Strategy in a Disruptive World
Over the past 20 years, we have witnessed a tsunami of demographic, technological, societal, and institutional changes brought about by the digital revolution. In combination, these changes have had a tremendous effect on how we work, how we shop, how we live our daily lives, and what we value or consider important at home and at work. For example, today’s employees expect to work for multiple employers over their lifetime, whereas their parents were comfortable with the notion of a job for life. Similarly, today’s customers tend to be less patient, more demanding, more informed, less forgiving, and more vocal. A single bad customer interaction has the potential to become a global PR disaster through social media.
These changes, in turn, have influenced how companies manage employees, how they serve customers, how they are organized, and how they compete with each other. For example, we have witnessed a shift away from hierarchy toward networks; away from industries toward ecosystems; away from traditional strategies toward platform strategies; away from fixed pricing toward dynamic pricing; away from mass marketing toward customized marketing; away from bricks and mortar toward online distribution; and away from closed innovation toward open innovation.
Disruptive as these changes have been, it is likely that the changes we have seen so far will pale in comparison to those unfolding in the next few years as a result of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, virtual reality (VR), machine learning, and synthetic biology. Just when companies thought they could take a breather from responding to the digital disruption, they will need to rise up again and prepare themselves for the next wave of disruption.
How do companies prepare for the next wave of disruption? What new strategies, organizational structures, and managerial skills will they need to compete in a constantly evolving competitive landscape? What new organizational forms and governance systems will emerge to allow companies to compete in a more agile way in such a disruptive world? How can leaders prepare their organizations for continuous transformation? What should governments do to create a level playing field while preventing companies from growing into giant monopolies? As strategy researchers and educators, how do we prepare our students to compete in this disruptive world?
We believe strategy researchers ought to consider these questions and develop the answers that will help managers and firms cope with the challenges they are starting to confront. At the SMS 40th Annual Conference, we want the research community to take stock of the changes of the last 20 years and then consider what the future holds and how firms can cope with a disrupted and disruptive world. We call for proposals that reflect how the business landscape is likely to change and how organizations can prepare themselves for this new world.
Conference Program Chairs
- Julian Birkinshaw, London Business School
- Costas Markides, London Business School
October 26-30, 2020
We invite you to the 40th SMS Annual Conference, our first-ever virtual Annual Conference!
This will be the 40th year that we have come together for an annual conference, and it’s safe to say that we have never organized a conference in a more turbulent and uncertain context. The COVID-19 crisis has turned our world upside down, and we are all trying to learn and adjust to the new normal. Leaders and organizations all over the world are also searching for answers and solutions to the enormous problems they are facing. Companies need to design strategies and develop organizations that will enable them to not only survive the crisis in the short term, but also to build the foundations for a prosperous long term. Leaders need to steady the ship while at the same time motivating a frightened and demotivated workforce to join them on the journey of transformation.
While the crisis is ever-present in our thoughts, the numerous disruptions and challenges facing organizations before the crisis have not gone away. Following the digital revolution of the last 20 years, we are now on the cusp on another technological revolution with AI, Virtual Reality, Robotics, and Machine Learning combining to radically transform the business landscape once again. Companies—still trying to adjust to COVID-19 and the numerous disruptions that hit them over the past 20 years—need to rise up again and prepare for the next wave of disruption. They have to do so in a political and geopolitical context that is ripe with risks and threats at every turn. And they have to do all this in the middle of the biggest crisis that we’ve witnessed in the last 50 years.
This is an exciting time to be a Strategy scholar. Our scholarship, insights, and theories are more in need now than at any time in our profession’s history. This is our chance to use our research to help build the world we want to be living in post-COVID-19. We will make sure that our Conference—though virtual—will still allow for debate, exploration, and learning. The potential to learn new things in these times of change is enormous and so is the potential for us as academics to develop ideas that will help transform our societies and world.
We extend a warm welcome to all of you!
- Emilie Feldman, University of Pennsylvania
- Bart Vanneste, University College London
The digital revolution has opened up new ways for firms to create and capture value, often by acting as a platform or hub within a broader ecosystem of activities. We invite submissions that explore and explain these new and emerging strategies. How is our traditional view of strategy being challenged by technologies such as the internet, blockchain, and artificial intelligence? Given the blurring of industry boundaries and the uncertainty and volatility in the outside environment, how are companies developing strategies that include actors from their wider ecosystem, and what organizational contexts are they putting in place to support these strategies?
- Lourdes Sosa, London School of Economics and Political Science
Over the last 20 years, numerous misconceptions, half-truths, and outright mistaken beliefs have emerged on how organizations can respond to disruption. We invite new evidence-based insights and ideas to sharpen our understanding of how firms are responding to the forces of disruption. For example, what techniques are established firms using to scan their changing business environment? How are they organizing to compete with two business models at the same time? And how are they tapping into the ecosystem of start-ups to ensure they stay relevant? We encourage large-sample studies that consider the characteristics of firms that have responded effectively to disruption and also detailed case studies that help us understand the internal dynamics of how firms sense and respond to change
- Michael Mol, Copenhagen Business School & University of Birmingham
The forces of disruption are not just reshaping company strategies, they are also having a profound impact on how work gets done inside companies. Fast-growing tech companies, such as Google, Amazon, and Alibaba, as well as established leaders, such as Haier and ING Bank, are experimenting with new ways of working to tap into the expertise and creativity of their employees more effectively. We invite submissions that shed light on these new ways of working, through detailed case studies and large-sample analyses, as well as papers that advance our theoretical understanding of management innovation.
- Ioannis Ioannou, London Business School
- Caroline Flammer, Columbia University
Everybody would agree that the world is facing some serious social and environmental problems. Many fear that several of these are now reaching the “tipping point” and that we are rapidly running out of time to address them adequately. At the same time, managers are faced with growing challenges in dealing with the social and environmental impact of their companies’ operations and in tackling disruptive mega-trends, such as the climate crisis, the destruction of the natural environment, and persistent poverty and income inequality. For this track, we invite proposals on how new business models and technologies can help companies address these pressing social and environmental issues. We also welcome proposals that explore how companies balance the often conflicting pressures they are facing across their material shareholding and non-shareholding stakeholders. What does it mean to establish a sustainable competitive advantage against the background of conflicting social and economic pressures? In what ways do existing competitive advantage theories need to be adapted in order to incorporate these challenges as they relate to a firm’s long-term sustainability? What is the role of new technologies such as AI, machine learning, and 3D printing in enabling companies to address these disruptive mega-trends?
- Tomasz Obloj, Indiana University
The Competitive Strategy Interest Group focuses on questions concerning firms and their interactions within product and factor markets. As one of the largest and most internationally diverse Interest Groups, our community tackles a broad set of questions regarding competitive strategy in regions around the world. For example: How do firms build and maintain a competitive advantage in a changing world? What roles do resources and capabilities play in shaping firms and industries over time and in different markets? The Competitive Strategy Interest Group is aptly positioned to respond to this year’s conference theme, “Strategy in a Disruptive World.” We call for contributions aimed at exploring how firms can successfully navigate new forms and bases of competition across different types of products, markets, and environments. With the rapidly evolving business landscape involving technological, social, and competitive changes, new forms of internal organization and interactions between firms are being introduced and have to be actively managed. We welcome studies that further our understanding of competitive strategies in this disrupted and disrupting world.
- Metin Sengul, Boston College
The Corporate Strategy Interest Group focuses on firm scope and boundary decisions. Scholars draw on a range of theories and methods to examine how firms manage their business portfolios and organizational structures, as well as how they decide on and implement changes to those portfolios through diversification, vertical integration, acquisitions, divestitures, and other strategic activities. These choices are fundamentally affected by the disruptive changes over the past two decades that constitute this year’s conference theme. Companies continue to grapple with the challenges of a more disruptive world. Accordingly, along with proposals related to the general domain of the Corporate Strategy Interest Group, we encourage submissions that further our understanding of corporate strategy in this challenging context. How do disruptive changes influence scope choices of diversified companies? What are the implications of emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and machine learning, for the organization of firm boundaries? Are existing theories generalizable beyond firms and contexts studied in the past? We welcome studies that inspire us to reconsider the conventional approaches to corporate strategy.
- Tina Ambos, University of Geneva
The Global Strategy Interest Group welcomes submissions on strategic challenges that are specifically pertinent to firms operating in the global context. Relevant topics for the Global Strategy track include, but are not limited to, cross-border corporate or business strategy, headquarter-subsidiary relationships, foreign entry and location strategies, and the impact of political and institutional environments on firm-level strategies. This year’s conference theme is particularly relevant to global strategy scholars, as most disruptions have global consequences, but have to be addressed at the local level. For globally dispersed organizations, the challenge to respond to demographic, technological, societal, and institutional changes brought about by the digital revolution is even more complex. Disruption impacts how they address customers, how they compete, how they manage stakeholders, and how they respond to institutional changes in multiple markets. All these factors push strategists to rethink how we develop strategy, how we shape new markets and industries, and how we draw the boundaries of the firm. We invite submissions addressing these and other questions related to global firms’ strategies in today’s disruptive world.
- Patricia Klarner, WU Vienna
The Strategy Process Interest Group focuses on how strategies are formed, implemented, and changed across group, functional, business, corporate, and network levels of analysis. Our world’s complex challenges accentuate the importance of social processes underlying strategic efforts within and across organizations in different sectors. We welcome contributions that examine the theoretical underpinnings of existing strategy process research. Equally, we look forward to receiving work that either questions or unifies current paradigms, theories, and frameworks. We also encourage submissions that contribute methodologically and/or theoretically to increasing our understanding of the formulation-implementation-outcome linkages of strategic processes. In addition to proposals related to the general domain of the Strategy Process Interest Group, we welcome submissions that examine strategy processes under disruption, addressing questions that include (but are not limited to): How can companies remain flexible in their strategies in increasingly uncertain times? How can they address short-term demands and changes as well as future opportunities in their strategy processes? How do executives’ and middle managers’ roles in strategy processes change under disruption? How can new technologies (such as machine learning approaches) support strategy formulation and implementation processes?
- Tobias Kretschmer, LMU Munich
In a disruptive world, firms will have to devote considerable time and effort to managing their knowledge. Disruption quickly makes existing knowledge obsolete and consequently places high demands on firms’ abilities to generate new knowledge consistently, often by recombining existing knowledge in novel ways. Thus, knowledge management strategies may change drastically in times of disruption, positing questions such as: Should firms (and individuals) try to codify knowledge quickly to protect it from obsolescence? Will emerging technologies and business models (e.g., AI, platforms) support or hinder the creation and retention of knowledge? Will disruptions cause knowledge to be created and stored individually, within the organization, or across organizational boundaries in the future? These questions also have implications for the role of innovation(s) in highly disruptive settings: If market and environmental conditions change constantly, should firms simply react to what happens (i.e., learn to innovate quickly but incrementally to adjust to the changing surroundings) or should they attempt to proactively trigger some of the disruptions shaping the environment? Which firms are best placed to trigger seismic innovative shifts: established firms or newcomers? Why? Are we finally entering an age of creative disruption with ever-changing industry leadership? We seek submissions that examine these and other pressing questions that will help explain and shape how firms manage their knowledge and innovation strategies in disruptive times.
- Eric Knight, Macquarie Business School
The Strategy Practice Interest Group is interested in how strategy making is enabled and constrained within organizations. Here, the focus is not only strategy actors, but also the actions and activities they undertake to “do” strategy. This perspective offers a powerful way to make sense of the growing digital disruption facing organizations. Digital technologies not only have the potential to change what strategy actors do, but also what they choose not to do, and the implications this has on strategic influence. We encourage submissions that contribute methodologically and/or theoretically to improve our understanding of strategy making in the moment. How do digital technologies get used in strategizing? How do these technologies shape actors’ perceptions of their environment? How are new advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics changing what it means to be a strategist? We seek contributions that not only advance scholarship, but also have the potential to impact real-world outcomes, for example, through enhanced managerial practice.
- Pinar Ozcan, University of Oxford
The theme of disruption is at the core of the research topics that interest members of the Entrepreneurship and Strategy Interest Group. In the last few decades, and particularly in the Internet era, many world-changing technologies—web publishing, file-sharing, virtual currencies, ride-hailing—have raised new legal and regulatory questions. Digital technologies can be disruptive, field-changing innovations that radically alter the rules of the game and force existing market players and institutional actors to deal with the unknown. New entrants with digital technologies introduce significant divergences from incumbents in the way that they create, deliver, and capture value and, therefore, have the potential to disrupt incumbents with radical new business models. The Entrepreneurship and Strategy Interest Group welcomes submissions that engage with this year’s conference theme, addressing questions that include (but are not limited to): How do entrepreneurs with disruptive business models enter the market? What are the advantages and disadvantages of different market entry paths? What are the regulatory challenges and nonmarket strategies involved with entering a market with a disruptive technology? How do different technologies (e.g., AI, blockchain) change the way new entrants and incumbents compete? What are the implications for industry boundaries? How can entrepreneurs use new technologies for social good?
- Anthony Nyberg, University of South Carolina
The Strategic Human Capital Interest Group welcomes submissions on the influence of human capital resources (HCR) on firm performance. HCR are individual- or unit-level capacities based on individual knowledge, skills, abilities, and other attributes that are accessible for unit-relevant purposes. Thus, it is concerned with how firms leverage HCR to achieve competitive parity and advantage. In concert with the conference theme, we are particularly interested in research addressing such questions as: How is the coordination and management of strategic HCR changing in this new environment? Or is it? How are technological, societal, and institutional disruptions affecting or being affected by human capital mobility? How are employment disruptions affecting and being affected by changes in the way employees are compensated? Is the digital revolution affecting the relationship between employee and employer value creation and capture? Does the digital revolution impact how HCR are acquired and leveraged? How are disruptions changing the relationship between human and social capital, and what do such changes mean for competitive advantage? How will the digital revolution change organizational culture, and how will that affect competitiveness? In the digital revolution, how can talent analytics be used to leverage HCR to alter competitive balance in the marketplace?
- Timothy Werner, University of Texas at Austin
The Stakeholder Strategy Interest Group focuses on understanding when, why, and how firms engage with their myriad stakeholders. These interactions can be direct or indirect and can be initiated by the stakeholders, the firm, or external events. Recent and forthcoming waves of disruption raise critical issues for stakeholder management, as these disruptions will differentially impact both internal and external stakeholders, as well as the place of different businesses in the larger sociopolitical environment. These changes will, thus, raise questions of profound strategic and normative consequence for managers, as they will create new market opportunities and challenges for firms to navigate, new public policy problems for governments and nonprofits to address, and new issues of ethics and social responsibility that may affect relationships between external activists and organizations. With the goal of contributing to our understanding of how stakeholder strategies create value, we invite both theoretical and empirical submissions that explore how these macro trends are affecting—and will continue to affect—the formulation and implementation of stakeholder strategies, as well as the outcomes of these strategies, at various levels of analysis, including the individual, firm, and society.
- Olga Bruyaka, West Virginia University
Research in the Cooperative Strategies Interest Group addresses how individuals, groups, and organizations come together toward common goals and the impact of these collaborative efforts on outcomes at multiple levels. We welcome proposal submissions related to the general domain of the Cooperative Strategies Interest Group. We also encourage submissions that focus on the role of cooperative strategies in coping with or initiating disruptive changes. What are novel theoretical perspectives and counterintuitive findings that help us better understand how organizations initiate and/or adapt to disruptive changes as well as anticipate and prepare themselves for the next wave of disruption? How can advancements in technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, synthetic biology, etc., help expand our understanding of collaborative relations? How do firms orchestrate and manage relationships with ecosystem partners to lead and survive disruption? What factors can disrupt cooperative relations? What makes cooperative relationships resilient? What is the economic and social impact of cooperative strategies in industries that require disruptive changes to address mounting social issues?
- Mike Mannor, University of Notre Dame
Strategic leadership provides a calm and considered guiding force for organizations that face a wide range of challenges and opportunities. Such leadership becomes paramount when organizations face new and unpredictable disruptions or uncertainties that destabilize advantages, undermine capabilities, and elevate new business models. Further, such changes can also undercut corporate governance efforts, as changing social conventions and institutional environments create new agency risks. With these forces in mind, the Strategic Leadership and Governance track invites proposals that take aim at these and related challenges, to better understand effective leadership and governance in a changing world. Potential research questions might examine the effectiveness of executive leadership strategies in response to disruptions or study how corporate leaders can buffer employees and stakeholders from evolving uncertainties. How should governance react to changing work styles and industry boundaries in setting executive pay and performance goals and in overseeing managerial behavior?These are just a few of the myriad possibilities as leaders pivot to a new and more disruptive age.
- Stefano Brusoni, ETH Zurich
Research in the Behavioral Strategy Interest Group addresses how psychology insights can inform the theory and practice of strategic management. Scholars in the Interest Group draw on insights on decision heuristics and biases, risk-taking, cognitive schema, advances in motivational psychology, learning anomalies, and studies of executive narcissism and hubris. Behavioral strategy is highly pertinent to this year’s conference theme, as the theme directs attention to strategy in a disruptive world, characterized by the blurring of organizational boundaries and the emergence of new forms of ecosystems and new tools of strategy analysis, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and machine learning. Strategizing in this disruptive business world requires executives and organizations to develop new cognitive frames and psychological capabilities and new people-focused structures and cultures. Along with proposals related to the general domain of the Behavioral Strategy Interest Group, we encourage submissions that offer theory and evidence regarding the factors that make strategies more or less cognitively salient and how companies may establish the cognitive and motivational conditions that allow firms to thrive in this disruptive business world. Do we need to broaden our theories or develop new ones altogether? What relevant research can help us here? How can scholars help managers better understand these issues and vice versa?
- Asli Musaoglu Arikan, Kent State University
We welcome proposals that address all methodological challenges faced when investigating phenomena or testing various theories under the canopy of strategic management. We encourage submissions that showcase best practices of methodological approaches, create/analyze unique datasets, utilize multi-method or multilevel approaches, explain new advancements or problems in commonly used methods, and cross-pollinate/adopt new methods from other disciplines, although these proposals might not directly tackle a methodological topic. We welcome symposia proposals that combine different (same) methodological approaches to address various aspects of a common topic (different topics). Additionally, the conference theme draws attention to methodologies for studying various aspects of disruption: (1) emergence/consequence (e.g., difference-in-differences, switching regimes, stochastic frontier, counterfactual, extreme event); (2) cognition (e.g., new survey instruments, case-based experiments, methods that integrate neuroscience); (3) process (e.g., time series and panel data analysis, ethnographic studies, historical analysis methods, critical discourse analysis); and (4) use/reliability/robustness of forecasting methods (e.g., simulations, replications). The Research Methods Community seeks proposals in the above-listed and other related topics as well as both qualitative and quantitative methodologies applying deductive, abductive, or exploratory approaches that promise to advance strategy research practices in other ways.
- Myleen Leary, Montana State University
As strategy educators, we are tasked with the dual goals of developing our students’ knowledge of the field of strategy while also improving their ability to think strategically and implement strategic decisions in a variety of contexts. Are these two goals more challenging in a world that has and continues to change at a breathtaking pace? How do we prepare our students to compete in a business world that has changed in a way that is unprecedented in its speed and will continue to change in ways that we can only imagine? What pedagogical approaches support our students’ ability to succeed in a workplace that continues to evolve? In addition to considering the pedagogical approaches necessary to prepare students for a changing business world, we can also think beyond the classroom to consider how we deliver our graduate and undergraduate programs. Are disruptive changes best addressed through curricular changes or should the focus be on pedagogical adaptations? Is a traditional MBA program the appropriate format or should universities consider new approaches for delivering graduate degrees? At SMS’s 40th Annual Conference, we invite proposals that address these and other questions about teaching strategy at the graduate and undergraduate levels in a disruptive world.