There are a number of posts from the old list serve that look like they can stand on their own as relatively independent threads. But I was struck by the number of them that seemed quite related. There might have been a good deal of time that had passed between them, or they may have been sparked by independent events or ideas, but I kept on noting how they were related. They didn’t feel like they could stand up as independent threads – they felt like they needed to be adapted such that they could be combined into one coherent line of thought. Some of those linkages were clear at the time, but others not until I was faced with this task of figuring out how to coherently move them to another platform.
These particular posts address issues like organizational permeability & dynamics, mapping shareholders & stakeholders, how economic power might be best defined by the extent to which individuals have roots in multiple organizations, and even one about how social movements might affect the trajectory of business firms. The principle that is unifying these for me at the moment is something that always hovered around the edge of our work, but I don’t feel like I ever said explicitly until now – we can’t really understand how any firm will behave at any given point in time without a fuller historical perspective on how past firms have traversed through their entire life cycle.
This problem was especially acute in the entrepreneurial field that we were in. Almost all the studies with which we interacted were about new firms. What can we tell about the likelihood of success of an entrepreneurial endeavor from their initial behavior? It looks like this perspective obstructs us from key insights that comes from the patterns that firms settle into as they get older (and frequently as they die). To what extent does adherence to or deviation from those patterns tell us about how firms that are new to the world might fare (beyond the old platitudes like willingness to innovate, being lean and efficient, having the will/desire to grow, and all that nonsense).
I think this principle was implicitly behind your thinking when you pointed out the variability in the commonly held notions of what constitutes an entrepreneurial venture that led to our “elements of entrepreneurial success” framework. As you said at the time, some see an entrepreneurial venture solely as the time of enormously high return on an initial investment where it is important to exit before the firm settles into established patterns. Others see it as the growth of a fledgling firm into a large concern that employs many people and creates a large multiplier effect. We had other varying definitions as well. But this perspective only makes sense if one steps back from the specific behaviors of any one (or any series of) new firm and looks at the problem from a broader context that looks at a wide variety of firms in different contexts and at different life stages.
I suppose we had an even simpler implementation of this broader perspective when we did the functional differentiation study. While that still involved newer firms, we did ask a broader question of how the functions the entrepreneurs were doing when they first started the firm differed from what they were doing after they had been at it a few years. Again, we had to take a broader perspective for this to make sense. From my recollections of those times, we were taking these steps implicitly. The thinking still seemed implicit (present, but implicit) in many of these posts we placed on the list serve. For me, this is only becoming more explicit (though I am struggling to be articulate about it – it still needs work) as I try to think about the best way to make sense of and organize some of these previous thoughts.
Perhaps there is literature that has already made this jump (I saw a vague Facebook post not long ago that referred to a political piece that appeared to be making reference to multi-organizational economic power theory), but I don’t remember it from the time we were active. I remember pieces that made reference to the idea of the life cycle of firms, but I don’t remember those as much more than perfunctory. Then again, perhaps there was an extensive literature to which we didn’t pay a lot of attention because we didn’t fully grasp its applicability.
I’d be curious to hear your reactions and recollections around any of this. I felt like there might be some sort of revelation here when it first occurred to me, but my difficulties in articulating it are giving me second thoughts. Maybe I haven’t put my finger on what’s uniting these posts, but I’m pretty sure there’s something that does.