Research and teaching

The dangers of modularity

August 7th, 2009 | Posted by admin in 2001 - (0 Comments)

Lee Fleming and Olav Sorenson

By placing a premium on predictability in their product development efforts, companies create a technology landscape that’s easier to navigate–-but one that may produce fewer true breakthroughs.

Harvard Business Review, September 2001: 2-3

Lee Fleming and Olav Sorenson

This paper develops a theory of invention by drawing on complex adaptive systems theory. We see invention as a process of recombinant search over technology landscapes. This framing suggests that inventors might face a ‘complexity catastrophe’ when they attempt to combine highly interdependent technologies. Our empirical analysis of patent citation rates supports this expectation. Our results also suggest, however, that the process of invention differs in important ways from biological evolution. We discuss the implications of these findings for research on technological evolution, industrial change, and technology strategy.

Research Policy, 30 (2001): 1019-1039

Pino G. Audia, Olav Sorenson, and Jerald Hage

Firms face a choice in the organization of production. By concentrating production at one site, they can enjoy economies of scale. Or, by dispersing production across multiple facilities, firms can benefit from product-specific efficiencies and enhanced organizational learning. When choosing to organize in multiple units, firms must also decide where to locate these units. Concentrating production geographically can enhance economies of scale and facilitate organizational learning. On the other hand, dispersing facilities might allow the firm to lower transportation costs, reduce risks, and forbear competition. To examine these tradeoffs, we compare exit rates of single-unit organizations to multiunit organizations and their constituent plants in the U.S. footwear industry between 1940 and 1989. Our results suggest that, multiunit organizations benefit primarily from enhanced organizational learning, competitive forbearance and the diversification of risk. Nevertheless, these benefits appear to come at the expense of organizational adaptability.

Advances in Strategic Management, 18 (2001): 75-105

Olav Sorenson and Jesper B. Sørensen

Franchising provides an increasingly important vehicle for entrepreneurial wealth creation and accounts for a large and growing share of business in the retail and service sectors. Chains—which operate in dispersed markets—most frequently use this form of governance. These firms must balance the centralization and standardization required for efficiency with the adaptation needed for success in varied local markets. By adopting an organizational learning perspective, we argue that the mix of company-owned and franchised units affects this balance, thereby influencing chain performance. In particular, the different incentives facing company managers and the entrepreneurs that manage franchises encourage distinct patterns of organizational learning. Franchised establishments provide better opportunities for the firm to learn through experimentation; however, companies find it easier to diffuse this information and enforce standards through their company-owned units. Analyses of franchised restaurant chains in the United States provide empirical evidence of this trade-off.

Strategic Management Journal, 22 (2001): 713-724

Olav Sorenson and Toby E. Stuart

Sociological investigations of economic exchange reveal how institutions and social structures shape transaction patterns among economic actors. This article explores how interfirm networks in the U.S. venture capital (VC) market affect spatial patterns of exchange. Evidence suggests that information about potential investment opportunities generally circulates within geographic and industry spaces. In turn, the circumscribed flow of information within these spaces contributes to the geographic- and industry-localization of VC investments. Empirical analyses demonstrate that the social networks in the VC community—built up through the industry’s extensive use of syndicated investing—diffuse information across boundaries and therefore expand the spatial radius of exchange. Venture capitalists that build axial positions in the industry’s coinvestment network invest more frequently in spatially distant companies. Thus, variation in actors’ positioning within the structure of the market appears to differentiate market participants’ ability to overcome boundaries that otherwise would curtail exchange.

American Journal of Sociology, 106 (2001): 1546-1588