Using Simulation Experiments to Test Historical Explanations

I wanted to test with a computer simulation the explanations I offered in my book Knowledge and Competitive Advantage: The Coevolution of Firms, Technology and National Institutions for why German firms overtook their French and British competitors in the Synthetic Dye Industry from 1857-1913. So I partnered with Thomas Brenner who has created a simulation model that can replicate the key stylistic facts we know about firm and industry growth patterns. Our paper is now published online the Journal of Evolutionary Economics.
Conducting Simulation Experiments to Test Historical Explanations: The Development of the German Dye Industry 1857-1913

Abstract: In a simulation experiment, building on the abductive simulation approach of Brenner and Werker (2007), we test historical explanations for why German firms came to surpass British and France firms and to dominate the global synthetic dye industry for three decades before World War 1 while the U.S. never achieved large market share despite large home demand. Murmann and Homburg (2001) and Murmann (2003) argued that German firms came to dominate the global industry because of (1) the high initial number of chemists in Germany at the start of the industry in 1857, (2) the high responsiveness of the German university system and (3) the late (1877) introduction of a patent regime in Germany as well as the more narrow construction of this regime compared to Britain, France and the U.S. We test the validity of these three potential explanations with the help of simulation experiments.  The experiments show that the 2nd explanation—the high responsiveness of the German university system— is the most compelling one because unlike the other two it is true for virtually all plausible historical settings.

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Review of “China’s Path to Innovation” by Xiaolan Fu

To date there are few research monographs that go beyond picking out striking cases of innovative companies. We clearly also need systematic analyses of China’s growing innovative capacity. For this reason, Xiaolan Fu’s book China’s Path to Innovation (Cambridge University Press, 2015) is a welcome addition to the literature. Fu is Professor of Technology and International Development at Oxford and has written about innovation in China for more than ten years. China’s Path to Innovation has 16 chapters (Table of Contents).  The book provides an excellent overview of scholarly literature on the development of Chinese innovative capacities. It deserves to be in the library of anyone working on China’s innovative capacity.  Read my full review on

Deepening the Conversation Between Business History and Evolutionary Economics

This article has appeared in the journal “Business History”, Volume 57, Issue 5, 2015.

Abstract: How can business historians and evolutionary economists deepen their conversations? The paper argues that in doing detailed studies of how individual firms develop capabilities over time is where the concerns of business historians who want to tell the history of individual firms and the concerns of evolutionary economists overlap. This is area where more extensive interactions would be most productive.

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This paper is a commentary on two articles:
1. Constructing an ‘industry’: the case of industrial gases, 1886–2006 by Ray Stokes & Ralf Banken
2. The evolution of the pharmaceutical industry by Franco Malerba & Luigi Orsenigo

Tips for Choosing Appropriate Level of Abstractions (especially for Chinese Researchers)

A lot of Chinese researchers simply want to imitate how top American journals in formulating theories without boundary conditions. This sounds like doing good science but more often its leads to superficial analyses that do not explain what is happening in China. I was asked to write a commentary on an article by Child and Marinova (2014) in Management and Organization Review and this gave me a chance to reflect more broadly on choosing the appropriate level of abstraction in social science Research.  The article is now published.

Reflections on Choosing the Appropriate Level of Abstraction in Social Science Research. 关于在社会科学研究中选择适当的抽象水平的反思

Abstract: Although researchers often do it subconsciously, every explanation involves choosing a level of abstraction at which the argument proceeds. The dominant North American style of research in Organization Theory, Strategy, and International Business encourages researchers to frame their explanations at the highest level of abstraction where country-level contextual factors are suppressed or ignored. Yet to provide powerful explanations for recent developments in China, researchers are drawn to a greater level of context specificity. This tension is evident in the Child and Marinova (2014) paper. One way to reduce the tension is to identify general causal mechanisms that combine in different ways to produce different results depending on context. This research strategy is more effective than seeking invariant, general patterns of development across all times and places.

Keywords: choosing level of abstraction;philosophy of social science;research design;research on industries;research on firms 选择抽象的水平;社会科学的哲学;研究设计;行业研究;企业研究

MOR Abstract

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The role of home country demand in the internationalization of new ventures

My article with Salih Ozdemir and Deepak Sardana was just published in Research Policy.

Abstract: International new ventures (INVs) have been documented to exist all around the world, but the literature is silent on the frequency of such companies in different countries. We contend that the propensity of new ventures to internationalize by forming international partnerships is higher in small-domestic demand countries because they have a greater motivation given their limited local demand. After discussing the methodological challenges in testing this hypothesis, we do such a test by studying alliances in the health segment of the biotech industry in relatively small-domestic demand countries (Australia, Israel, and Taiwan) and by comparing the results with five large-domestic demand countries (UK, Germany, France, US, and Japan). We find that young firms in the countries with smaller domestic demand are at least 3 times more likely to enter into international partnerships than their counterparts in countries with larger domestic demand. We further demonstrate that this difference can primarily be explained by the difference in the size of domestic healthcare markets rather than other underlying opportunity structure related factors.

Keywords: International new ventures; Internationalization; Small vs. large demand countries; Young biotechnology firms; International partnerships; Business development partnerships

Highlights of article

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Nelson, Richard R. (born 1930)

This short article is my entry on Richard R. Nelson in the Encyclopedia of Strategic Management

Richard R. Nelson (b. 1930) is an American economist who has had a significant influence on the field of strategic management. The fundamental question driving his work is how societies can be organized to improve their material well-being. In answering this question, Nelson identifies sustained technological innovation and a diverse range of often industry-specific institutional structures as the key engines of economic growth. He sees business firms as playing a key role in the growth process because firms are the carriers of the knowledge and abilities required to produce the complex product and services that characterize modern economies.

Keywords: evolutionary theory, firms, innovation, organizational capabilities, patents, Carnegie School, RAND Corporation; science policy, tacit knowledg


Successful Entrepreneurs Minimize Risk

Many scholars see entrepreneurs as action-oriented individuals who use rules of thumb and other mental heuristics to make decisions, but who do little systematic planning and analysis. In this new article, Deepak Sardana and I argue that what distinguishes successful from unsuccessful entrepreneurs is precisely that the former vary their decision-making styles, sometimes relying on heuristics and sometimes relying on systematic analysis. In our proposed framework, successful entrepreneurs assess their level of expertise and the level of ambiguity in a particular decision context and then tailor their decision-making process to reduce risk. Download the article here.

The co-development of industrial sectors and academic disciplines

A model that conceptualizes the development of academic disciplines and related industries as intimately linked is presented. It predicts that the relative strength of a national industry which has a significant input on science or engineering knowledge is causally related to the strength of the nation’s relevant science or engineering discipline and vice versa. At national level, the model predicts that, over longer periods a nation cannot remain weak in one domain and strong in the other. It identifies the conditions under which government intervention is likely to be effective. A case study of synthetic dyes in the period 1857–1914 illustrates how these positive feedback processes led Germany and Switzerland to become strong in both organic chemistry and the dye industry, while the UK and France declined in both domains and the USA remained relatively weak in both. A shorter case study of biotechnology supports the predictions made by the model. Download Article in pdf. Read article on web in html.

Marrying History and Social Science in Strategy Research

Strategy research at its core tries to explain sustained performance differences among firms. This article argues that one, out of the many, ways to create a productive marriage between strategy research and historical scholarship is to carry out historically informed comparative studies of how firms and industries gain and lose their competitive position. While much of current strategy research adopts a large N hypothesis testing mode with the implicit assumption that one discovers generalization just like a Newtonian law such as F=m*a that applies across all space and time, an historically grounded methodology starts from the opposite direction. It assumes that a process or event may be idiosyncratic and therefore seeks to establish with detailed evidence that a 2nd (and later 3rd, 4th, ...nth) process or event is indeed similar before generalizing across observations. The article argues that the field of strategy would benefit from allocating more effort on building causal generalizations inductively from well-researched case studies, seeking to establish their boundary conditions. It articulates a comparative research program that outlines such an approach for the arena of industry and firm evolution studies.  Download Article.

The Coevolution of Industries and Important Features of Their Environments

As the rate of innovation increases, organizational environments are becoming faster and more complex, posing greater challenges for organizations to adapt. This study argues that the concept of coevolution offers a bridge between the prescient adaptationist and ex post selectionist perspectives of organizational change to account for the increasing rates of change. The mutual causal influences in a coevolutionary relationship help explain why competing sets of firms or individual firms can capture dominant shares in product markets. Using a comparative historical method and drawing on evidence from five countries over a 60-year period, this paper inquires how precisely coevolutionary processes work in shaping the evolution of industries and important features of their environments. It identifies—in the context of the synthetic dye industry—three causal mechanisms (exchange of personnel, commercial ties, and lobbying) and suggests how they acted as levers on the fundamental mechanisms of evolution. Understanding the levers is important for managing change in a world that is increasingly becoming coevolutionary, requiring managers to focus more on the emergent, system-level properties of their environments. Download Article.

Regional institutions, ownership transformation, and migration of industrial leadership in China

Scholars have emphasized the gradual ownership transformation of enterprises as a key driver of the Chinese economy’s unprecedented growth. However, little work has been done on the issue of whether this transformation process takes place evenly across the various regions in China. This article describes the important role of regional institutions in shaping the ownership-based competitiveness of local enterprises and the migration of industries across regions. In the case of the Chinese synthetic dye industry, the passing of leadership from state-owned enterprises (SOEs) to collectively owned enterprises (COEs) and then to private enterprises (PEs) was accompanied by a concurrent leadership migration from one region to another. The article contends that this simultaneous occurrence was not accidental. Four institutional constraints—the degree of central supervision, the local labor arrangements, the local social welfare provision, and the degree of ambiguity in property rights—retarded the rise of new ownership forms in the previously dominant regions. This gave other regions the opening to take over leadership positions by providing a more favorable institutional context for new ownership forms. These findings are likely to apply to all of the Chinese manufacturing industries that existed prior to 1978 and that subsequently did not experience significant technological changes and were not highly protected by the government. Download Article

Constructing Relational Databases to Study Life Histories on Your PC or Mac

In this article, I present a strategy for designing relational databases with the program FileMaker Pro (FileMaker) to study the histories of individuals and organizations. The approach facilitates efficiency in inputting data and flexibility for constructing statistical analyses from the rawdata. The key feature of the strategy is to define the basic unit of observation in the database in terms of an agent, an event, and a date. Given that programs such as FileMaker can easily sort data by agent and date, once one structures the data correctly, he or she can construct well-ordered event histories for agents, even if the researcher enters the data in an unordered fashion. By using events that happened to an agent at a particular time as the basic unit of observation, one maintains maximum flexibility to do statistical analysis that aggregates basic data in different ways. This article illustrates the power of the approach by outlining ways to analyze changes in geographic distances between two events marking the life histories of chemists. Download Article.

Automatic Coding of Printed Materials

Traditionally most researchers working with printed data sources have entered data by hand to convert it into electronic format. If a research project involves large amounts of data from similarly formatted sources – for example, when one tries to create a longitudinal database of directory information spanning many years – entering this data by hand is a very labour intensive and tedious task. We wanted to automate the coding of printed directory information in order to cut down the time it takes to transfer this information into electronic data. Once the data is in electronic format, it can be further analysed with a plethora of software packages ranging from Microsoft Excel, FileMaker, SAS and SPSS, depending on the needs of the particular researcher. The purpose of this technical paper is to share with other scholars in a clear and practical way the methods we developed for automating the coding of printed information. Download article.