Research and teaching

Olav Sorenson, Susan McEvily, Charlotte Rongrong Ren, and Raja Roy

Although strategy research typically regards firm scope as a positional characteristic associated with performance differences, we propose that broad contemporary scope also provides insight into the routines that govern firm behavior. To attain broad scope, firms must repeatedly explore outside the boundaries of their current niche. Firms with broad niches therefore operate under a set of routines that repeatedly propel them into new market segments, expanding their niche. These niche expansions, however, involve risky organizational changes, behavior that disadvantages generalists relative to specialists, despite the positional value of broad scope. Empirical analyses of machine tool manufacturers and computer workstation manufacturers support this conjecture: (i) generalists introduce new products at a higher than optimal rate, thereby increasing their exit rates; and (ii) generalists also more frequently launch new models with novel features or targeted at new consumer segments rather than improving only incrementally on existing products, further accelerating their odds of failure. After adjusting for these behavioral differences, broad niche widths reduce exit rates, suggesting that they provide positional advantages. The paper discusses how this phenomenon may help to explain the diversification and multi-nationality discounts.

Strategic Management Journal, 27 (2006): 915-936

Link to workstation data at FIVE Project

Asymmetric selection among organizations

August 7th, 2009 | Posted by admin in 2003 - (0 Comments)

William P. Barnett, Aimee-Noelle Swanson, and Olav Sorenson

We discuss the creation of organizations and their survival as distinct selection processes, and consider the significance of their divergence. In particular, to understand the implications of entrepreneurial booms, we propose the possibility of asymmetric selection, where entry selection and exit selection differ from each other in strength. An observed increase in founding rates hence may reveal a decline in the selection threshold for entry—implying lower average fitness among boom-time entrants. When such an expansion occurs, organizations born during these periods of heightened entry should suffer higher failure rates in the fitness threshold required for survival remains stable or becomes more stringent. We also discuss other processes that might educe founding waves, and explain the different implications of these accounts for our empirical model. Estimates of the model support our theory of asymmetric selection in two out of three markets using a comprehensive dataset describing organizations in the U.S. computer industry.

Industrial and Corporate Change, 12 (2003): 673-695

Olav Sorenson

A growing body of research documents the role that organizational learning plays in improving firm performance over time. To date, however, this literature has given limited attention to the effect that the internal structure of the firm can have on generating differences in these learning rates. This paper focuses on the degree to which interdependence—and in particular one structural characteristic that generates interdependence, vertical integration—affects organizational learning. Firms face a trade-off. In stable environments, vertically integrating severely limits the organization’s ability to learn by doing because boundedly rational managers find the optimization of operations difficult when making highly interdependent choices. As the volatility of the environment increases though, integration can facilitate learning-by-doing by buffering activities within the firm from instability in the external environment. Thus, firms with a high degree of interdependence suffer less in these environments. Tests of these hypotheses on the growth and exit rates of computer workstation manufacturers support this thesis.

Management Science, 49 (2003): 446-463

Link to data at FIVE Project

Olav Sorenson

Managers must choose to allocate scarce resources either to the maintenance of a range of products tailored to heterogeneous consumer preferences or to the efficient production of a small number of products. In addition, managers must choose the degree to which they periodically cull the product line. Vigorous selection removes poor performers from the product line, but this action simultaneously impairs the firm’s ability to monitor changes in consumer preferences. Empirical evidence from the computer workstation industry reveals that the ideal choice of product variety depends on the competitive ecology of the industry. Product variety becomes less valuable as the total number of products on the market increases, but it increases in value as uncertainty makes the accurate prediction of demand difficult.

Strategic Management Journal, 21 (2000): 577-592

Link to data at FIVE Project