The world around us is changing in startling ways. We have, arguably, entered an age of paradox – an age of simultaneous, interdependent, and persistent contradictions. Digital disruption and societal turbulence across the globe are putting phenomenal pressure on corporations, and existing paradigms in corporate strategy seems insufficient to provide guidance in these turbulent times. Strategic management, as a field, may have a golden opportunity to reinvent itself.
While the digital disruption in the new economy is well acknowledged, the irony of its interdependencies with the old economy is not so obvious. Amazon is replacing Walmart as a retail leader, and Tesla is emerging as an automotive leader outpacing industry veterans. Yet, Amazon's biggest acquisition ever is not an avant-garde digital enterprise, but the brick and mortar premium grocery chain, Whole Foods. Tesla’s promise of clean electric cars is, rather worryingly, dependent on the steady supply of cobalt from the conflict-haunted Republic of Congo. The onset of machine learning and artificial intelligence is driving up the stock value of a few companies, while putting large swathes of middle-class jobs at risk and dismantling the taken-for-granted corporate hierarchies across the world.
Globalization too, in recent years has been through its ups and downs. We live in a time when professional classes of the world’s great cities increasingly self-identify themselves as global citizens. The sharing economy, characterized by new age ventures like Airbnb, makes it effortless for us to relax in the homes of strangers in a foreign city. Yet, paradoxically, countries that have been the torchbearers of globalization for decades are showing signs of fatigue. The fading openness is of particular shock to firms from emerging markets, which have been gearing up to enter the global economy, as they suddenly find themselves stalled by a growing sentiment of de-globalization.
The age of paradox, is threatening the very edifice of the contemporary world of business, developed and nurtured over the past several decades. Engaging effectively in the age of paradox demands thinking deeply about these contradictions rather than suppressing or ignoring them, for the benefit of enterprises, societies, and nations. Do we need to radically rethink the mission, scope, structure and governance of the corporation?
The SMS India Special Conference in Hyderabad is aimed at these vital issues, which can potentially change the contours of business and corporate strategy. By bringing together scholars and practitioners in the field of strategic management from across the globe to India, we hope to seed important conversations that should lead us to new discoveries of ideas and frameworks for building the future of strategy. India itself—churned today by a variety of paradoxes—provides an apt location for these deliberations. The conference provides an opportunity to revisit the legacy of late Professor CK Prahalad, who was instrumental in shaping our thinking on corporate strategy and anticipated the age of paradox in his work. Can corporations anchor their strategies on “core competencies,” in the midst of a rapid erosion of industry boundaries, obsolescence of core competencies, and dramatically shifting customer preferences?
While the conference is open to proposals for paper, panel and common ground sessions on multiple topics employing different theoretical perspectives and methodologies, we are keen to explore the themes and questions articulated under the following six tracks.
This track focuses on issues related to the scope and organization of the firm that will enable them to pursue growth and performance. Corporate scope has been an elusive topic in strategic management and has become even more elusive in an era of transient advantages, changing industry boundaries, digital disruptions and global turbulence. Exploring the determinants of scope and new ways of organizing to enhance performance are central to strategy.
CSR and Sustainability have emerged as dominant themes in strategy, as they challenge the very notion of firm performance, the focal construct in our field. There are at least four important trends that are shaping the contours of this field. First, significant parts of the growing global supply chains reside in developing countries that face tremendous social and environmental challenges. Second, CSR and sustainability ideas and their adoption vary across countries. Third, we recognize that long-term commitment is critical for beneficiaries that are directly affected by these investments, and we need to study how organizations confront the tension between symbolic and substantive CSR. Fourth, we are witnessing organizations give more focus on “purpose,” bringing societal impact more central to their strategic thinking.
This track welcomes submissions on global strategies, including the influence of emerging markets on the design and execution of such strategies. The unique characteristics of emerging markets continue to surprise global strategists: witness, the competition faced by the FMCG behemoths, Unilever and Colgate, from an Indian yoga guru-led enterprise, Patanjali. While firms increasingly consider emerging market engagements, some firms that have been active for decades in emerging markets are exiting (e.g., General Motors from India). Meanwhile, the strategy playbooks of established MNCs are often challenged by relatively new emerging market players. Simultaneously emerging market firms are competing on the world stage with locally developed capabilities as well as those attained through partnerships with other firms.
Research in knowledge management and innovation has long grappled with paradoxical situations - the trade-off between knowledge sharing and knowledge protection, the local versus global nature of innovation, the tension between exploration and exploitation in firms, and the tug of war between capability and rigidity in new product development. The tectonic shifts in the technological and socio-political environments of recent times have further accentuated existing challenges and created new ones. We look forward to receiving submissions that will advance the dialogue on these emergent challenges to innovation and knowledge management. We welcome interdisciplinary work and studies undertaken at different levels of analysis - individual, team and the firm.
Entrepreneurs have been responsible for some of the biggest disruptions to mature industries dominated by corporations: Airbnb has challenged the hotel industry, Lyft and Uber have upended the taxi industry, and the big car manufacturers have been pushed to innovate by Tesla and Google. This story of startups challenging large corporations is being played out in most parts of the world, including economies such as India and China. Corporations are engaging in many new relationships with entrepreneurs as both competition and partners. Both corporations and entrepreneurs are dealing with the ultimate paradox of being each other’s friend and foe. Increased digitization, platform technologies, and connectivity have created a rich environment for creation and disruption both in developed and emerging economies.
In an age of paradox, strategic leaders, the top management of organizations, have to face the brunt of the complex challenges in navigating their organizations through the new competitive landscape. Understanding how strategic leaders recognize and adapt to the disruptions that characterize this age to develop corporate strategy, may offer new insights into the upper echelons perspective. Similarly, the changing dynamics within this age may have important implications for the theories of corporate governance. Interestingly, internal and external governance mechanisms also may facilitate and direct the strategic responses to these broader macro-level changes. Both the strategic leadership and corporate governance literatures draw heavily on human capital at their foundations, and the role of human capital in designing corporate governance processes and formulating and implementing corporate strategy in the age of paradox will be a critical consideration.