chapter  3
28 Pages

The Dynamics of Interdependence

Generalistsvs.specialistsinanincreasinglyunstableenvironment:Lessons fromorganisationalecology

Averyinterestingdescriptionoffirmsbuildingfederationshasbeenputforward byarelativelysmallbutinfluentialgroupofacademicresearchersknownas OrganisationEcologists.Applyingconceptsusedinecologytounderstandingfirm behaviour,theyexaminetheadaptationofpopulationsoffirmstochanging environmentalconditions.Theydescribetherelativefitnessofspecialistversus generalistorganisationsinsettingsofvariousdegreesofenvironmentalstability. Oneoftheirfindingsisthatinastableoperatingenvironment,firmswillbemore abletoaffordspecialisation.Thisisbecausespecialisationisgenerallythe preferred(becausemoreefficient)operatingmode,butaspecialisedfirmisonlyfit overarelativelysmallrangeofenvironmentalconditions,whereasageneralist firmmightbeoveralllessefficient(becauselessstreamlined),butcanrideoutthe tidesofeconomicshiftsmucheasier,sinceatleastonepartofitwillalwaysbe capableofdealingwithwhateverstatetheenvironmenthappenstobein.Hence,if theenvironmentisperceivedasveryunstablebyafirm,itislikelytooperatemore asageneralist,inordertobefitacrossagreaterrangeofenvironmental contingencies.Organisationecologistsalsoarguethattheonlywayafirmcan remainaspecialistunderunstableconditionsisthroughfederatingwithothers:the federationofspecialistsisageneralistintheaggregate,andbybeingtightlybound toeachother,thevulnerablespecialistscreateasomewhatmorestableimmediate operatingenvironment.