Archive for May, 2010
| Nicolai Foss |
With Nick Argyres, Teppo Felin, and Todd Zenger, I am editing a special issue of Organization Science on “Organizational Capabilities and Organizational Economics: From Opposition and Complementarity to Real Integration.” We received 84 submissions and invited a fair amount of R&Rs. To help improve those R&Rs and to stimulate discussed, we organized, with the (practical) help of Professor Sven Haugland and (financial help) the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration, a small workshop that took place this Friday and Saturday (28-29 May) at the magnificent Hotel Solstrand, outside of Bergen. The discussions were informative, high-level, and friendly; the weather behaved (Bergen is the most rainy city in Europe); the food was excellent; etc. A model workshop, in short.
A few key points (I will refrain from commenting on the R&R papers):
- Out of 11 papers, 1 was theoretical, 2 were simulation papers, and the rest were empirical. All creatively brought both capabilities and OE ideas to bear on issues of economic organization (including internal organization).
- I argued that virtually all debate on capabilities and economic organization had been dominated by a “capabilities first” heuristic, in which capabilities are primary and transaction costs were, as it were, second-order (e.g., transaction costs moderate the relation between capabilities and vertical scope). It is time to reverse causality and examine how capabilities emerge from “transacting.”
- Nick Argyres and Todd Zenger presented a paper that followed up on this by showing how capabilities can be understood as reflecting specific investments.
- Nevertheless, there was some skepticism regarding whether it is useful to talk about a debate, not just because of the dominance of the capabilities view in that debate, but also because it was better to consider problems “agnostically” and choose flexibly among the available tools, whether drawn from the capabilities or the TCE toolbox. Michael Jacobides argued this point with so much passion that everyone cracked up when Teppo Felin observed that Michael was more of a high-priest than an agnostic.
- “OE” was generally interpreted as “transaction cost economics”; not a single paper brought agency and property rights issues to bear on these issues.
| Peter Klein |
David Galenson has written a series of papers on the creative arts, including songwriting, architecture, filmmaking, photography, and many kinds of visual art. A new paper, “Understanding Creativity,” summarizes and synthesizes much of this work. A central theme is the distinction between “experimental” and “conceptual” innovators. Experimental innovators focus on perception, proceed incrementally, and tend to make their most important contributions late in their careers. Conceptual innovators emphasize emotions, proceed in bold strokes, and tend to peak early. (A cinematic example: John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock fall in the former category, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard in the latter.)
There are obvious parallels with the study of technological innovation, management, and entrepreneurship. Think of incremental versus systemic innovation, sustaining versus disruptive change, low-key management versus charismatic leadership, Kirznerian coordination versus Schumpeterian innovation. The analogies are inexact, but nonetheless intriguing (particularly the life-cycle aspects). What connections do you see?
The abstract of “Understanding Creativity” is below the fold. (The paper itself is gated, unfortunately). (more…)
| Dick Langlois |
I recently ran across a paper by Bo Carlsson, Zoltan Acs, David Audretsch, and Pontus Braunerhjelm called “The Knowledge Filter, Entrepreneurship, and Economic Growth.” It’s actually a 2007 paper, part of a series these authors in various combination have been writing about the idea of a “knowledge filter.” The standard story about knowledge (in the new growth theory, but long before that as well) is what I think of as the R&D sausage-machine: one pours inputs like capital and labor into the meat grinder of R&D and out comes knowledge, which shifts the production function. In a series of papers, Carlsson et al. have argued that there is a “filter” somewhere within the meat grinder that determines how effectively the inputs get turned into useful knowledge. Although I’m sympathetic to criticism of the sausage machine story, you can imagine why I don’t think the knowledge-filter idea helps much: it’s just another black box that can be sized to fit whichever facts (stylized or real) one has at hand. Why not do away with the model altogether and instead think hard about the structure of knowledge and how it has interacted with institutions and organizational forms?
In fact, of course, that is what the authors actually do to some extent in this paper: one can read it without having to buy into the “filter” part. What caught my attention, in fact, is that this paper is ultimately an argument about the causes of the New Economy, and I am a collector of such arguments. The authors seem completely innocent of the large Post-Chandlerian literature on this topic, and they try to explain the transition from the large Chandlerian firm to more specialized entrepreneurial units strictly in terms of trends in R&D and knowledge creation.
[T]he industrial revolution was based in part on turning knowledge into economically useful knowledge and … university education and research in the United States became practically and vocationally oriented (in comparison with European universities), partly through the land-grant universities established in the mid- to late 19th century. In the early part of the 20th century, corporate research and development labs began to emerge as major vehicles of basic industrial research. Virtually all of the funded research prior to World War II was conducted in corporate or federal labs. In conjunction with a rapidly increasing share of the population with a college education, this made for high absorptive capacity on the part of industry and, as a result, a “thin” knowledge filter. In subsequent sections we discuss the emergence of the research university, the dramatic increase in research and development spending, and the shift of basic research toward the universities, especially during and following World War II. During the 1960s and 1970s, this led to a thickening of the knowledge filter in the form of an increasing need to “translate” basic (academic) research into economic activity. New firms have increasingly become the vehicle to translate research into growth; this can be seen in the greater role of small business and entrepreneurship from the 1970s onward.
Interesting. But I see two serious problems with this. First off, it misunderstands and vastly oversells the research labs of the mid-twentieth century. In most cases these were not drivers of innovation but absorbers of ideas invented outside the company by networks of smaller inventors — much like today. And when they did perform genuinely basic research, as in the case of Bell Labs, they were not at all tightly coupled to application. These labs were good at systemic development, that is, developing technologies that required a lot of disparate pieces to be created and put together. Color TV at RCA is an example. But they were not good at generating genuinely new useful knowledge or at more modular kinds of innovation — or, at least, weren’t as good as diffuse networks of inventors. In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, the concentration of research (and patents) in the labs of RCA arguably slowed innovation in radio and consumer electronics generally. This leads to my second point: it’s not clear that one can explain everything just by looking at knowledge and R&D. There is actually a lot similarity between the regime of government funding of research through Land Grant institutions and the post-War grant system of Vannevar Bush: it was always channeled through the universities. Changes in government funding thus can’t really explain why there were large R&D labs at one time and small entrepreneurial firms at another. For that one has to think about issues of organization that go beyond the R&D function.
I’m participating in a distance-learning experiment this summer — no, not Bootsy Collins’s Funk University, but the Mises Academy, a new Mises Institute service offering short, non-degree courses to university students, management professionals, and the general public. Everything’s online — lectures, readings, discussions, assignments. I’m teaching “Entrepreneurship in the Capitalist Economy,” a course based on my favorite book (as Mankiw would put it). The course runs for 9 weeks from 7 June to 7 August and costs a mere $255 — that’s less than one or two of Nicolai’s books!
The course is pitched at the undergraduate/MBA level, with no formal prerequisites except intellectual curiosity, a good work ethic, and a sense of humor. Perhaps I’ll offer special extra-credit assignments for O&M readers. . . .
Drop me a line if you have any questions. I’d love to have you join me on this journey!
| Nicolai Foss |
The always-helpful Peter suggested “a quick-and-easy Foss blog post,” specifically a post on what sounds like an interesting conference on “Economics Made Fun in the Face of the Economic Crisis,” organized by Jack Vromen and N.E. Aydinonat, at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, 10-11 December 2010. The Call builds up a tension between the emerging econ-made-fun genre (Levitt, Cowen et al.) with its implied view of econ as a universal tool for understanding behaviors and their implications, and the claimed inability of econ to come to grips with the current crisis. You may think what you like of this claimed tension, but Jack Vromen always represents quality, and with keynote speakers like Diana Coyle, Robert Frank, and Ariel Rubinstein, this conference will be fun.
| Nicolai Foss |
A striking difference between economics and (most) management research is that while economists are obsessed with the role of assumptions in theorizing, management scholars as a rule don’t seem to spend much time on assumptions, at best tucking them away under “boundary conditions,” and, in general, having rather little patience with “assumptions discussions.” In particular, the eyes of management scholars of the more descriptive (“phenomenological”) stripe glaze over from boredom or inattention when the issue is raised.
Major economists (Samuelson and Friedman come immediately to mind) have written famous methodological papers on assumptions. A significant portion of what passes as “economic methodology” is taken up with the nature and status of assumptions. Prominent philosophers have written on the role of assumptions in economics (e.g., Alan Musgrave, Daniel Hausman). However, I know of not a single paper in management research dedicated to the issue. (more…)
| Peter Klein |
Mike Jensen keynotes this September 2010 conference at York University in Toronto on the links between ethics and finance:
As the world economy struggles out of the financially induced recession, the concept of ethical or socially responsible investment, along with corresponding calls for regulation, will play an increasingly important role in the study of finance for both privately held and publicly traded companies. While there has been a growing literature on law and finance, largely through cross-country studies of publicly traded companies, with somewhat less work on the ethics and finance of publicly traded companies, there has been comparatively little work at the intersection of these topics. As well, there has been comparatively little work on the intersection between law and finance and/or between the ethics and finance of privately held companies. We believe this gap needs to be filled.
The submission deadline is 1 June, so get your manuscripts ready. Full details below the fold: (more…)