Posts filed under ‘Papers’

The Theory of Mind in Agency Theory

| Nicolai Foss |

Agency theory is a highly important foundational theory in management research. It has been of great assistance with respect to conceptualizing and framing key problems in the design and management of reward systems, and it yields sharp and clear predictions. However, it does not provide a realistic treatment of a key psychological aspects of interpersonal relations. Specifically, agency theory does not adequately account for the principal’s ability to develop, hold and adjust a “theory of the agent’s mind”. The theory in fact contains a very lopsided account of the principal’s ability to read the agent’s desires, intentions, knowledge, and beliefs. Thus, in many models in agency theory, the principal’s knowledge of much of what is “inside the head” of the agent (e.g., the agent’s taste for risk, opportunity costs, and disutility of work) is assumed to be perfect, while he is assumed to be entirely ignorant of other aspects of what the agent intends, knows and believes. Such “asymmetrical” assumptions  allow for analytical tractability and clean predictions regarding how incentives and monitoring influences the behavior of agents, such as employees, managers, and suppliers. However, extreme and asymmetrical assumptions can also lead more applied research astray and lead to misapplications of theory in managerial practice. Thus, the assumption that a principal is capable of perfectly grasping, for example, an agent’s motivations seems highly, and increasingly, tenuous: High personnel turnover and the increasing use of fleeting project organization in many industries, as well as the increasing prevalence of cross-national and cross-cultural management teams and networks, make an assumption of a perfect ToM unrealistic.

In a new paper, “Putting a Realistic Theory of Mind Into Agency Theory: Implications for Reward Design and Management in Principal Agent Relations,” my CBS colleague Diego Stea and I take some initial and  highly exploratory steps towards working with a more realistic theory of mind in the context of agency relationships within firms (in an as yet unpublished modelling paper, we work these ideas into an adverse selection model). We argue that novel insights into the design and management of rewards follow from explicitly incorporating a realistic theory of mind into agency theory. Thus, a principal with a good theory of mind can better learn the type of the agent, read the signals related to the agent’s effort, signal to the agent, and adjust rewards to the agent.  A ToM creates value because it results in lower-variance estimates of the agent’s effort and type, and eases the matching of agents with contracts.

20 February 2014 at 1:54 pm 1 comment

Kirzner and Entrepreneurship Research

| Peter Klein |

downloadPer Bylund and I have written a paper on Israel Kirzner’s influence on the entrepreneurship literature. It’s titled “The Place of Austrian Economics in Contemporary Entrepreneurship Research” but deals mainly with Kirzner. Comments are appreciated.

The paper was written for a forthcoming special issue of the Review of Austrian Economics on Kirzner’s contributions. We take a nuanced position: While Kirzner’s work underlies the dominant opportunity-discovery perspective in the entrepreneurship research literature, this perspective is increasingly challenged among entrepreneurship scholars, for some of the same reasons that Kirzner’s theoretical framework has been criticized by his fellow Austrian economists. Nonetheless, it is impossible to make progress in entrepreneurship studies, or the Austrian analysis of the market, without engaging Kirzner’s ideas.

9 December 2013 at 9:33 am 1 comment

Blind Review Blindly Reviewing itself

| Lasse Lien |

From Scott Masten we received this classic gem:

A growing interest in and concern about the adequacy and fairness of modern peer-review practices in publication and funding are apparent across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Although questions about reliability, accountability, reviewer bias, and competence have been raised, there has been very little direct research on these variables.

The present investigation was an attempt to study the peer-review process directly, in the natural setting of actual journal referee evaluations of submitted manuscripts. As test materials we selected 12 already published research articles by investigators from prestigious and highly productive American psychology departments, one article from each of 12 highly regarded and widely read American psychology journals with high rejection rates (80%) and nonblind refereeing practices.

With fictitious names and institutions substituted for the original ones (e.g., Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential), the altered manuscripts were formally resubmitted to the journals that had originally refereed and published them 18 to 32 months earlier. Of the sample of 38 editors and reviewers, only three (8%) detected the resubmissions. This result allowed nine of the 12 articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected. Sixteen of the 18 referees (89%) recommended against publication and the editors concurred. The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.” A number of possible interpretations of these data are reviewed and evaluated.

(Peters and Ceci, 1982)

Are these findings specific to the 80s and psychology? Care to replicate?

30 May 2013 at 11:32 am 3 comments

Rational Inattention

| Dick Langlois |

The idea of attention as a scarce resource goes back at least to Herbert Simon and Nelson and Winter. I hadn’t seen much application of this idea in a while until I ran across this interesting paper called “Rational Inattention and Organizational Focus” by Wouter Dessein, Andrea Galeotti, and Tano Santos. Here’s the abstract:

We examine the allocation of scarce attention in team production. Each team member is in charge of a specialized task, which must be adapted to a privately observed shock and coordinated with other tasks. Coordination requires that agents pay attention to each other, but attention is in limited supply. We show how organizational focus and leadership naturally arise as the result of a fundamental complementarity between the attention devoted to an agent and the amount of initiative taken by that agent. At the optimum, all attention is evenly allocated to a select number of “leaders”. The organization then excels in a small number of focal tasks at the expense of all others. Our results shed light on the importance of leadership, strategy and “core competences” in team production, as well as new trends in organization design. We also derive implications for the optimal size or “scope” of organizations: a more variable environment results in smaller organizations with more leaders. Surprisingly, improvements in communication technology may also result in smaller but more balanced and adaptive organizations.

Apparently, Dessein has been working on attention models for some time, though I hadn’t noticed. (But, of course, Peter had.) I should also note that this model is similar in spirit to the work of Sharon Gifford, now 20 years old, which Dessein et al. do not cite.

22 March 2013 at 2:49 pm Leave a comment

A Paper You Might Want to Read

| Lasse Lien |

Here’s a link to the “online first” version of a new Org. Science paper by Peter and myself. This one has been in the pipeline for some time, and we’ve blogged about the WP version before, but this is the final and substantially upgraded version. Please read it and cite it, or we will be forced to kidnap your cat:

The survivor principle holds that the competitive process weeds out inefficient firms, so that hypotheses about efficient behavior can be tested by observing what firms actually do. This principle underlies a large body of empirical work in strategy, economics, and management. But do competitive markets really select for efficient behavior? Is the survivor principle reliable? We evaluate the survivor principle in the context of corporate diversification, asking if survivor-based measures of interindustry relatedness are good predictors of firms’ decisions to exit particular lines of business, controlling for other firm and industry characteristics that affect firms’ portfolio choices. We find strong, robust evidence that survivor-based relatedness is an important determinant of exit. This empirical regularity is consistent with an efficiency rationale for firm-level diversification, though we cannot rule out alternative explanations based on firms’ desire for legitimacy by imitation and attempts to temper multimarket competition.

2 December 2012 at 6:51 pm Leave a comment

Permeable Boundaries

| Dick Langlois |

The new table-of-contents alert from Industrial and Corporate Change carries an interesting new paper by Carliss Baldwin and her coauthors called “The Architecture of Transaction Networks: A Comparative Analysis of Hierarchy in Two Sectors.” Here’s the abstract:

Many products are manufactured in networks of firms linked by transactions, but comparatively little is known about how or why such transaction networks differ. This article investigates the transaction networks of two large sectors in Japan at a single point in time. In characterizing these networks, our primary measure is “hierarchy,” defined as the degree to which transactions flow in one direction, from “upstream” to “downstream.” Our empirical results show that the electronics sector exhibits a much lower degree of hierarchy than the automotive sector because of the presence of numerous inter-firm transaction cycles. These cycles, in turn, reveal that a significant group of firms have two-way “vertically permeable boundaries”: (i) they participate in multiple stages of an industry’s value chain, hence are vertically integrated, but also (ii) they allow both downstream units to purchase intermediate inputs from and upstream units to sell intermediate goods to other sector firms. We demonstrate that the 10 largest electronics firms had two-way vertically permeable boundaries while almost no firms in the automotive sector had adopted that practice.

As I was downloading the article from the ICC website, a link to the Best Twenty ICC Articles from First Twenty Years of Publication (1992-2011) caught my eye. Definitely some interesting and important articles on this list, which was chosen by the editors. But I was struck that there is no overlap at all between this list and the list of 20 most cited articles in ICC. On a quick and sloppy count, there is an overlap of only 3 with the top 50 most cited. (Similar story for most read, where there is one overlap with the top 20.) Given my interest in this odd fact, perhaps you can guess on which lists my own articles lie.

30 November 2012 at 9:59 am 6 comments

Conference in Honor of Oliver Williamson

| Peter Klein |

The University Paris-Dauphine is awarding an honorary doctorate to Oliver Williamson Friday, 19 October 2012, and organizing a one-day conference to honor his work. The conference is co-sponsored by the European School on New Institutional Economics (ESNIE). Speakers include Carmine Guerriero (U. of Amsterdam), Roger Guesnerie (Collège de France), David Martimort (EHESS & PSE), Marian Moszoro (IESE Business School, Barcelona), Jens Prüfer (Tilburg U.), and Brian Silverman (Rotman Business School, U. of Toronto), and Williamson will give a speech during the formal award ceremony. Registration is required. See the conference website for details.

3 September 2012 at 4:05 pm Leave a comment

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Our Recent Books

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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