One More Ill-Defined, Un-Measured (?) Core Construct: Routines

25 April 2009 at 10:37 am 6 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

It seems that O&M may usefully introduce a new category: “Constructs that are central to one or more management fields, but so far have not been measured.” Yesterday, we blogged on opportunity discovery, and could report only one existing scale in the entrepreneurship literature. Today the focus is on routines, a frequently discussed topic here on O&M.

Routines are, of course, absolutely central in much management research, notably strategic management, international business, technology strategy, organizational theory and much else. The construct itself was essentially introduced to management research in Nelson and Winter’s 1982 book, An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change, although it is often argued that it originates somewhat earlier, namely with the behavioralists (Simon, Cyert, & March; for a critique of this interpretation, see this paper). 

The boundaries of the concept are, even for management research, highly  ill-defined and virtually everything in an organization, save for physícal capital, that has some degree of stability has been called a routine by some author. As if this extreme inclusiveness wasn’t enough, it has even been argued that routines can be “sources of continuous change.”

Such conceptual fuzziness would seem to imply that almost anything goes, empirically speaking. In fact, there is quite  a lot of empirical work on routines, and of a rather diverse nature. However, it all seems to be qualitative in nature (e.g., this recent paper), as least as far as I can see. 

So, do you know of any attempts to grapple empirically with routines in the sense of actual measurement? Are there any scales out there?

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Management Theory. Tags: .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. David Chen  |  27 April 2009 at 7:49 am

    At the risk of saying something so obvious it goes without saying, the challenge might be in sampling, not measuring.

  • 2. David G. Hoopes  |  28 April 2009 at 3:44 pm

    There is always more room for first class empirical work. So everyone feel free to join in.

  • 3. spostrel  |  29 April 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Best shot I’ve seen at a micro-level is Pentland and Reuter deploying a grammatical approach at a product-support call center:

    http://www.jstor.org/stable/2393300?seq=15

    Very direct approach, really makes you think about what the heck you want a routine to mean.

  • 4. Peter Klein  |  30 April 2009 at 10:20 am

    To come up with some new metrics, why not offer some financial incentive:

    http://divisionoflabour.com/archives/005833.php

  • […] Evil twin conspirators Peter Klein and Nicolai Foss have been ragging on management scholars for using ill-defined concepts, like routines and leadership. When I read the post, I thought it was odd – aren’t all social science concepts a […]

  • […] & Markets blog have been on the warpath against fuzzy concepts in management studies – the latest target being the idea of routines. Teppo’s collaborators at orgtheory.net responded to this by saying that all social science […]

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).

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