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How to explore inter-organisational weak ties in a high-tech setting

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How to explore inter-organisational
weak ties in a high-tech setting
by PhD Student Carsten Bergenholtz
CORE, Department of Management
Aarhus School of Business, University of Aarhus
Dias 2
1) Article 1: Systematic literature review of interorganisational networks (on-going, co-authored
with Christian WaldstrГёm)
2) Article 2: Reciprocal relation between network
governance and network structure (conference
3) Empirical phenomena – Unisense
4) Theoretical challenges – Unisense
5) Methodology – Unisense
6) Article 3: Networks in biotech and �biotech’
7) Article 4: How to explore weak ties in a high-tech
setting (conference-paper)
8) Article 5: How to explore weak ties in a high-tech
setting (draft)
9) Contribution
Dias 3
Article 1: Systematic interorganisational literature review
Status: On-going. Target: Sunbelt 2010 / AOM conference 2010
Systematic literature review of inter-organisational networks
в€’ Systematic: (approximately) 360 articles, based on
specific search terms in WoS
в€’ Inter-organisational focus, not dyadic (alliance e.g.)
в€’ 12-14 variables to be coded
В· Methodological, not results, focus
Main focus, do the articles deal with:
A) The structure of the network
- Metaphor, dyads, ego-networks, whole networks
B) The ’networking’ interaction
- Multiplexity, dichotomous, the content of the
(cf. Mitchell 1973)
C) Inter-organisational vs. inter-personal relations
Dias 4
Article 2: Reciprocal relation between
network governance and network structure
Status: Presented at 16th MOPAN conference, June 2009.
Potentially part of special issue (International Journal of
Strategic Business Alliances)
Mainly conceptual article involving illustrative case:
Intelligent Utility, an inter-organisational innovation
network (5-20 companies)
в€’ Participated in data-collection
Overall topic: How to handle networks
в€’ Main theories on network governance of loosely
coupled whole networks:
В· Dhanaraj & Parkhe 2006: Orchestrating Innovation
В· Provan & Kenis 2008: Modes of network
Reciprocal relation between network governance
and network structure, contrary to the above
theoretical models.
Dias 5
Unisense A/S founded in 1998
в€’ 4 (of the) founders still employed
28 employees – highly educated, wide background
(biology, chemistry, electronics, computerscience)
в€’ Blurred boundaries: Stockholders in
Unisense A/S researchers within the field
Strong academic culture (Merton 1973)
Basic science and commercialisation
Specialized in micro-sensors
в€’ Two main competencies, a) sensors and b)
to enhance signals on a micro level: Few
percent of thickness of the hair (Gundersen
Dias 6
Signature practice: Interaction with weak ties I
Present project: NOT
focus on strong ties
and alliances
Kilduff & Tsai’s (2003):
Fleeting ties may be the
focus of future research.
•What organisational practices enables a
HTSF to form and explore weakly entrenched
ties in a biotechnological field?
Dias 7
Signature practice: Interaction with
weak ties II
How to interact with many weak ties? (ressource
constraint and how to get access)
в€’ Broadcast (Lakhami & Jeppesen 2007) and
top 5 star-scientist search
В· Means: Word-of-mouth-method and
mentioned in journals (methods and
materials), and frontpage of
В· Target: Potential customers, suppliers
в€’ Pay for hotels, locate privately, take out to
dinner – informal interaction and socially
− 40-50 guests a year – mostly 1-2 days
Dias 8
Signature practice: Interaction with
weak ties III
Strategic aim of visits:
в€’ Short term: The financial motivation to sell
в€’ Long-term: Gain new knowledge about; a) what is
going on in the field, b) new product/service
ideas, c) feedback on existing ideas, d) regulations
in different countries, e) customer needs, f)
Unisense mentioned in journals, g) challenge
technological boundaries
· “Innovation-generator”, examples: Fertilitech and
underwater sensor
Customer incentive: feedback on products,
services and own research – some kind of userdriven innovation
Networking approach makes it possible to explore –
without paying. Still resource-demanding.
Dias 9
Signature practice: Interaction with
weak ties IV
Organisational practices/enablers
− �Embedded’ in social interactions (1-2 day visits)
· Guest houses, dinner, “warm welcome” as virtue, see
webpage), meetings located in open space
Transparency – �everything’ is shown
В· RD meets RD (sales not involved)
· Openness – a lot of information is provided by
В· No NIH-syndrome: Who cares who got the idea
Non-contractual and lends out products: Flexibility
Unusual, hence memorable for visitors
Mostly only meet once, and further on-going
correspondence is via email; Either new orders and/or
potentially new ideas –> innovation generator
Dias 10
Theoretical setting, Unisense
Inter-organisational exploration
Exploration vs. exploitation (March 1991)
Inter-organisational exploration (Rosenkopf &
Nerkar 2001, Katila & Ahuja 2002, Laursen &
Salter 2006)
• Two distinctions, concerning exploration:
a) Organisational vs. technological
boundaries (Rosenkopf & Nerkar)
b) Broad and in-depth (Katila/Ahuja and
Г† In an open paradigm, risk of being exploited
in your exploration, hence proper incentive
structure important (Larsson et al. 1998,
Pisano 2006)
Dias 11
Theoretical setting, Unisense II
Social networks and search strategies
Social networks and search strategies
в€’ Granovetter 1973: The value of weak ties
when needing new information
в€’ Burt 2005: Structural holes provide access
to new information
в€’ Hansen 1999: Strong vs. weak ties, intraorganisational context
− Uzzi 1997: Arm’s length vs. embedded
Open vs. closed networks, an ongoing discussion:
(Coleman 1988, Ahuja 2000, Burt 2005, Hoetker
2005, Capaldo 2007).
Dias 12
Theoretical setting, Unisense III
Social networks (in biotech)
Social networks
• Cf. Mitchell (1973), distinction between network
structure and networking interaction
в€’ Different communities = potentially different
network(ing) and trust structures
в€’ Inter-personal vs. inter-organisational level
В· What is actually exchanged?
Social networks in high-tech / biotech
• A number of studies on inter-organisational and interpersonal networks in biotech (Kreiner & Schultz 1993,
Bouty 2000, Oliver/Liebeskind tradition) Г† considerable
в€’ Clear division between inter-organisational
(contractual commercialisation) and inter-personal
level (exchange of scientific knowledge, noncontractual and embedded).
• Zaheer & Bell 2007: Usually inter-personal relations span
’geographical structural holes’
Dias 13
Theoretical setting, Unisense IV
− Broad exploration �needs’ access to diversity
в€’ A HTSF has limited ressources
в€’ Weak ties can provide access to diversity and do
not demand the same intensive ressourceallocation as a strong tie would
в€’ How to overcome the barriers that lack of closure
and relational embeddedness entails?
в€’ How to ensure organisational, rather than interpersonal relations?
− How to ensure a proper incentive system – both in
order to be able to explore and not to be
Dias 14
Calls, in the literature
Liebeskind et al.: “…what organizational policies NBFs
[new biotechnological firms] have in place to promote
the creation and development of boundary-spanning
social networks” (1996, p. 441), in order “…to examine
the processes whereby scientists in NBFs form
relationships with external scientists” (1996, p. 441)
Kilduff & Tsai’s (2003, p. 129): Fleeting ties may become
increasingly relevant in future work on social networks
and innovation
Laursen/Salter: much greater knowledge is needed
about how firms organize their search for external ideas
for innovation…in-depth case studies and observational
research may allow for a more full description…(2006, p.
Dias 15
Research question
What organisational practices enables a HTSF to form
and explore weakly entrenched ties in a biotechnological
Focus on
в€’ Context: Where the relations are usually based on
contractual or embedded inter-personal relations
в€’ Early phases of the innovation process
− Focus of analysis: Unisense’s organisational
practices (independent)– that enables interaction
with weak ties (dependent)
в€’ Weak ties: Ties that you do not continuously meet
with and do not have previous relations with
Aim: P&G Connect & Develop strategy, on a smaller
HTSF scale.
Dias 16
Methodology I
Laursen/Salter: …much greater knowledge is needed about
how firms organize their search for external ideas for
innovation…in-depth case studies and observational research
may allow for a more full description…(2006, p. 147)
Hence Г†
• Case study research design (Eisenhardt 1989) and
qualitative focus
в€’ Allthough, as Dyer & Wilkinson (1991) state,
Eisenhardt proposes case(s) study research
Critical case selection – Unisense as an outlier (Flyvbjerg
в€’ Richness and exploration of concept in single case,
not pattern-seeking and testing
Inter-organisational relations are particularly intricate
(Zaheer & Usai 2004, Oliver & Ebers 1998) – in some sense,
everything takes place at an inter-personal level
в€’ What is the actual relation and the actual exchange?
Dias 17
Methodology II
Data sources: Observation, interviews, archival data
Observation: 40 weeks, 1 day a week: Seen
meetings, informal lunch-talks and gained general
access to interviewees
Interviews: (so far) 9: CEO, CSOs, head of
networking, and outsiders from the field. Focus of
interviews: RQ
Archival: MBA by CEO on Unisense and webpages,
of Unisense and similar nordic companies
(approximately 100, �randomly’ selected)
Iterative: major analytical points stem from interviewees
– modified into appropriate theoretical framework
Dias 18
Article 3: Networks in biotech and
Status: Disposition. Target: Unknown.
Networks in biotech (Unisense Fertility)
− Embryology – similar to drug-development (longterm, clinical tests, regulations)
в€’ Tight network and critical mass needed
в€’ Closed theoretical development/improvement
Networks in ’biotech’, or high-tech (Unisense Science)
− Don’t need same critical mass, can meet in dyads
в€’ Focus on technological diversification and new
ideas/products – to challenge technological
Previous literature: Not distinguished adequately
between these two very different areas (Von Hippel
1987, Oliver/Liebeskind tradition, Kreiner & Schultz
1993, Bouty 2000)
Dias 19
Article 4: How to explore weak ties
Status: Draft. Target: Special issue on HTSF in Technology
Analysis and Strategic Management (Deadline: October
Organisational strategic enablers, for the exploration of
inter-organisational weak ties
• Framework: Non-traditional ’embeddedness’; neither
non-contractual nor embedded in inter-personal relations
– but ’embedded’ in social interaction, and
open/transparent and informal setting
Main enabler: RD meets RD – a sales-scientist (hybrid
between RD and sales). General technological
в€’ Opportunity for access to diverse knowledge and
complex knowledge exchange.
в€’ Due to diversity of contacts, reduced risk of
unwanted IP spillover
Dias 20
Articel 5: How to explore weak ties
Enablers, for non-traditional-embedded weak tie
− Incentive – meeting with the right people who are
motivated; to get information and minimize risk of
exploitation (Larsson et al. 1998)
в€’ Openness and transparency: No NIH-syndrome
В· i.e. to give in order to get Г†
General technological ability AND meeting with
diverse partners from different segments Г† risk of
unwanted spillover reduced
Org. orchestrated (not un-controllable personal
RD people, general competencies – hence
complexity can be overcome.
Dias 21
Article 1: Issues in the field of research on interorganisational networks (on-going, deadline: Midjanuary 2010)
Article 2: Reciprocal relation between interorganisational network goverance and structure
(completed, conference paper, slight adjustments
Article 3: Different kinds of inter-organisational
explorative networks in biotech and ’biotech’ (unfinished, agenda for article clear)
Article 4: Inter-organisational exploration, tied
together with field of social networks (draft,
deadline October, Technology Analysis and
Strategic Management)
Article 5: Ibid, 1 articles Г† 2 (winter/spring
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