Sub-theme 14: Capabilities for serializing uniqueness: Unpacking the exploration routine

Charles Baden-Fuller
Cass Business School, City University London, UK
Gino Cattani
The Stern School, New York University, USA
Simone Ferriani
University of Bologna, Italy

Call for Papers

Innovation requires the exploration of novel, often distant, opportunities as well as the ability to select and serialize the outcomes stemming from this effort. On the one hand, the duality exploration-exploitation conveys the sequentiality of the search-selection effort, on the other it highlights the challenges that arise in the innovation lifecycle when returns from exploitation start to diminish and the organization needs to engage again in exploratory search. While the exploration-exploitation sequence is typically portrayed as occurring naturally and in a consequential (albeit not automatic) fashion, the reverse process (from exploitation back to exploration) is considered to be rather problematic. For business organizations that have navigated the entire sequence, a crucial challenge lies in revitalizing this cycle, as the inertial tendencies that ensue with the exploitation phase inhibits the generation of novelty, resulting in a short-term bias in organizational adaptation.

Although these challenges apply to a broad variety of business entities, there are some classes of organizations that appear to be less sensitive to the threats that the exploration-exploitation sequence poses. Organizations that offer prototypes – i.e., products and/or services that are unique – are more likely to focus their innovative efforts on the exploration stage. Once their prototypical product or service has been completed they move on in search of new opportunities, without ever entering the exploitation stage. These organizations, which we refer to as Exploration Oriented Organizations (EOO), have evolved practices and competences that make them extremely intriguing to study from a managerial standpoint. They typically operate on a time constrained project-by-project basis, present open boundaries, consistently resort to improvisational capabilities, need to select, mix and match talents on an ongoing basis, and often make decisions using rules of thumb.

Unlike traditional firms that produce products or services that are visibly 'the same' (or remain relatively homogeneous) over extended periods, these organizations engage repeatedly in exploratory activities every time they embark on a new project. This is a challenging task because each output is unique, delivered in a context of flux in which elements are combined, taken apart and recombined in a continuous process of organizational formation and dissolution. By serializing uniqueness these business realities challenge conventional tenets in organizational behaviour. They succeed in making innovation a routine.

This sub-theme explores capabilities and routines for serializing uniqueness. We are especially interested in studies focusing on entrepreneurial and project oriented organizations that have devised business models for creating and capturing value from repeated inventive efforts. Examples include firms operating in creative or cultural industries such as art, design, architecture, motion-picture, advertising, cuisine, etc. We encourage researchers from a diverse array of academic disciplines, including organizational behavior, psychology, sociology, media studies to submit papers to this track. We are open to different types of theoretically grounded empirical work based on qualitative and/or quantitative methods. We especially welcome work that aims to challenge received wisdom and assumptions in organizational literature, and recommend submitting papers already in an advanced state of development. We will place special emphasis on innovative doctoral research that shows potential for contributing to the field in a non-conventional way. We also look for manuscripts whose theoretical perspectives and empirical findings allow for a comparison of practices across different empirical settings.

To this end, we would like to solicit conceptual and empirical papers addressing questions such as the following:

  • What factors affect the long term sustainability of exploration?

  • What kind of heuristics characterizes the choices and decisions of exploration oriented organizations?

  • Are there distinctive capabilities for routinizing exploration?

  • Do exploration oriented organizations start from scratch every time they engage in a new project or have they developed models for streamlining or routinizing the exploratory process?

  • Where do exploration oriented organizations tap their ideas? Where does the locus of their innovative effort lie?

  • What business models are appropriate to create and capture value from exploration?

  • Do exploration oriented organizations rely more extensively on external sources of innovation than other more traditional organizations? If yes, which ones?

Key readings

Baker, T., A. Miner and T.E. Dale (2003): "Improvising firms: Bricolage, account giving and improvisational competencies in the founding process." Research Policy, 32, 255–276.

Baker, T. and R.E. Nelson (2005): "Creating Something from Nothing: Resource Construction through Entrepreneurial Bricolage." Administrative Science Quarterly, 50, 329–366.

Levinthal, D.A. and J.G. March (1993): "The myopia of learning." Strategic Management Journal, 14 (4), 95–112.

March, J.G. (1991): "Exploration and Exploitation in Organizational Learning." Organization Science, 2 (1), 71–87.

Miner, A., P. Bassoff and C. Moorman (2001): "Organizational improvisation and learning: a field study." Administrative Science Quarterly, 46, 304–337.

Miner, A., P. Haunschild and A. Schwab (2003): "Experience and Convergence: Curiosities and Speculation." Industrial and Corporate Change, 12, 789–813.

Charles Baden-Fuller 
Gino Cattani 
Simone Ferriani