University of Edinburgh Business School
CSL Embraces New Approach to Understanding Strategy
October 25, 2019

Introducing a new project aimed at developing a critical and analytical vocabulary around distributed and collective action.

Strategies of Distributed and Collective Action

Traditional business strategy research has been focused on the firm as unit of analysis. Whether it is about positioning in a competitive environment (as in the planning school) or internal dynamics of strategic management (as in emergent and practice school of strategy), extant research has been described as a boxing ring in which the two dominant strategy schools face each other.

In one corner of the scholarly ring, the positioning school […] in the opposite corner of the ring are those who argue that firms discover effective positions through local, boundedly rational search and luck.

Gavetti et al., 2005: 692

With the approach suggested in this project, we depart from this ‘boxing ring’ imagery and think of strategy as activity that takes place first and foremost in and across networks (Slaughter, 2017). In fact, complex goals, wicked problems, and societal challenges are not to be tackled by individual firms, but by heterogeneous sets of actors and polycentric networks. Thus, this project studies how strategy as goal-directed behaviour is possible beyond hierarchical command and control settings.

Intellectually, this means departing from the two main forms of coordinating collective action (the visible hand of the manager—hierarchy—and the invisible hand of the market) and shift towards the question of how new forms of collective action combine both goal-directedness and the ability to scale. The aim of the project is to develop a critical, analytical vocabulary to understand such distributed and collective action, how it is organised and governed. Theoretically this is relevant because it extends current research in strategy and organisation theory as well as related fields. Practically it is significant because it provides a better understanding of novel forms of human collaboration facing complex societal challenges.

Please contact Martin Kornberger if you are interested in further information.

Further Reading

  • Gavetti, G., Levinthal, D.A., and Rivkin, J.W. (2005). Strategy making in novel and complex worlds: The power of analogy. Strategic Management Journal, 26(8), 691-712.
  • Kornberger, M., Leixnering, S., and Meyer, R.E. (2019). The logic of tact: How decisions happen in situations of crisis. Organization Studies.
  • Kornberger, M. (2017). The visible hand and the crowd: Analyzing organisation design in distributed innovation systems. Strategic Organization.
  • Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  • Slaughter, A.M. (2017). The chessboard and the web: Strategies of connection in a networked world. Yale University Press.