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Bob, this is the Chief of Control. Lift the cone of silence!
am 4. Juli 2000
Did you ever see that amusing little sitcom, Get Smart? In "Hypercompetition", Dr. D'Aveni's approach suggests that he was stuck in a management science "cone of silence" from the mid-50s until 1981 and from 1982 until 1994. He has almost completely omitted from discussion a major stream of research that identifies potential sources of competitive advantage such as resource heterogeneity and resource mobility (the resource-based view, Wernerfelt, 1984; Barney, 1986, 1991). He has also omitted developments in systems dynamics dating back to the 1950s (Forrester, 195x, Maruyama, 1962, Weick, 1968). No reasons are given for such omissions.
What are the consequences of the omissions for the reader? In terms of sources of competitive advantage, he has narrowed this book's coverage of the domain substantially. Moreover, within his chosen domain, Dr. D'Aveni has somehow managed to focus his discussion of limitations almost exclusively on one aspect of the Porter work--static vs. dynamic competitive processes. You know, I would swear that more than this one aspect of Porter's work could be made dynamic. Also, that there are other criticisms of Porter's work prior to 1994. However, Max (oops, I mean Dr. D'Aveni) doesn't let you in on them.
In "Hypercompetition", D'Aveni also dutifully outlines processes that resemble the complex feedback networks suggested by systems dynamics. However, he never quite makes the connection to this body of literature. By not doing so, he deprives the reader of systems dynamics theory regarding how to intervene in such feedback networks before they become too complex. The systems dynamicists suggest that in less complex networks, critical points and loops can be identified and can function as the targets of interventions. Dr. D'Aveni, on the other hand, provides the reader with 7Ss, and precious little justification for why and how they would work in the feedback networks he describes. In such feedback loops, a 7S move could result in no change, a small change in which advantage is not very sustainable, or an exponential change in which sustainability over time is more possible. In other words, the results of his 7Ss approach are indeterminate without considering the nature of the feedback loops. The same limitations apply whether discussing one or a series of moves, and he, therefore, never arrives at an explanation for how to arrive at a "series of short-term advantages" (=sustained advantage to him).
The systems dynamicists also argue that as these feedback networks grow larger and more complex, they become indeterminate. That is, you and I may not be able to resolve the more complex networks into strictly positive or negative feedback loops or to predict the results of our own interventions at all. Therefore, by grounding his approach in cycles, loops, and recursions within and among his domains, Dr. D'Aveni limits analysis of the competitive process to resolvable feedback networks that are probably low in complexity.
Fortunately, complexity theory ostensibly resolves this problem by focusing upon the dynamic properties of larger complex feedback networks. Dr. D'Aveni can not be faulted for ignoring this approach because much of the literature in complexity theory that addresses his position has appeared since 1994.
To paraphrase, Dr. D'Aveni's attributes increased connectivity and rapid change to reductions in sustainability of competitive advantage. Kauffman (At Home in the Universe, 1995) suggests that D'Aveni is only observing half of the puzzle. According to the theory of self-organized criticality, complex systems self-tune. That is, influences that increase the rate of competition are eventually met by countervailing forces that reduce competition, resulting in a system that resides at the edge of chaos, at maximum performance. Therefore, D'Aveni may only be observing half of a larger process.
Kauffman's work suggests circumstances in which D'Aveni's advice (7Ss) may lead to less, not more sustainable competitive advantage. Admonishing firms to speed up their competitive moves, if accompanied by other firms' increased pace of change, may result in the "Red Queen" effect. In this effect, the system moves away from maximum performance. Both performance and sustainability of performance would then be reduced for each firm.
Kauffman also proposes (and simulates) variables in addition to connectivity that may affect firm and system performance. For example, he proposes N (firm traits) and S (# of species that interact) in addition to connectivity variables. As long as other variables could be implicated, the effects of connectivity (D'Aveni's premise) on performance and sustainability of performance will remain indeterminate until further tests are run.
I have more detailed criticism of the book that I will delineate in a subsequent review. However, I have attempted to discuss the major limitations that I am aware of in this review.