MOR Abstracts

MOR 17.4 Abstracts

In Search of Optimal Distinctiveness: Balancing Conformity and Differentiation via Organizational Learning
Yimei Hu, Huanren Zhang, and Yuchen Gao

ABSTRACT Firms in a nascent industry need to search across various technological trajectories and market opportunities with limited prior knowledge. While inter-firm learning (e.g., imitation) helps the focal firm adapt in the process of conformity, intra-firm learning (e.g., independent experimentation) helps a firm stand out from rivals in the process of differentiation, both of which can gain competitive advantages. This study investigates how the conformity-differentiation balance can be achieved from the cross-level learning perspective. Adopting a mixed-method design, we first conduct a case study on the Chinese photovoltaic industry. The case suggests that firms are inclined to conform in upstream and bottleneck technological domains but differentiate in the downstream market applications. We then extend the case findings through a computational simulation based on March’s learning model. When experimentation and imitation are possible, the balance between conformity and differentiation can be reframed as the classical balance between exploitation and exploration across the firm and industry levels: while experimentation is often exploitative at the firm level but exploratory at the industry level, imitation is often exploratory at the firm level but exploitative at the industry level. The study makes a new attempt to bridge the optimal distinctiveness literature with the organizational learning literature.

KEYWORDS conformity, differentiation, exploitation, exploration, optimal distinctiveness, paradoxical balance

Organizational Learning Under Institutional Complexity: Evidence from Township Clusters in China
Shuyang You, Abby Jingzi Zhou, Steven Shijin Zhou, Liangding Jia, and Chengqi Wang

ABSTRACT Drawing from conceptualizations of organizational learning and institutional complexity, we advance the understanding of how the coexistence of multiple institutional logics in a community influences firms’ learning. Viewing communities where firms and local governments coexist as clusters, our analysis of 354 firms in 39 township clusters in China shows that government logic negatively moderates the positive effect of community logic on organizational learning; however, social connections between the community and local governments mitigate this negative effect. Modeling the relationship between the two logics in this manner extends prior conceptualizations of interfirm learning as a process of isomorphic diffusion of social norms and advances understanding of the role of institutions in organizational learning. This study also offers new insights for theoretical conversations on the compatibility and incompatibility of multiple institutional logics by demonstrating when logic multiplicity leads to conflicts and when it maintains harmony.

KEYWORDS community logic, government logic, institutional complexity, organizational learning, township cluster

The Neither-And Thinking: Understanding James March’s Unique Solution to Paradox
Xin Lin

ABSRACT In this article, I propose a typology of thinking pattern that helps us understand the variants of the so-called ‘both/and thinking’ shared by many organizational paradox scholars in the West and China. The variants are distinguished by the ‘primary thinking-secondary thinking’ structure between the combined elementary thinking. One of the variants, i.e., Neither-And thinking, is associated with James March’s discussion of logic of consequences and logic of appropriateness. An examination of March’s writings reveals an additional ‘principle-practice’ structure underlining March’s unique solution to paradox. Incorporating the ‘principle-practice’ structure into the proposed typology in turn helps us better understand the other variants of ‘both/and thinking’ such as ambidexterity, contingency, and Zhong-Yong. The typology shows March’s Neither-And solution is unique because it embraces a primary neither/nor thinking while all the other variants do not. To demonstrate the value of March’s unique solution, I apply Neither-And thinking characterized by the ‘principle-practice’ relationship to paradoxes outside organization studies, e.g., in Deconstruction, Buddhism, and quantum physics. The wide application of Neither-And thinking implies that James March’s unique solution to organizational paradox may have provided a key to understanding paradox in general.

KEYWORDS both/and, either/or, neither/nor, paradox, thinking, typology

Beyond Bounded Rationality: CEO Reflective Capacity and Firm Sustainability Performance
Yingya Jia, Anne S. Tsui, and Xiaoyu Yu

ABSTRACT Optimal or rational decision making is not possible due to informational constraints and limits in computation capability of humans (March & Simon, 1958; March, 1978). This bounded rationality serves as a filtering process in decision making among business executives (Hambrick & Mason, 1984). In this study, we propose the concept of CEO reflective capacity as a behavior-oriented cognitive capability that may overcome to some extent the pervasive limitation of bounded rationality in executive decision-making. Following Hinkin’s (1998) method and two executive samples, we developed and validated a three-dimensional measure of CEO reflective capacity. Based on two-wave surveys of CEOs and their executive-subordinates in 213 Chinese small-medium sized firms, we tested and confirmed three hypotheses on how CEO reflective capacity is related to a firm’s sustainability performance (including economic, societal, and environmental dimensions) through the mediating mechanisms of strategic decision comprehensiveness and CEO behavioral complexity. We discuss the contribution of this study to the literature on the upper echelons and information processing perspectives. We also identify the implications for future research on strategic leadership and managerial cognition in complex and dynamic contexts.

KEYWORDS bounded rationality, CEO reflective capacity, firm sustainability performance, managerial cognition, upper echelons theory

Invest in Innovation or Not? How Managerial Cognition and Attention Allocation Shape Corporate Responses to Performance Shortfalls
Lerong He, Liying Huang, and Guangqing Yang

ABSTRACT This study investigates the influence of managerial cognition and attention allocation on firms’ responses to negative performance feedback. We explore how managerial cognition, as shaped by managers’ experiences, connections, positions, and industry environments, affects underperforming firms’ attention allocation and, consequently, their decisions to invest in innovation. Utilizing a longitudinal sample of Chinese high-tech firms from 2009 to 2017, we find that firms increase investment in research and development (R&D) when performance falls below aspiration levels. We also document that underperforming firms are associated with an even larger R&D investment increase when their CEOs have an R&D or engineering background, serve simultaneously as the board chair, or are not politically connected. In addition, we highlight the moderating effects of industry competition and industry norms on the relationship between firm underperformance and R&D intensity. We conclude that managerial cognition affects firms’ allocation of attention to innovation as a solution for closing performance gaps and shapes corporate responses to negative performance feedback.

KEYWORDS attention-based view, innovation, managerial cognition, performance feedback theory, R&D