Posts filed under ‘Papers’

Are We Quacks?

| Lasse Lien |

Rich Bettis makes an important point in a forthcoming issue of SMJ. Bettis points out how two unfortunate practices interact with each other to create a very serious and fundamental problem for knowledge accumulation in (strategic) management.

One is the widespread practice of running numerous regressions on a given dataset and subsequently adapting (or in milder cases “tuning”) hypotheses or theory to fit the data. By itself this practice is quite unfortunate, since data patterns can and will occur by chance, and the more regression models one tries the more likely that one will “find” something. We obviously do not want such random patterns to influence either theory building or our catalog of empirical findings. However, this problem would be a great deal less serious if replication studies were common and we gladly published non-findings. Random correlations in the data would not survive replication tests, and would be eliminated fairly quickly.

As we all know, in management, replication studies cannot get published and are basically just not done. To make matters worse, we don’t publish non-findings either. This is the second unfortunate practice. Taken together these two practices may in the worst case indicate that much of what we think we know in management are just random data patterns, discovered through data mining, and protected by our lack of replication studies and refusal to publish non-findings. This is a sobering thought. As Bettis points out, we should all be very thankful that replication studies are more common in medical research than in management.

What is the solution? Well, a first step might be to launch the Journal of Managerial Replication Studies and give it the prestige it deserves. Either SMS or AOM should see the launch of such a journal as a crucial responsibility. I mean, we really don’t want to be quacks, do we?

HT: Helge Thorbjørnsen

28 November 2011 at 5:23 am 14 comments

Entrepreneurial Paradoxes and Simulations

| Peter Lewin |

Back from the SEA meetings in Washington DC, the venue for our annual SDAE conference and membership meeting. At the annual banquet we honored Leonard Liggio for his contribution to the teaching of Austrian economics. Dick Wagner gave the presidential address. Both received a standing ovation.

The panels were well attended and, from what I could tell, the quality very high. I presented my paper on Entrepreneurial Paradoxes (which has been around for a while). Young Bak Choi commented on it and presented an interesting paper on the role of entrepreneurship in economic development and development policy. David Harper and Anthony Endres presented a paper on another variation on the theme of heterogeneous capital and its structure. Perhaps most interesting was a paper by a strategic management Ph.D candidate at York University, Mohammad Keyhani (co-authored with Moren Lévesque), on “The Role of Entrepreneurship in the Market Process: A Simulation Study of The Equilibrating and Disequilibrating Effects of Opportunity Creation and Discovery.” Randy Holcombe commented. Interesting that the issue of equilibration is considered important enough to investigate with simulations. But it raises some important questions. My own current view, having spent a lifetime contemplating the issue, is that we are no nearer an answer than we ever were, and that perhaps the more important distinction is between entrepreneurial actions that add value and those that do not.

Next year’s meetings will be in New Orleans. The president-elect of the SDAE is Larry White. He will be putting together the panels. So if you have an interest in presenting a paper, discussing one, or chairing a panel, let him know (

24 November 2011 at 12:15 am 7 comments

In the Journals

| Peter Klein |

Three newly published papers of likely interest to O&Mers:

While cumulative knowledge production is central to growth, little empirical research investigates how institutions shape whether existing knowledge can be exploited to create new knowledge. This paper assesses the impact of a specific institution, a biological resource center, whose objective is to certify and disseminate knowledge. We disentangle the marginal impact of this institution on cumulative research from the impact of selection, in which the most important discoveries are endogenously linked to research-enhancing institutions. Exploiting exogenous shifts of biomaterials across institutional settings and employing a difference-in-differences approach, we find that effective institutions amplify the cumulative impact of individual scientific discoveries.

This paper studies a retail chain that introduced a sales incentive plan that rewarded for exceeding a sales target and subsequently cut the incentive intensity in addition to increasing the target. Utilizing monthly panel data for 54 months for all 53 units of the chain the paper shows that the introduction of the sales incentive plan increased sales and profitability, whereas the changes in the plan lead to a marked drop in sales and profitability. Thus, modifying the incentive plan proved costly for the firm. The results are consistent with the gift-exchange model of labor contracts.

We discuss how the use of field experiments sheds light on long-standing research questions relating to firm behavior. We present insights from two classes of experiments—within and across firms—and draw common lessons from both sets. Field experiments within firms generally aim to shed light on the nature of agency problems. Along these lines, we discuss how field experiments have provided new insights on shirking behavior and the provision of monetary and nonmonetary incentives. Field experiments across firms generally aim to uncover firms’ binding constraints by exogenously varying the availability of key inputs such as labor, physical capital, and managerial capital. We conclude by discussing some of the practical issues researchers face when designing experiments and by highlighting areas for further research.

9 September 2011 at 5:48 pm 2 comments

“Micro Chauvinists” Pushing Back …

| Nicolai Foss |

A reviewer of a recent book proposal by Teppo Felin and me (which was accepted, BTW; details later) had the effrontery to note that “Felin and Foss get considerable pushback when they take a strong stand on methodology.” Of course, this reviewer got it all wrong. To wit:

  • Teppo and I recently published “The endogenous origins of experience, routines and organizational capabilities: The poverty of stimulus” in the Journal of Institutional Economics, accompanied by critical comments by Sidney Winter, Brian Pentland, Geoff Hodgson and Thorbjørn Knudsen. Here is our response to the comments of our critics. The response has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Institutional Economics.
  • In a recent paper in Sociological Theory, influential sociologists  Ronald Jepperson and John W Meyer took issue with the rampant “micro-chauvinism” that, in their opionion, increasingly dominates social science, and called for multi-level explanation that admits a role for causation that (in some unexplained fashion) takes place at levels above that of individuals. In this brief note, Teppo and I (and Peter Abell of LSE) take issue with their arguments, and argue that they fundamentally misunderstand methodological individualism and its crucial role in understanding those phenomena that are “multi-level”, “complex” and “emergent.”

Thus, the macro chauvinists are the ones who are getting the pushback ;-)

7 September 2011 at 7:01 am 8 comments

“A Simple Model of the Evolution of Simple Models of Evolution”

| Lasse Lien |

If you don’t think this title is cool there is something very wrong with you. Here is the associated abstract:

Abstract: In the spirit of the many recent simple models of evolution inspired by statistical physics, we put forward a simple model of the evolution of such models. Like its objects of study, it is (one supposes) in principle testable and capable of making predictions, and gives qualitative insights into a hitherto mysterious process.

And this is the essence of the simple model(2):

  1. A physicist runs across or concocts from whole cloth a mathematical model which is simple, neat, and contains a great many variables of the same sort.
  2. The physicists has heard of Darwin (1859), and may even have read Dawkins (1985) or some essays by Gould, but wouldn’t know Fisher (1958), Haldane (1932), and Wright (1986) from the Three Magi, and doesn’t dream that such a subject as mathematical evolutionary biology exists.
  3. The physicist is aware that lots of other physicists are interested in annexing biology as a province of statistical physics.
  4. The physicist interprets his multitude of variables as species or (if slightly more sophisticated) as genotypes, and proclaims that he has found “Darwin’s Equations” (cf. Bak et al. (1994)), or, more modestly, has made an important step towards eventually finding those equations.
  5. His paper is submitted for review to other physicists, who are just as ignorant of biology as he, but see that it’s about equivalent to the other papers on evolution by physicists. They publish it.
  6. The paper is read by other physicists, because at least it’s not another derivation of specific heats on some convoluted lattice under a Hamiltonian named for some Central European worthy now otherwise totally forgotten. Said physicists think this is cutting-edge evolutionary theory.
  7. Some of those physicists will know or discover simple, neat models with lots of variables of the same type.

(Shalizi and Tozier, 1999, p. 2)

What could substitute for physics and evolution here if we wanted to make a social science analogy? I think game theory could play the role of physics in many cases. What else?

7 September 2011 at 5:08 am 6 comments

Overdue on Boundaries/Crises

| Lasse Lien |

Good papers often seem like they are long overdue. One can’t help but wonder why they weren’t written a long time ago since the questions they raise are of such obvious interest and importance. In that sense I think this paper qualifies as overdue:

Abstract: How economic crises impact the boundaries of firms has been offered virtually no attention in the literature on the theory of the firm. I review the best-known theories of the firm and identify the variables that matter for the explanation of firm boundaries. I then examine how an economic crisis may impact these variables and change efficient firm boundaries. The various theories of the firm have difficulties explaining how firms efficiently adapt their boundaries to such prominent characteristics of economic crisis as declining demand and increased costs of external finance. However, all these theories stress uncertainty as an antecedent of firm organization, and as uncertainty is also an important characteristic of an economic crisis I examine how uncertainty is allowed to play out in the various theories in order to identify what predictions we can derive from the theory regarding changes in efficient firm boundaries as consequence of changes in uncertainty. The analysis suggests that we need to be more precise in describing the nature of the uncertainty that is assumed in the various theories. Moreover, allowing for changes in levels of uncertainty requires that we take the processes of boundary changes into account in the theory of firm boundaries.

Foss, Kirsten. 2010. How do economic crises impact firm boundaries? European Management Review7: 217–27.

6 September 2011 at 12:44 am 4 comments

More on Selective Intervention

| Nicolai Foss |

“Selective intervention” and the more narrow notion of the “impossibility of selective intervention” are among the more elusive notions in the theory of the firm. We have blogged on them a number of times (the most explicit treatment is here). Coined by Oliver Williamson, selective intervention simply means intervention to produce net gains. Thus defined, selective intervention is, of course, not “impossible.” The” impossibility” refers to the conjecture that firms cannot just be grown continuously by selective intervention; at some point various commitment and enforcement problems associated with managerial intervention kicks in, resulting in zero net gains. However, demonstrating this is a “puzzle.”

A new paper, “Solving the Selective Intervention ‘Puzzle’,”  by noted French economist, Jacques Cremer, usefully places the problem in context, provides a nice overview of the extant literature, and argues that the problem has essentially been solved:

I have shown that the common thread to all the solutions is the fact that the principal stays in the game” after the contract is signed, and cannot commit himself to a policy which would make the world similar to the world in which there would be no vertical integration. On this basis, solutions that stress incompleteness of contracts, the change in the allocation of authority, the change in the amount of information available to the principal, all provide solutions that are theoretically consistent, and, furthermore, often not incompatible with each other. Determining which solution provides a better guide to applied analysis requires an examination of other features of the model.

26 August 2011 at 7:13 am 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).