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The Red Queen among Organizations

The Red Queen among Organizations: How Competitiveness Evolves

William P. Barnett
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Red Queen among Organizations
    Book Description:

    There's a scene in Lewis Carroll'sThrough the Looking Glassin which the Red Queen, having just led a chase with Alice in which neither seems to have moved from the spot where they began, explains to the perplexed girl: "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." Evolutionary biologists have used this scene to illustrate the evolutionary arms race among competing species. William Barnett argues that a similar dynamic is at work when organizations compete, shaping how firms and industries evolve over time.

    Barnett examines the effects--and unforeseen perils--of competing and winning. He takes a fascinating, in-depth look at two of the most competitive industries--computer manufacturing and commercial banking--and derives some startling conclusions. Organizations that survive competition become stronger competitors--but only in the market contexts in which they succeed. Barnett shows how managers may think their experience will help them thrive in new markets and conditions, when in fact the opposite is likely to be the case. He finds that an organization's competitiveness at any given moment hinges on the organization's historical experience. Through Red Queen competition, weaker competitors fail, or they learn and adapt. This in turn heightens the intensity of competition and further strengthens survivors in an ever-evolving dynamic. Written by a leading organizational theorist,The Red Queen among Organizationschallenges the prevailing wisdom about competition, revealing it to be a force that can make--and break--even the most successful organization.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2448-9
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. ONE Why Are Some Organizations More Competitive than Others?
    (pp. 1-13)

    Formal organizations operate in every aspect of modern life, and in each domain some organizations become remarkably successful while most others do not. Popular magazines feature thriving businesses, describing these most competitive organizations and their leaders as models to be emulated. Meanwhile, thousands of other businesses flounder, and many fail outright. Winning and losing organizations appear in many other walks of life as well. Think of charitable organizations, research and development consortia, churches, sports leagues, social movement organizations, schools, political parties, or any other kind of organization, and you will likely know of a few stand-outs. Look deeper into any...

  6. TWO Logics of Competition
    (pp. 14-45)

    When asking “why are some organizations more competitive than others?” no one answer will hold in all contexts. We would expect to see that a thriving steel producer, a popular restaurant, and a successful environmentalist organization all look very different from one another. In line with this intuition, considerable research shows that particular organizational features are favored when they are aligned with one another and, then, with the requirements of the organizational environment.¹ In turn, such contingency is likely to produce considerable organizational variety, reflecting the variety of organizational environments that we find as we look from context to context....

  7. THREE The Red Queen
    (pp. 46-73)

    Most organizations must compete. Commercial firms compete in product or service markets for customers, of course, as well as in capital markets, labor markets, and factor markets for the products and services that they use. But just as competitive are many noncommercial organizations. Churches compete for followers; social movement organizations vie for supporters and activists; government agencies contend for political support; voluntary organizations compete for members; trade associations and research consortia compete for organizational affiliates; universities compete for students, faculty, and donors; health-care organizations compete for patients, doctors, and institutional support. Every one of us is a member, in some...

  8. FOUR Empirically Modeling the Red Queen
    (pp. 74-89)

    To study the Red Queen empirically, it is useful to formulate an estimable and falsifiable model of the process. The goal is to represent the ideas of this theory in terms that can be operationalized across a variety of organizational populations, albeit with adjustments to take into consideration the distinct logics of competition that operate in different contexts during different historical eras. To this end, I will initially model the theory in terms of the abstract concept organizational “viability,” where an organization is more viable when its life chances are greater. Operationally, viability manifests in various observable outcomes, and my...

  9. FIVE Red Queen Competition among Commercial Banks
    (pp. 90-131)

    At the dawn of the twentieth century, many in the United States were ambivalent toward banks, as summed up by U.S. Treasury Secretary Lyman J. Gage in an address to a gathering of New York bankers:

    The consolidation of capital, and the centralization of industries, excite new and serious inquiry as to the consequences and effects they may carry in their train.... Two dangers are apparent. One is that through prejudice and ignorance we may block the path of natural progress. The other is that the force and power involved in these great organizations may be utilized for oppression and...

  10. SIX Red Queen Competition among Computer Manufacturers
    (pp. 132-214)

    Our knowledge of the computer industry has emerged over time through search and discovery. Industry experts now can detail the logics of competition that have prevailed in the industry’s markets, but this understanding was slow to develop and often clear only in hindsight. Very often, computer technologies have not been well understood, even by the engineers and scientists closest to these technologies. Take, for example, the so-called Y2K bug. As the turn of the century approached, experts in the computer industry increasingly spoke of malfunctions that would likely occur in computerized systems when the date moved from 1999 to 2000....

  11. SEVEN The Red Queen and Organizational Inertia
    (pp. 215-227)

    Often, successful organizations move into new markets only to fail. This notorious pattern can happen for two very different reasons: because organizations do the wrong things in the new market, or they do the right things but so disrupt themselves in the process that they fail nonetheless. Some examples help to illustrate this distinction. In 1994 the American Craft Brewing Company (Ambrew) was founded, one of 166 craft breweries founded that year in the United States as the microbrewery craze gained momentum.¹ Unlike most microbrewers, however, leadership at Ambrew aimed to export the American microbrewery model to other countries. Ambrew’s...

  12. EIGHT Some Implications of Red Queen Competition
    (pp. 228-236)

    Researchers and managers alike will agree that competition is important to organizations. By understanding competition, we understand a powerful force affecting most organizations, either directly or indirectly, with life-or-death consequences. So, too, will all agree that we need to understand how organizations develop over time—and that the process of change and adaptation also is a matter of life and death for organizations. Yet the connection between competition and organizational development remains largely unexplored by researchers and ignored by managers. Researchers routinely study organizational learning without regard for the competitive context, or competition without noting the implications for learning. Managers...

  13. Appendix Data Sources and Collection Methods
    (pp. 237-244)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 245-258)
  15. References
    (pp. 259-274)
  16. Index
    (pp. 275-279)