Developing an Evolutionary Epistemology? Evolutionary Approaches in Management Research

16th EURAM Conference, Paris, France, June 2016


Exploring the Potential of Organizational Memetics: A Review and Case Example

Michael Schlaile (University of Hohenheim) and Laura Constantinescu

Organizational memetics is an evolutionary approach to organizations that can be regarded as a sub-field of organizational ecology and utilizes meme theory. A literature review reveals that empirical studies in organizational memetics remain severely under-represented in comparison to conceptual and theoretical contributions. Therefore, this paper addresses the question if and how organizational memes can be identified. We tackle this question by presenting a qualitative study of organizational memes based on the case of P3 automotive GmbH, a subsidiary of the international P3 group with a remarkable organizational culture. We are able to identify a number of items or traits that can be regarded as expressions of important organizational memes.


Modelling Connectivity and Co-Evolution: The ‘Premonition’ Study of Domestic Fire Risk Behaviours

Dermot Breslin (University of Sheffield), Mark Burkitt (University of Sheffield), Stephen Dobson (Sheffield Hallam University), and Daniela Romano (Edgehill University)

In this research we put forward a view of social change as a process in which behaviours co-evolve within connected networks of agents. Change is therefore not viewed as an isolated event, but as part of a connected co-evolving system. An Agent-Based Modelling approach has been used to simulate changing household behaviours and associated fire risks within the Sheffield City region. By understanding how patterns of behaviour disseminate and persist in communities, this project seeks to improve the identification of areas at risk within vulnerable social groups. In addition, the model will allow South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue to explore different future scenarios and plan intervention strategies to suit. The project will thus allow South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue to explore and better understand key behavioural, social and cultural factors underpinning changing fire risk behaviours over time.


A Co-Evolutionary Perspective on Organizational Adaptation: Evidence from the Performance Appraisal Routine in a Service Firm

Vincenzo Uli (Tor Vergata University, Rome)

What new empirical implications can emerge in the organizational adaptation domain by adopting a multi-level co-evolutionary theoretical perspective? How does the performance appraisal process affect the evolution of the organization? These research questions constitute the core of this article, that is positioned within the organizational evolution research field in general, and within that of evolutionary routines in particular. The paper is aimed at unpacking the complexity behind emergence, development and extinction of business processes over time highlighting the inner mechanisms behind the adaptation process. This article can contribute to the discussion through presenting an easy-to-read narrative based on a longitudinal case study. The main conclusion is that, in Firm A, the impact of the performance appraisal routine on individual and group dynamics is the main determinant behind organizational inertia and resistance to change.


How do Organizational Adapt? Reviewing the Evolving Contribution of Upper Echelons Theory

Gianpaolo Abatecola (Tor Vergata University, Rome), and Matteo Cristofaro (Tor Vergata University, Rome)

How do organizations adapt? Although constantly receiving attention, addressing this key question still needs elaboration. Thus, in this paper we critically review the evolution of Upper Echelons Theory (UET), which, as well known, was initially born as a strongly voluntaristic perspective on organizational adaptation. As we explain, the UET body of knowledge has been huge, in terms of both concepts and methods. In this regard, while various reviews have, also recently, shedded light on specific aspects of UET, we draw from all the extant evidence to provide readers with a comprehensively updated big picture of how UET can serve, as a useful per se research method, the studies about organizational adaptation and evolution in particular, and those about strategic management more in general. We first synthesize the seminal 1984 UE model and then review its conceptual and methodological developments, with a focus on new units of analysis, socio-demographic features and moderators, psychological and cognitive variables, environmental factors and co-evolutionary mechanisms. We subsequently prospect a synthesis of the most up to date UE literature, with our discussion revolving around constructs such as those of the heterogeneity/homogeneity, remuneration, managerial discretion, and reverse causality of organizational dominant coalitions. Two mainly intertwined insights emerge: on the one hand, the developments subsequent to the seminal 1984 UE have gradually, although constantly, reduced its strongly voluntaristic assumptions on organizational adaptation towards much more moderated co-evolutionary lenses; but, on the other hand, the emerging psychological and cognitive moderators of UE variables are presently reinforcing the centrality of dominant coalitions, in that they affect their processes and strategic choices. This is also why behavioural strategy appears as the next step of the UET evolutionary path.


Positioning the Literature of the Business Model: A Bibliometric Analysis

Maria Francesca Savarese (University of Padova), Luigi Orsi (University of Milan), and Fiorenza Belussi (University of Padova)

Nowadays, the business model (BM) is one of the most studied concepts within managerial literature. Although scholars have shown a growing interest in understanding and analyzing the BM, a theoretical conceptualization is still lacking. The aim of this paper is to try to understand the structure of the BM literature, its current state of the art, and the future directions through the bibliometric analysis of 2054 papers in the fields of business and management, published between 1985 and 2015. In particular, to analyze this body of literature, we will use two methods: co-citation and bibliographic coupling analysis.


Small Firm Growth, Group Selection, and the Struggle of Competing Identities

Dermot Breslin (University of Sheffield)

In this paper I use a theory development approach to investigate the role played by competing group identities in a growing small firm. Using a longitudinal ethnographic approach, I study the emergence and changing identity of groups within a hi-tech spin out over an eight year period. First I show that group identities are resilient to change over time. As individuals become part of an ‘in-group’ and conform to the group identity through a process of depersonalization, opportunities for change via individual differences are reduced. Between-group competition further acts to strengthen the commitment of individuals to group identities. Second I show that growth involves the creation of an ecology of groups within the organization, whose behaviors, competences and identities can address the changing needs of the external selective environment. This involves a continual struggle for survival between competing group identities. The paper thus presents an alternative to the view of organizational growth as one in which individuals are recruited to fill knowledge gaps.

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