Annotated Bibliography

Annotated Bibliography


My summary

Eisenhardt's first published description of her method for grounded theory building from carefully-selected multiple case studies. Now famous as "The Eisenhardt Method" it is appropriate for situations where complexity prohibits random sampling, such as when researching organizations. It takes the best from Grounded Theory and case study approaches and is suitable for inductive (and abductive) research.

Reflecting in 2021, Dr Eisenhardt says she “wrote with the aim of bridging the inductive-deductive divide.” (Eisenhardt, K.M., 2021. What is the Eisenhardt Method, really? Strategic Organization 19, 147–160). That era was male- and positivist-dominated, so there is a considerable poignancy to this statement. I like this method because it has clearly-defined steps for novices (like me) and supports mixed-, qual, or quant methods.

Develops the concept that executives in fast-moving environments overcorrect the inevitable drift to efficiency and bureaucracy (structure and constraints). They increase flexibility using: heuristics; deliberate simplification (following periods of enhancement); injecting flexibility (temporary projects, alliances, prototypes).

Explores nuances of operating in dynamic environments, that firms may operate in multiple environments (of varying volatility), and each dynamic situation has unique combinations of ambiguity and unpredictability. Suggests that rather than balancing efficiency and flexibility (per ambidexterity theory), executives use their experience and single mechanisms of higher-order cognition: abstractions (heuristics); cognitive variety (new thinking); interruptions (reflective learning).


Analyzing data from 4,195 survey participants at all levels of hierarchy (41 business units across 10 firms in different industries), Gibson & Birkinshaw found evidence of alignment and adaptability ambidexterity arising from contextual (behavioural) factors. They found significant correlation between context (performance management and social constructs) to ambidexterity, and ambidexterity to business units performance.

Case study of contextual ambidexterity in business units of a medium-sized (1000 employees) research-intensive firm, based on researcher's interactions over several years (1999, 2005, 2006, 2008).

Determined if a unit was mono- or ambidextrous with contextual indicators (eg. number of patents, publications, etc.) and whether "a significant percentage of individuals switch between exploratory and exploitative activities." Identified "performance orientation and group norms", and "an integrative frame of reference" as important cultural aspects of contextual ambidexterity.

Implication for management is that contextual ambidexterity can provide competitive advantages in dynamic environments because knowledge is quickly created and transferred between different domains.

"Contextual ambidexterity is much like hanging by a thread, since one learning mode could crowd out the other, leading to a collapse of the ambidextrous business model."

Study of 206 manufacturing firms shows that ambidextrous technical innovation strategies predict performance in sales growth. Findings imply managers need to become more explicitly aware of the need to balance resources between explorative and exploitative innovation. Measures of explorative/exploitative product/process innovation could improve awareness.

Theory paper examining "processes of experiential learning as instruments of organizational intelligence." It explains the need for (evolution of) departments, as well as the problems of organizational learning. The problematic 'myopia' discussed are:
- sacrificing the long term for the short (short-termism);
- favouring learning that brings results closer to home, very often that are easier to attain (og. improving local exploitation);
- oversampling success (promoting successful individuals and their stories) whilst deselecting failure with its inherent variety, diversity, and potential for valuable innovation.

Personally, I rate this paper over [[@March, 1991]], but then I thought Betamax was a better video format too.

"Even highly capable individuals are confused by the difficulties of ambiguous experience to interpret complex worlds."

"Behavioural integration" (creating clarity and speaking with one voice) of CEOs and top management teams (TMT) in 139 SMEs is studied to find the impact of TMT's ambidextrous integration of contradictory knowledge processes. Such effects are hidden in the "excess fat" of large firms that insulates TMT members from dissonance (eg. redundant resources, layers of hierarchy, and overly-administrative processes).

Seminal simulation paper that helps us understand how organizations adapt decision-making according to what they currently know. It simulates adaptation by modelling how knowledge moves into and around an organization, regardless of whether that knowledge is correct or not. March's simulation showed the value of a mix of slow and fast learners in an organization (innovation emerges slowly and as a result of variation).

The problem that organizations must learn to understand and decide upon, is how to allocate scarce resources between two core activities; explorative and exploitative. This decision impacts competitive performance and long-term viability.

The authors propose that conflict is the key micro mechanism that is resolved by ambidexterity. They speculate that: core conflicts lead to sequential ambidexterity; peripheral conflicts to structural ambidexterity; inner conflicts to contextual. Draws on dualities, contradictions, and paradoxes works.

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