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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Another Great Example of Serendipity in Scientific Discovery

People underestimate that scientists often make progress by chance.  Here is the story of researchers studying a species that has invaded Florida’s Everglades made an unanticipated discovery: deadly Florida pythons have internal GPS.

“We found that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses,” said Shannon Pitman of North Carolina’s Davidson College, the lead researcher of a team of scientists that released six captured snakes back into the wild, then tracked them through the Everglades National Park for up to nine months.

“It wasn’t what we expected. We thought we’d see a kind of aimless, wandering behaviour, but the pythons made their way pretty quickly back to where to where they were captured. It was more sophisticated in terms of movement than we’ve seen in other species of snake.”

What makes the discovery more remarkable is that it was completely accidental. Pitman’s team originally wanted to release the snakes closer to their capture points within the Everglades, as they were more interested in studying the habitat through which they were moving than the actual distances they travelled.

But wildlife officials, whose efforts to eradicate or contain the up to 100,000 non-native snakes estimated to have spread through the park’s 1.5m acres, refused permission.

That led to the team releasing the snakes at more remote locations between 13 and 23 miles away, outside the National Park’s boundaries, and then watching in amazement as one python after another made its way back “home”.

Each snake was fitted with a radio tracker and its position monitored by GPS one to three times per week. All six moved in a near-straight line towards their capture points and five ended up within a couple of miles. The snake with the longest journey took nine months to reach its destination.


Full Story: Guardian

Improving Your Case Method Skills: Two Methodological Pieces by Michael Scriven

The philosopher and polymath Michael Scriven has written extensively on the logic of explanations. Here are two of his most valuable pieces. The first one is how one can make good inferences from single cases studies and the second one one explanations in history.

1. Scriven, M. (1974). Maximizing the Power of Causal Investigations: The Modus Operandi Method. In W. J. Popham (Ed.), Evaluation in education: Current applications: 68-84: McCutchan Pub Corp. Download

2. Scriven, M. (1966). Causes, Connections, and Conditions in History. Philosophical Analysis and History. W. H. Dray, Harper & Row: 238-264.  Download

 

Excerpts from Arthur Stinchcombe’s on “Theoretical Methods in Social History”

Ten years ago I read Stinchcombe’s “Theoretical Methods in Social History”. I recently reread the parts that I had highlighted and I thought it useful to share some key passages.[1]

One does not apply theory to history; rather ones uses history to develop theory. [2]
——
It is rather that the fashion in quantitative history has come to be that one must agree to be voluntarily ignorant of the any evidence other than numbers. [3]

As the argument develops, it will become clear why I am unenthusiastic about most quantitative history. Let me state the argument in capsule form.
For a number, say a count, to be theoretically interesting, it has to be a count of a comparable instance. What instances comparable for a scientist is that those instances have identical causal impact. Thus a count is more illuminating, the more theory and the more detailed examination of the facts went into making the instances counted comparable. But this ordinarily means that making a count should be the last stage of a scientific enterprise, a stage reached only after an extensive development of theory on what makes instances comparable. Is the proletarian in the Vyborg district of Petersburg or in the Baltic Sea Fleet equivalent in impact on the Russian Revolution to a proletarian in Moscow? Trotsky convinces me he was not (and if the proletarian was a she, in either place, she was not equivalent to a male proletarian either). Consequently, a count of proletarians in Russia in 1917 is fact of relatively little interest. [4]

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AOM 2013: Two workshops I am participating in: History and Design Evolution

History and Strategy: Toward an Integration of Theory and Method History and Strategy

New Presentation Slides for Download. Click here.
Program Session #: 80 | Submission: 14401 | Sponsor(s): (BPS, MH, TIM)
Scheduled: Friday, Aug 9 2013 11:45AM - 1:45PM at WDW Swan Resort in Swan 10


Organizer: Steven Kahl; Dartmouth College (TUCK);
Organizer: Brian S. Silverman; U. of Toronto;
Participant: David A. Kirsch; U. of Maryland;
Participant: Huseyin Leblebici; U. of Illinois;
Participant: J Peter Murmann; Australian School of Business, UNSW;

While historical research has played a central role in the development of the strategy literature, it remains underrepresented in strategy journals. This PDW explores how historical analysis can inform strategy research. As the strategy field continues to develop dynamic models of strategy, the historical perspective can provide unique perspective, and could potentially even develop a history-based theory of strategy. Yet, doing historical research in strategy faces methodological challenges given its different approach to the development of theory and use of evidence. Consequently, this PDW addresses the different opportunities available to strategy scholars to engage in the historical method. The format of the PDW is a combination of 1) presentations in which scholars experienced in conducting historical analysis within the strategy and organizational fields discuss the challenges of doing this work and 2) interactive breakout sessions in which participants break into smaller groups to discuss design of a historical study in topical strategy research areas, such as dynamic capabilities and industry evolution. These breakout sessions will help identify how the historical approach can make novel theoretical contributions and reveal roadmaps for pushing this work further.

Search Terms: History/Historical Analysis , Strategy , Theory and Methods

Architectural Strategy and Design Evolution in Business Ecosystems: Opportunities and Challenges
Ecosystem Design and Strategy

Program Session #: 279 | Submission: 10331 | Sponsor(s): (TIM, BPS, ENT, OMT)
Scheduled: Saturday, Aug 10 2013 10:15AM - 12:45PM at WDW Swan Resort in Swan 3

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Touchstones: Examples of Excellent Papers

Empirical Papers
Here are examples of excellent papers that I encourage people to use as touchstones and imitate when written small-n or case study papers.

Danneels, E. (2011). “Trying to become a different type of company: dynamic capability at Smith Corona.” Strategic Management Journal 32(1): 1-31.

Mirabeau, L., & Maguire, S. (2014). From autonomous strategic behavior to emergent strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 35(8): 1202-1229.

Miller, R., M. Hobday, T. Leroux-Demers and X. Olleros (1995). “Innovation in Complex System Industries: the Case of Flight Simulation.” Industrial and Corporate Change 4(2): 363-400.

Murmann, J. P. (2013). “The Coevolution of Industries and Important Features of their Environments.” Organization Science 24(1): 58-78.

Siggelkow, N. (2002). “Evolution toward Fit.” Administrative Science Quarterly 47(1): 125-159.


On Method
Here are some methodological texts that I found particularly useful in helping me refine my case study design skills.

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Lack of Replication in Management Studies

Tim Devinney and Donald Siegel write in their recent editorial of the Academy of Management Perspective (Feb2012, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p 6-11):

Hubbard and Vetter (1996) estimated that fewer than 5% of management studies are subject to any published form of replication, and when this occurs it invariably refutes the initial research. (p.7)

Reference: Hubbard, R., & Vetter, D. E. (1996). An empirical comparison of published replication research in accounting, economics, finance, management, and marketing. Journal of Business Research, 35(2), 153–164.

Herb Simon on Numbers in Social Sciences

In Herb Simon’s obituary, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports:

He had hoped to use mathematics to give the social sciences the same rigor as such hard sciences as physics and chemistry, but found that a frustrating experience; even with the new machine called a computer that was available at Carnegie Tech, it seemed that something was always missing when human factors were translated into numbers.

Maria Konnikova rearticulates this point in Scientific American.

List of firms how superior performance cannot be explained by randomness

Andy Henderson and his coauthors have done us a great service. They are analyzed last decades to find a list of firms whose superior performance cannot be explained by randomness.

Although sustained superior firm performance may arise from skillful management or other valuable, rare, and inimitable resources, it can also result from randomness. Studying U.S. companies from 1965–2008, we benchmark how long a firm must perform at a high level to be confident that it is something other than the outcome of a time-homogeneous stationary Markov chain defined on the state space of percentiles. We find (a) the number of sustained superior performers in Compustat, measured by ROA and Tobin’s q, exceeds the number of false positives we would expect to be generated by such a process; yet (b) the occurrence of false positives is often enough to fool many observers, so (c) the identification of sustained superior performers requires particularly stringent benchmarks to enable valid study.

Read Full Article
Click on More to see the list of firms.

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The Power of Richness IV: How Can Qualitative Methods Help us Ask Better Questions

Over 150 people came to the Power of Richness PDWs at each of the last three Academy meetings, drawing from many different divisions and interest groups.  With the demand for the workshop running so strong, Diana Day and I will try to organize an All-Academy PDW for the next meeting Annaheim. The format this past year proved very successful for learning how to do qualitative research well. The first part of the 2008 PDW will feature again a panel of leading qualitative scholars (Jane Dutton,  Royston Hinnings,  Martha Feldman and Ann Langley ), who will offer their insights qualitative research can help us ask the right questions. The second part of the workshop will have parallel sessions designed for people beginning or developing qualitative research and those trying to publish qualitative research.  Participants in the second part can have small group discussion with panelists, attend at least two of several tutorials, or sign up for a paper feedback session with experience scholars. For more up-to-date information on this Qualitative Research PDW, interested parties should go to our website PDW 2008 where we will post new information as the specifics of the PDW (tutorials subjects and leaders chosen), working paper discussion leaders, etc.


When and Where: Friday, August 8, from 1:00 to 5:00 pm, Anaheim, California

Presentation slides from the event are now posted. Please click on this link.

The Power of a Good Meta-Analysis

Chinese scientists have carried out a powerful meta-analysis and created new knowledge about the chemical pathways that lead to addiction. Can social scientist imitate this model? I am not sure. But certainly we should strive to do so.

Dr Wei therefore ran her 396 genes through a database of all known pathways to see which involved several enzymes encoded by those genes. She found 18 that were involved in addiction to at least one type of drug. Five, however, were common to all four types, and these five pathways therefore look as though they are at the core of the process of addiction. Three of the five were already under suspicion. Dr Wei’s result provided strong statistical evidence to back up what had just been hunches. Two other pathways, however, had not previously been considered as being involved in addiction. The existence of these five central pathways helps explain a lot about addiction. First, it gives weight to the belief that some people are more susceptible to all sorts of addiction than others are. That contrasts with the thought that addictions are substance-by-substance phenomena, though the two ideas are not mutually exclusive since changes in the 13 substance-specific pathways clearly also result in addiction.

Full story is available at Economist.com.

Charles Tilly’s Writings on Methodology now on the Web

Charles Tilly is one of the most innovative and productive social scientists alive.  His research know-how should be passed on to the next generation of researchers, not only to those who are fortunate to take his classes at Columbia University.  With the approval of Tilly, Sekou Bermiss and I made electronically available all his writings on methodology. You can search this archive by key word and topics.  Go to: Tilly on Methodology Archive

April 2008: Daniel Little Interviews Charles Tilly on YouTube

The Power of Richness III: Crafting Qualitative Research Papers

The large crowds that came to the Power of Richness PDWs in Atlanta and the year before in Hawaii have convinced us there is significant demand in the Academy for learning how to do qualitative research well. This year we will build on the success of our two previous qualitative methods PDWs and create an even more ambitious PDW. The first part of the PDW will feature a panel of leading qualitative scholars (John Van Mannan, Steve Barley, Andy Hargadon, and Bill McKelvey), who will offer their insights about how to craft qualitative research papers. The second part of the workshop will have parallel sessions designed for people beginning or developing qualitative research and those trying to publish qualitative research. For more up-to-date information on this Qualitative Research PDW, interested parties should go to our website PDW 2007 where we will post new information as the specifics of the PDW (tutorials subjects and leaders chosen), working paper discussion leaders, etc.

WORKSHOP REQUIREMENTS: Participants interested in submitting a working paper for feedback in the working paper discussion groups need to send their papers (more than 10 and less than 35 pages) to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at by July 13. Each paper should provide several key words on the title page indicating the type of qualitative method, data, and analysis techniques used. Working papers will be accepted for evaluation and feedback in this part of the workshop on a basis of first-come, first-served until we fill all the slots we can make available. ONLY those participating in the working paper sessions need to register through submitting a paper. All other parts of the PDW are open to everyone.

When and Where: Friday, August 3, from 1:00 to 5:00 pm at Marriot Liberty Ballroom C.

Presentation slides from the event are now posted. Please click on this link

The Power of Richness II: Exploring Qualitative Research Methods

Inspired by the large number of participants at the “The Power of Richness: The Why, When, Where and How of Qualitative Research Methods” PDW in Honolulu, Diana Day and I (Peter Murmann) decided to organize a follow-up workshop on qualitative methods at the academy meeting in Atlanta.  The workshop will again have a stellar group of scholars presenting their ideas about how to make qualitative reseach powerful. The confirmed presenters are: Kathy Eisenhardt (Stanford), Mauro Guillen (Wharton-U. of Pennsylvania), Sara Rynes (Editor of AMJ), Nicolaj Siggelkow (Wharton-U. of Pennsylvania), John Wagner (Associate Editor of ASQ), Karl Weick (Michigan). More details about the workshop will as we are getting closer to the event.

When and Where: Friday, August 11, from 1:30 to 4:30 pm at the Atlanta Marriott in International 4

Update March 17,2006: The workshop is being sponsored by virtually all divisions of the Academy: BPS/HR/MED/MOC/MSR/OB/ODC/OMT/ONE/PNP/PTC/SIM/CAR/CM/
ENT/GDO/HCM/IM/MC/ and RM.

Visit the Discussion Forum for the Event where you can now download the presentation slides from the workshop. 

The Power of Richness: The Why, When, Where and How of Qualitative Research Methods

Participate in the workshop on Qualitative Methods the Academy of Management in Hawaii, Friday afternoon from 1:00 to 4:00, August 5, 2005.  The Panelists are: Robert Burgelman, Diana Day, Deborah Dougherty, Charles Galunic, Johann Peter Murmann, Gabriel Szulanski, and Klaus Weber.

Visit the Discussion Forum for the Event where much additional information will be posted.

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