Research and teaching
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Markus Reitzig and Olav Sorenson

We propose that the failure to adopt an idea or innovation can arise from an in-group bias among employees within an organizational subunit that leads the subunit’s members to undervalue systematically ideas associated with members of the organization outside their subunit. Such biases in internal selection processes can stymie organizational adaptation and therefore depress the performance of the firm. Analyzing data on innovation proposals inside a large, multinational consumer goods firm, we find that evaluators are biased in favor of ideas submitted by individuals that work in the same division and facility as they do, particularly when they belong to small or high-status subunits.

Strategic Management Journal, 34 (2013): 782-799

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

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

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