Archive for December, 2012

Complementaries in the Age of the App

| Peter Klein |

Josh Gans asks if “we have yet evolved to the right set of institutions in the app economy,” comparing contracts between app developers and distributors/publishers to those between book authors and publishers. He also notes, correctly I think, that app development may have more to do with signaling programming skill than making money from selling the app. Still, there are important contractual issues to be sorted out in the age of the app.

More generally, Josh’s post highlights the need for organizational scholars to think more broadly about the complementarities between technology, organization, and strategy. Milgrom and Roberts (1990, 1995) are the pioneers here, but there management literatures on modularity and other aspects of fit among organizational attributes are relevant too. (Here’s an example from outside the tech sector.) Milgrom and Roberts put it this way:

[C]hange in a system marked by strong and widespread complementarities may be difficult and . . . centrally directed change may be important for altering systems. Changing only a few of the system elements at a time to their optimal values may not come at all close to achieving all the benefits that are available through a fully coordinated move, and may even have negative payoffs. Of course, if those making the choices fail to recognize all the dimensions across which the complementarities operate, then they may fail to make the full range of necessary adaptations, with unfortunate results. At the same time, coordinating the general direction of a move may substantially ease the coordination problem while still retaining most of the potential benefits of change. Moreover, the systematic errors associated with centrally directed change are less costly than similarly large but uncoordinated errors of independently operating units.

In other words, when a system is characterized by strong complementarities, the diffusion and evolution of business practices requires simultaneous, coordinated changes among all complementary features within the system — technology, organizational form, strategy, and perhaps other elements as well. When simultaneous or coordinated changes occur within strongly complementary systems, business practices like contractual form will also tend to evolve, and to do so rapidly. By contrast, when simultaneous or coordinated changes within systems characterized by strong complementarities do not occur, organizational change will tend to be slow or uneven.

The rapid growth of the app economy might seem an exception to these principles, as the app market has exploded without (it appears) complementary changes in the contractual and organizational aspects of app production. As noted above, this may be because app design performs a signaling role independent of its ability to generate profits. If this becomes less important over time — perhaps because clever programmers find more effective ways to signal ability — then getting the compensation system right will be critical to ensure the success of this particular business model.

11 December 2012 at 12:32 am 3 comments

The Perfect Christmas Tree

| Peter Klein |

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for that special someone? Lots of friends and family on your Nice List? Get them a book from your favorite O&M authors. If you really want to show your love, get the whole bunch! Links and ordering information are on the right-hand sidebar on the O&M home page (you may have to scroll down to see them). Several are available as e-books as well as the traditional versions. Beats the heck out of a lump of coal. (Naughty Listers can be given a complimentary one-year subscription to


8 December 2012 at 11:32 am 1 comment

Against Scientism

| Peter Klein |

Hayek defined “scientism” or the “scientistic prejudice” as”slavish imitation of the method and language of Science” when applied to the social sciences, history, management, etc. Scientism represents “a mechanical and uncritical application of habits of thought to fields different from those in which they have been formed, and as such is “not an unprejudiced but a very prejudiced approach which, before it has considered its subject, claims to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating it.” (Hayek’s Economica essays on scientism were collected in his 1952 Counter-Revolution of Science and reprinted in volume 13 of the Collected Works.)

Austin L. Hughes has a thoughtful essay on scientism in the current issue of the New Atlantis (HT: Barry Arrington). Hughes thinks “the reach of scientism exceeds its grasp.” The essay is worth a careful read — he misses Hayek but discusses Popper and other important critics. One focus is the “institutional” definition of science, defined with the trite phrase “science is what scientists do.” Here’s Hughes:

The fundamental problem raised by the identification of “good science” with “institutional science” is that it assumes the practitioners of science to be inherently exempt, at least in the long term, from the corrupting influences that affect all other human practices and institutions. Ladyman, Ross, and Spurrett explicitly state that most human institutions, including “governments, political parties, churches, firms, NGOs, ethnic associations, families … are hardly epistemically reliable at all.” However, “our grounding assumption is that the specific institutional processes of science have inductively established peculiar epistemic reliability.” This assumption is at best naïve and at worst dangerous. If any human institution is held to be exempt from the petty, self-serving, and corrupting motivations that plague us all, the result will almost inevitably be the creation of a priestly caste demanding adulation and required to answer to no one but itself.

6 December 2012 at 1:13 pm 3 comments

Creative Destruction Chart of the Day

| Peter Klein |

Via John Hagel, a chart from Mary Meeker showing the percent of personal computing devices (including, today, phones and tablets) accessing the web from various operating systems. Joseph Schumpeter, call your office!

4 December 2012 at 4:36 pm 1 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

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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).
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