Finns suffered enormous losses. Helsinki was bombed. Almost a thousand civilians died, nearly 26,000 soldiers perished in a short three month war. The Finns also saw, as the Ukrainians do today, that there is limited help from the rest of the world.

The lesson is hard to extract. Finnland’s Winter War is the best outcome among many wars of aggression on the Russian border. Perhaps it would be better to do as the Georgians did and try to minimize the conflict. Regardless, the Ukraine is in for some very difficult times.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 5, 2014 at 12:01 am

the islamic state’s leadership style

The Small Wars Journal has an article on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. Written by Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, it should be of interest to any scholar interested in leadership. The basic question is how the Islamic State suddenly defeated two states on their home turf. Anderson lays out the basics:

  1. Unlike most Arab armies, there is a great deal of trust among the leaders and soldiers. Fighters are sorted into units based on language and nationality. al-Baghdadi does not micro-manage and instead trusts commanders to achieve well specified goals.
  2. Social media: He uses the Genghis Khan technique – kill a few folks and show the bodies to the public via Twitter. Surrender ensues.
  3. Self-financing: Focuses on goals that well help finance the next round. Banks, oils fields, utilities. It’s the “live off the land model” updated. The Islamic state is also good at selecting which captured resources will be useful. Tanks are bad (slow, susceptible to air power). Bulldozers are good (they tear down weak Iraqi fortifications).
  4. A return to maneuver warfare: Since Arabic armies don’t have cohesion or trust, they can’t move well. They sit and shoot. In contrast, IS forces move well, aim at weak points, and retreat when they encounter a “surface” (military term for a well supported force).

Except for terror, IS is simply employing the tactics that Western forces are good at but Arab forces can’t use.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 27, 2014 at 12:00 am

how field theory can inform strategy research

The field of strategy research could learn something from field theory. Ed Walker and I make this point in a forthcoming paper, “Winning hearts and minds: Field theory and the three dimensions of strategy,” now published online at the journal Strategic Organization.  We argue that strategy researchers too narrowly conceptualizes strategy, focusing almost exclusively on financial performance and ignoring firms’ (or elites’) motivations to attain status and power. When strategy scholars pay attention to status they usually only do so as an independent variable – a precursor to financial performance. Field theory forces us, we think, to consider the broader struggles for control and dominance that propel firms, elites, and other actors to take action. Shaping public perceptions is one of the main ways in which social actors improve their status and attain more power, and so an important component of strategy involves actively managing impressions – i.e., what people think and how they feel about key issues and actors.

Strategy research—and to some degree social movement theory as well—portrays organizations as resource-accumulating machines. The ultimate measure of success is financial performance. Another way to conceptualize organizations is as social actors whose primary function is to manage the impressions and perceptions of their various audiences. Their ultimate goal is to maintain positions of dominance. Resource accumulation depends on the ability of an organization to gain favorability and esteem. Shaping public perceptions about why one organization deserves favor is key, then, to long-term survival. But there exists an alternative and more long-term rationale for shaping public perceptions: for organizations to gain positions of prominence and power in society, they must be able to influence the rules of the game and the cultural norms and belief systems that shape who wins and who does not…

What role does strategy have in this conflict-ridden view of the world? In our estimation, strategy can be conceptualized as having three dimensions. We take inspiration from the ideas of Max Weber (1922 [1978]) in his classic essay on “Class, Status, and Party” in order to understand the features of strategy. We argue that strategy research has focused almost exclusively on financial performance (“class,” in Weber’s resource-based view of economic positions) and management’s role in shaping it. However, Weber’s conceptualization suggests that firms ought to be at least as concerned with prestige or esteem (“status”) or on the relative leverage of various stakeholders and policymakers upon firms’ actions (“party”). ..

[W]e find three major limitations in strategy research. First, it is far too focused upon firm performance at the expense of understanding strategic elements of relative status and sources of power/vulnerability. Second, its perspective is often far too short term and does not pay enough attention to all three of the aforementioned aspects of strategy, especially in the context of the “long game” of business maneuvering. Third, it downplays the extent to which businesses’ capacities for accumulating resources, maintaining reputations, and obtaining political leverage are all subject to conflict with other actors whose own relative position depends on their ability to convince the public of their alternative ideologies and worldviews.

In the paper we talk more about research focused on political influence, in particular, ought to shift away from the specialty areas of “nonmarket strategy” or “political strategy” and move to the forefront of strategy research.

Written by brayden king

April 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm

gender quotas and boards of directors

Siri Ann Terjesen is an assistant professor of management and international business at Indiana University. She is an entreprenuership researcher and she also does work on supply chains and related issues. This guest post addresses gender and management.

I am hoping that orgtheory readers can offer some new theoretical angles for a relatively new phenomenon: national legislation to set gender quotas (usually of 33%-40%) for boards of directors, usually with a short time horizon (3-5 years) and targeted to publicly-traded but also state-owned enterprises. The first country to adopt a gender board quota was Norway, in December 2003- setting a 40% quota for state-owned firms by 2006 and for publicly-traded firms by 2008. Since then, ten countries have implemented quotas (Spain, Finland, Quebec in Canada for SOEs, Israel, Iceland, Kenya for SOEs, France, Italy for SOEs, and Belgium) and another 16 have softer ‘comply or explain’ legislation. The mandatory quotas have potentially tremendous impact at multiple levels: from individuals’ careers and ambitions to creating new boardroom composition and dynamics, to challenging targeted firms to establish greater levels of female leadership at the board level, and providing an example for other countries. I recently surveyed the fast-growing academic literature on gender board quotas (about 80 articles, book chapters, working papers, and conference papers, all in the last 7 years, most in the last 2 years) and it is generally a-theoretical with the exception of some work on institutional theory and path dependency (as antecedents and inputs to the process of legislation) and a little bit on tokenism (back to Kanter’s 15% in 1977). Dear readers, any thoughts for promising theoretical perspectives?

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Written by fabiorojas

February 12, 2014 at 12:01 am

why intro is the most important course you may ever teach

Scatter has a great post on why we need to treat the Introduction to Sociology course with great importance by Nathan Palmer:

The 101 class is the public face of our discipline. Every year there are roughly a million students in the United States who take Soc 101, that is, if my publisher friends’ estimates are to be believed. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, 101 will be their only exposure to our discipline. Sure, they might hear about our research findings in the media, but chances are they’ll have no idea that it was a sociologist who produced the research.

…How do the faculty in your department think about 101? Is it something to be avoided like the plague? Is it a hazing ritual that you put newbs through so that senior faculty can get to teach their “real classes” (i.e. their upper division classes within their area of interest)?


First, it matters because the introductory classes serve as the on ramp to the major. As reported by in their forth coming book How College Works, Chambliss and Takacs find that,

Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.

Second, it matters because of Krulak’s law which posits, “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.”[2] Put simply, if the 101 class is the frontline of sociology, then the 101 teacher is the ambassador for us all.

Read the whole thing.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 30, 2014 at 12:09 am

b-school org change syllabi bleg

To my brothers and sisters in the business schools:

I am interested in masters/doctoral level syllabi on the topic of organizational change, especially with a strategic management emphasis. Please provide links or email me directly. Much appreciated.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 31, 2013 at 12:05 am

reviving resource dependence theory

A while ago I asked, “what happened to resource dependence theory?” Although resource dependence theory seemed to be the dominant macro-organizational theory of the late 1970s, by the early 1990s the theory was eclipsed by institutional theory and population ecology. In the previous post, I offered some reasons for why this might have happened, but I stopped short of doing any serious analysis or a literature review.  So I was happy to see that Tyler Wry, Adam Cobb, and Howard Aldrich have a paper in the latest Academy of Management Annals that tackles this question and offers some thoughts about the future of RD theory.  Based on their analysis, the problem is worse than I imagined. Not only is RD theory cited less than those other theories, but it also seems to be the case that most citations to RD theory are fairly superficial. On a positive note, RD theory has become associated with a few fragmented communities of scholars who were interested in studying the particular strategies that Pfeffer and Salancik suggested actors/organizations ought to take when seeking to gain control over dependencies. From the Wry et al. paper:

[W]e conducted a systematic analysis of every study that cited External Control in 29 highly regarded management, psychology, and sociology journals between 1978 and 2011. Given the breadth of empirical domains covered by RD, our analysis focused on identifying how, and to what extent, each article used the perspective. Our results indicate that there is merit in Pfeffer’s assertion that RD serves primarily as a  metaphorical statement about organizations. Though External Control continues to be cited at an enviable rate, the vast majority of citations are ceremonial—variously used as a nod toward the environment,  resources, or power. Results also show that beneath an ever growing citation count is a fragmented landscape of scholars whose primary interest is in the specific strategies discussed in External Control —mergers and acquisitions (M&A), joint ventures and strategic alliances, interlocking directorates and executive succession—rather than the underlying perspective….To say that RD has been reduced to a metaphorical statement about organizations, however, belies its considerable impact. Indeed, while RD lacks a coterie of followers and has failed to catalyze a dedicated  research programin the vein of NIT or OE, it has had a uniquely broad influence within management scholarship. Scholars have drawn on RD to derive key hypotheses in the study of M&A’s, joint ventures and  strategic alliances, interlocking directorates, and executive succession, with the hypotheses largely supported (Hillman, Withers, & Collins, 2009).

They also suggest that its time to revive RD theory in organizational analysis. Why should we do that?  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

May 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm

what college sports should be like

Written by fabiorojas

January 11, 2013 at 12:13 am

want to write on social entrepreneurship for a popular audience?

From the Home Office in St. Gallen, Switzerland, Tim Lehmann sent me the following call for applications:

Well, here is your opportunity:  The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the Huffington Post and Student Reporter have teamed up to invite ten students to form a virtual team starting 1st of February 2013 for six months to contribute to Huffington Post’s Social Entrepreneurship section.  Ideally, an inter-disciplinary team of students with strong disciplinary foci in sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, entrepreneurship studies, and political theory would form this team.  We also welcome applications from social entrepreneurs.  Candidates must be enrolled in an educational program such as BA, MA, MBA, or PhD.

Here is the link and the accompanying statement.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 9, 2012 at 12:07 am

facebook strategy – ads or platforms?

I get Google. A billion people use the website, stick advertising on it. Amazon and Walmart destroy the competition with economies of scale. Facebook’s strategy is a little more opaque to me. Right now, it’s going gangbusters on ad dollars. Is that the main strategy?  Envelope calculation: $100bn in market cap/a claimed 800m active users = $125. Does that sound right? Does that average user generate at least $125 of income for Facebook’s advertisers as a whole?

I suspect Facebook’s strategy is mixed. It’s obviously ads because young people (=discretionary income) love Facebook. But I suspect that Facebook is gearing up to be a major platform, an all purpose social space where people can do things. That leads us into the world of apps and income sharing from apps. Developer Steve Yegge made this distinction in a much hailed rant on Google+. Yegge pointed out that Amazon had built an amazing library of APIs that allowed third parties to collaborate with Amazon and mine its databases. I suspect Facebook is committed to this direction. Ads create enough revenue, but the goal is to create an appapalooza on par with Apple’s App Store. It’ll be interesting to see if that’s worth $125 a user.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 25, 2012 at 12:01 am

Posted in fabio, strategy

new book – the organization of higher education

My friend Michael Bastedo at Michigan recently published a new collection of essays called The Organization of Higher Education: Managing Colleges for a New Era. The book introduces the reader to cutting edge research in universities, strategy, and organizational behavior.

Chapters include Brian Pusser and Simon Marginson on global rankings, J. Douglas Toma on strategy and Anna Neuman on organizational cognition in higher education. Social movement fans should check out my chapter on movements and higher education.


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Written by fabiorojas

May 13, 2012 at 12:01 am

social movement tactics and the komen/planned parenthood dispute

Question: The Komen incident is an example of a movement working “around the edges.” Pro-life activists are pursuing their goals by increasing the cost of getting an abortion by having a non-profit yank funding for an organization that provides abortion counseling and services. What evidence do we have that pro-choice activists are pursing a similar policy? Have organizations been pressured into increasing abortion services by pro-choice activists? If not, why is the pro-choice movement passive in this respect? Input from experts on this movement are welcome.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 5, 2012 at 5:22 am

#ows, the human microphone and hand signals

I’m sort of intrigued by the various innovations emerging from the Occupy Wallstreet Movement (I posted at strategyprofs about some of the tech ones, specifically apps).

One of the cooler, more low-tech innovations (ok, ok, these have been around for a long time – but still) is the use of the “human microphone” – note that the wiki entry was initiated just two weeks ago.  Occupy also has its own hand signals (and, check out the hand signals for consensus decision-making).  Cool.  Twinkles.

Here’s a hand signal tutorial:

Written by teppo

November 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm

organizational strategy as a social choice

I’m pretty enamored by many things (including performativity).  One of them is social choice theory.  I think the intuition developed by scholars like Condorcet, Arrow and Sen is fundamental for any social, political or economic setting.  Now, the theory of course does not capture many issues: social influence, the origins of preferences, and more generally, contextual issues.  Some might even say that social choice theory scarcely corresponds with reality.   But I think it nonetheless is a very powerful theory.

What I like about social choice theory is that it fundamentally is about social aggregation.  And one beef I’ve had for some time is the lack of consideration for aggregation-related issues in organization theory (and strategy for that matter).  Now, sure, aggregation isn’t everything – of course contextual/organizational factors and the environment matter.  But there used to be a brand of organization theory that also dealt with questions of aggregation – a portion of the Simon-March line of work was dedicated to this issue.  A nice articulation of a few of the key issues can be found in Jim March’s (1962) classic (and definitely under-cited) Journal of Politics piece “the business firm as a political coalition.”

So, with colleagues I’ve been working on some papers that try to apply and amend social choice intuition in the context of organizations.  In one paper we develop a formal model of organizational strategy as a social choice.  In the model we specifically allow for particular influence structures to condition and shape social choices in organizations. So, ok, this post is a bleg – my colleague (in electrical engineering) and I would like feedback on this particular paper.

If any of the above sounds even vaguely interesting, you can download the short pdf here (or, I also just posted the paper onto SSRN if that is more convenient).  Any feedback would be appreciated.

Written by teppo

October 5, 2011 at 7:54 pm

moneyball: an orgtheory review

I take a special interest in the Moneyball movie because I used to teach the book in a class. Before I get to the academic comments, I’ll give the movie a thumbs up. It’s a fun movie and, as usual, Brad Pitt puts in a believable performance as a conflicted manager. It’s slow for a modern film, but I liked it. If you are a sports fan and you have a tolerance for chatty films, then you’ll probably like this.

Anyway, the reason I went to see the movie is that tor a while, I taught IU’s course on organizations and work. I used Moneyball to explain two concepts – market imperfections and organizational culture.

Markets are imperfect when buyers and sellers do not incorporate all the available knowledge. Moneyball is really about taking advantage of the fact that most sports team managers don’t use some very basic data to choose players. Organizational culture simply means the shared ideas in an organization that are used to interpret things and motivate behavior. Moneyball is about the conflict between people who think baseball can be successfully quantified and those who think that good coaching should be based on experience and gut feelings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

October 5, 2011 at 12:16 am

strategy land and good strategy, bad strategy

Dick Rumelt has a blog, Strategy Land.  Miscellaneous posts, including one on strategy and goals, a post on Steve Jobs and Apple.

And, here’s the website for his recent book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters.  An excerpt can be downloaded here (pdf).

Written by teppo

September 30, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Posted in strategy

wise not to turn your back on ’em … economists, that is

Looking back on it, getting an MBA at the University of Chicago (1981) is really what led me to academia. Back then, course readings were 30-40 academic journal articles. Rarely did a textbook accompany a class. As students, we knew we were there to learn the latest-and-greatest academic thinking. In our view, courses based upon some textbook anybody could get at their student bookstore for $50 had to be worth little more than, well, $50. Forget about classes taught by the grey-hairs (you know, classes in which some big-shot ex-executive sits around and regales students with war stories) — total waste of time, in our view. No, we wanted the meaty stuff. The stuff that wouldn’t be “best-practices” for another 10 years. Commercializing that knowledge, yeah, that’s where the money was.

So, I specialized in Finance (what else?) and launched into an exciting decade+ of business practice. At some point, I started consulting and, at some point after that, I was asked to work on a strategy project. I knew nothing about strategy at the time — BUT! — I knew how to read academic journals. No problem. Off to the library to read the pink strategy journal! Up to speed and 10 years ahead of practice in a few sittings. That b-school training was truly awesome. (In case you are wondering, btw, years later when I was a rookie PhD, I interviewed at Chicago. My old Micro prof, Sam Peltzman, took me to dinner. When I asked him what journal articles he was putting in his MBA course, he did a spit-take and said, “Wall Street Journal articles.” More on this later.)

I guess it would be fair to say that I found the strategy literature sadly wanting in comparison to the precision and mathematical sophistication I was used to in the Finance literature (mind you, this was as a practitioner). My reaction was: big opportunity here. This was the 90s and, for those who are not aware of it, the methodological advances in economics were really expanding at that time: game theoretic learning, evolutionary economics, behavioral economics, computational methods … cool technological approaches that held some promise in tackling the complexities inherent in the strategy problem domain. Off I went to get a math econ degree and I’ve never looked back with any regrets. (I do look back and marvel at the level of hubris that propelled me on my way — though, without it, where would any of us be in this academic hustle?)

Over time, outside of trying to stay up on promising methodological developments, I became less attentive to what people were doing in economics. Early-on, I tried to get my IO friends interested in the issues that so animated my own research. Typically, 3 minutes into describing something I was working on to a respected IO colleague, I could see the eyes glaze over and hear the responses go on autopilot. I really was a strategy guy and, clearly, the strategy literature was where my career would rise or fall. When asked, I explained it in this way, “The central question in strategy is who gets what, why and for how long. IO economists, IO being in many ways a mirror field, are interested in how the most value gets created. The dichotomy is one between distributional vs. efficiency issues. We want to tell Apple how to make more profit. They want to tell the FTC how to increase social welfare.”

This is not to say there weren’t always great economists in the bi-curious category. Of course there were. But, they were not the majority and I was smugly comfortable in my belief that, regardless of how frustratingly slow progress in strategy was, the field had little to worry about from economics. In fact, just as recently as last year, I had this discussion with one of my dearest colleagues, Jan Rivkin.  I was somewhat surprised when he, in so many words, told me I was full of it. I felt sorry (for him) that I couldn’t bring him around in that discussion. Eventually, though, I knew I would win him over.

That was until about a month ago. That was about a time the paper by Chad Syverson (2011) started making the rounds. Entitled, “What Determines Productivity?” it is a wide-ranging survey paper that collects and organizes work in economics on persistent differences in firm productivity levels. Almost all the papers are from 2000 on. I found the quantity and quality of work cited, frankly, jaw-dropping. Now, those who have followed the narrative to this point will say, “Yes, but it’s work on productivity — that means the interest is still all about efficiency!” True. But, here’s the catch: “efficiency” in this work is typically measured as Revenue/Cost. Take the numerator and subtract the denominator and — PRESTO — you have the object of focus in strategy.

I’m still digesting this. It could be good news. After all, I’d love to have more outlets for my work. On the other hand, young scholars like Syverson are smart … and teched-up … and full of youthful energy. What I can say is that the bar for strategy research has stealthily gone up over last decade.

Written by @mdryall

September 29, 2011 at 7:45 pm

behavioral strategy workshop

Sheen Levine (MIT) and Shayne Gary (Austrialian School of Business) are again organizing their workshop on “behavioral strategy” at the upcoming Academy of Management conference.  If your work relates, consider getting involved and submitting a short proposal.  Last year’s workshop was fantastic.  Click below for details.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by teppo

July 9, 2011 at 7:38 am

collective action and organization theory – a syllabus

I’m co-teaching a short and quite eclectic doctoral seminar on “collective action and organization theory” with Henri Schildt here at the Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki.

The class readings list is rather exploratory.  We’ll only meet four times, so there isn’t room for a whole lot. We picked a set of readings that sounded fun and interesting (some classics as well as recent stuff).  At the risk of public ridicule – here’s a draft of the syllabus.  If you have any thoughts or feedback (additions etc), feel free to leave a comment.

Written by teppo

April 29, 2011 at 10:06 pm

mao and nomic: games with emergent and changing rules

I watched one of my kids play the game “Mao” (also called Mü, Maw, Chairman Mao, etc) with her friends the other day.  Fascinating.  In the game players develop unspoken, secret rules that others have to figure out — the rules are emergent and evolve.  Fun stuff.

Interested in playing (but don’t have any friends)?  Well, of course there’s a MaoBot that you can play against online.

Another game, roughly in the same family (but even more fascinating), is Nomic – developed by Peter Suber.  Here’s the premise:

Nomic is a game in which changing the rules is a move. In that respect it differs from almost every other game. The primary activity of Nomic is proposing changes in the rules, debating the wisdom of changing them in that way, voting on the changes, deciding what can and cannot be done afterwards, and doing it. Even this core of the game, of course, can be changed.

Written by teppo

March 17, 2011 at 6:10 am

“content strategy” and the birth of occupations

The Elements of Content Strategy This morning I listened to an interesting interview on one of Dan Benjamin’s shows. He was talking to Erin Kissane about her new book, The Elements of Content Strategy. Say you are using a website to communicate something to someone, or enable communication between a group of people, or both. The something you are conveying or facilitating is your content. According to Kissane, the job of a “content strategist” is to figure out how best to make sure that content is assembled, presented, and maintained in a way that’s appropriate to its audience.

You might think that the term “Content Strategist” is evidence that the job market in the online sector must be picking up, because as an occupational title it’s got a slight buzzing sound around it. However, Kissane turned out to be a very thoughtful interviewee—one of those rare people who thinks about and then answers the questions they are asked. The book (which I bought and read over lunch: it’s short) is a handbook for this new occupation (or, as the author calls it, discipline). Despite a denial at the outset, it’s also implicitly a manifesto for it. Content strategists, she argues, live at the intersection of editing, curation (the dread online phrase of 2010), and marketing. They help you decide who your site is for, and what it’s for, and then develop a framework that lets you choose, care for, and publicize your content. The Elements of Content Strategy is an elegant argument for some principles to bear in mind, and a useful summary of a few heuristics you might use, while executing that task. I could have done with it to back me up at more than one meeting I’ve suffered through on the topic of Redesigning Our Website or Why Don’t We Start A Blog About That, or Perhaps The Twitter Will Excite The Kids, or what have you.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Kieran

March 9, 2011 at 12:26 am

evolutionary social theory: mathematical approaches

Robert Trivers at Rutgers lectures (two weeks ago) on mathematical approaches to evolutionary social theory.

Here’s part 2, and part 3.

Written by teppo

February 16, 2011 at 10:08 pm

crowdsourcing the news: an experiment

Some journalists and a Carnegie Mellon team are experimenting with crowdsourcing the news.   Here’s some intuition on crowdsourcing complex tasks.  Here’s an article with some background.

Written by teppo

February 8, 2011 at 8:56 pm

we are all khalid said

Wired’s Egypt coverage is interesting — this article discusses the role of facebook, specifically the We Are All Khalid Said facebook site, as an “organizing hub” for the protesters.  (Twitter and other social media have of course also played a role.)  Based on the article, the Mubarak regime appears to be well aware of these sites and is wreaking havoc on them.

Here’s some background on Khalid Said.

Written by teppo

February 5, 2011 at 2:58 am

egypt protests

This whole Egypt thing is really sad — I find it hard to break away from the coverage (Al Jazeera live here).  I lived in Amman Jordan for about a year and also worked a bit in Cairo, a beautiful city now in ruins.  The footage of people getting run over by cars, journalists getting attacked (don’t mess with Christian Amanpour, Anderson Cooper, Hala Gorani!), is just plain crazy and surreal.  I hope the people’s voice is heard and that a stable, democratic government emerges.

On the somewhat more positive side of things, The Guardian has a nice photo collage of innovative helmet designs that are emerging among the protesters.  Click here to see other, innovative helmet variants.

Written by teppo

February 4, 2011 at 6:20 pm

stakeholder theory

Stakeholder theory is getting lots of attention these days.  Here’s a mishmash of links on stakeholder theory:

Written by teppo

February 2, 2011 at 6:42 am

seeing the market

Via John Gruber, Horace Dediu looks at how poorly analysts fared when it came to predicting the size of the market for the iPad. Apple sold just shy of fifteen million iPads in 2010. (starting in April, when it launched.) Every pundit with any kind of audience underestimated how successful it would be, usually by a long ways. Moreover, Philip Elmer-DeWitt notes that professional analysts (employed by investment firms and so on) did much worse than “unaffiliated” analysts with blogs, even when it came to just the previous quarter:

In our ranking of the best and worst Apple (AAPL) analysts for Q1 2011, which lists them based on how accurately they predicted seven key numbers — revenue, earnings, gross margins and unit sales — the unaffiliated analysts … took 9 out of the 10 top spots. The bottom 20 spots were all held by professionals working for the banks and brokerage houses. Taken as a whole, the numbers they sent their paying clients were off by a margin (9.04%) more than twice as big as those generated by the guys who do it for free (3.94%).

I have a limited amount of sympathy for the analysts. Predicting the future is rather harder than predicting the past. But it’s strictly limited, because even a cursory survey of the field shows that IT punditry is stuffed to the gills with people who don’t seem to know anything. Even so, the fact that everyone got it badly wrong is striking. After Steve Jobs demoed the iPad last year, I asked the undergraduates in my Organizations and Management class whether they planned to buy one, and whether they thought it would be a success. The students in this class are a broad cross-section of the Duke undergraduate population, with majors from a lot of different fields. Without exception, they thought Apple had laid an egg with the iPad and that it was impossible to see any use for the device that (a) wouldn’t be better satisfied by either a phone or a laptop and (b) would still be worth paying the asking price for. I’m teaching the same course this semester, so yesterday I asked the class how many of them owned an iPad. A small number did: a bit less than one in ten. (This in a population where, on the one hand, most could afford an iPad if they wanted one but, on the other, almost everyone already owns a laptop for schoolwork.) Then I asked how many of them knew someone outside the class who owned an iPad. Everyone put up their hand.

Written by Kieran

January 20, 2011 at 4:16 pm

management journals ranking, crowdsourced

Is Administrative Science Quarterly really the #9 journal in management (as suggested by ISI/impact factors a few years ago)?  Pl-eez!  Is Management Science really #24 (as ranked by ISI in 2009) among management journals?  Is the Journal of Product Innovation Management, ahem, really a better management journal than Organization Science (relegated to #13! in 2008)?

Now you can decide.

Inspired by Kieran and Steve’s ranking initiative (of sociology departments, see here), here’s an effort to crowdsource management journal rankings:


Sure, a ranking like this has lots of problems: apples and oranges (organizational behavior, strategy, org theory journals all in one), the lack of disciplinary journals (for now), etc. It’s certainly not definitive.  But I think a crowdsourced ranking of management journals might nonetheless be quite informative, and it certainly won’t make the mistake of keeping ASQ, Organization Science or Management Science out of the top 5.  Well, we’ll see.

Updated map of where the votes are coming from:

Written by teppo

January 15, 2011 at 12:20 am

auditing organizational strategies, mckinsey quarterly

Our University of Wisconsin orgtheory correspondent (former orgtheory guester Russ Coff) sent me some links related to McKinsey’s test and audit for organizational strategy (given our previous post about the SMS strategy certification).  The current, Jan 2011 issue of McKinsey Quarterly features ten audit-like tests for organizational strategy.

Here are the questions:

  1. Will your strategy beat the market?
  2. Does your strategy tap a true source of advantage?
  3. Is your strategy granular about where to compete?
  4. Does your strategy put you ahead of trends?
  5. Does your strategy rest on privileged insights?
  6. Does your strategy embrace uncertainty?
  7. Does your strategy balance commitment and flexibility?
  8. Is your strategy contaminated by bias?
  9. Is there a conviction to act on your strategy?
  10. Have you translated your strategy in an action plan?

(By the way: answers “yes!” on all the above questions, including the bias one.)

So, I see the point of “audits” like this, though still am skeptical about whether strategies, in radically uncertain environments, can meaningfully be assessed ex ante.  Nonetheless, the whole strategy audit thing is an interesting concept (and trend/fad?) that many people appear to be thinking about.

Written by teppo

January 7, 2011 at 7:38 pm

the strategy initiative and ASQ

A call for papers that might interest many of you:

In Pursuit of Quality in Strategy Research:

A Paper Development Workshop

The Strategy Research Initiative in association with Administrative Science Quarterly

June 3-4, 2011

Annapolis, Maryland

The Strategy Research Initiative (SRI) is a cross-disciplinary group organized to coordinate activities that promote high-quality strategy research. In a recent editorial (Oxley et al, 2010), Read the rest of this entry »

Written by teppo

January 4, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Posted in strategy, teppo

ronald coase @ 100

Ronald Coase turns 100 years old tomorrow.  Organizations and Markets has the scoop, though 100 years is definitely worth celebrating here at as well.

(Peter’s post also points out how The Economist gets some of the Coasean story wrong, for example by reinforcing an artificial dichotomy between the resource-based view and transaction cost economics and the matter of “organizational advantages” versus transactions costs.)

Written by teppo

December 28, 2010 at 4:41 pm

what is quality research in strategy? the strategy research initiative answers

The most recent issue of Strategic Organization has an article on high-quality research in strategy: “The Strategy Research Initiative: Recognizing and encouraging high-quality research in strategy” — written by a group of mid-career strategy scholars affiliated with the Strategy Research Initiative (members are listed here).

The table below summarizes what the authors are calling for.

Written by teppo

December 21, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Posted in strategy, teppo