Call for Proposals

Call for Proposals: Unconventional Strategies for Emerging Complexity and Intensifying Diversity

As industries converge and global competition intensifies, firms face increasingly complex and diverse environments. Some firms are adopting unconventional strategies to address or take advantage of these challenges. General Electric (GE), for example, in its “Reverse Innovation” model, is using China and India as innovation bases to develop new products that may be used in the United States and other developed countries. SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk who also founded Tesla Motors, has been making steady and surprising progress in the aerospace industry, which has historically been dominated by the government and its long-term contractors.

Not only are business environments changing, but workforces and senior leaders of firms are evolving as well. Immigrants moving from Latin America to the United States and those moving from the Middle East to Europe are significantly increasing diversity in key economic centers. In addition, women and ethnic minorities are making progress in moving up corporate ladders and joining executive suites and boardrooms in many parts of the world. How this intensification of diversity will shape and be shaped by firm strategies remains an ongoing and important issue.

The theme for the 2017 SMS Annual Conference, “Unconventional Strategies for Emerging Complexity and Intensifying Diversity,” embraces these challenges and the types of unconventional (i.e., unusual, avant-garde, exceptional, against-the-grain) strategies that might be used to address them. The theme tracks highlight unconventional strategies on key topics. We call for proposals that will help firms and managers identify and make sense of strategies that might have important implications for emerging complexity and intensifying diversity.

Houston is a great location for management scholars to meet and discuss “Unconventional Strategies.” Houston is anything but simple or conventional. Once a backwater swamp, it now is a diverse and international city. Forbes recently called Houston “America’s next great global city and capital of the Third Coast.” Houston has succeeded because it dreams BIG. The dredged ship channel that reaches to the Gulf of Mexico is big. NASA is big. The Texas Medical Center is big. Houston is also successful because its many academic institutions have fueled the development of biomedical, energy, manufacturing and aerospace industries. Nonprofit leader Rhetta Detrich once said, “Houston. . .  is insanely entrepreneurial and optimistic. It incubates the hell out of new ideas.”

Theme Tracks

Track Chair: Marc Gruber, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne

There was a time when innovation was a competitive advantage. Now, if firms do not innovate, they are essentially dead given the pace of technological and business-model change. Furthermore, cities and countries all over the globe currently seek to create innovation clusters, but historical investments by unconventional entrepreneurs and leaders serve as catalysts for future clusters and advanced and experimental innovation. Key geographic assets in the form of land, water, ports, rail, and air corridors can make for an attractive setting. Small decisions such as donated land, the formation of university partnerships, and licensing key technologies can spur creative thinking. Together, physical assets, creative decisions, and public-private partnerships can attract scientific talent and human capital and create the perfect milieu for cutting edge innovation and the flow of knowledge to and from companies, government entities, and academic institutions. Today, the competitive advantage of geographic clusters and cities increasingly becomes reinforcing and self-amplifying. When, though, do these forces tip and become self-reinforcing? How do atypical entrepreneurs, scientists, and leaders influence unconventional strategies? Which unconventional strategies related to innovation seem most useful?

Track Chair: Sucheta Nadkarni, University of Cambridge

How to deal effectively with institutional heterogeneity across countries, including differences in workforces, has been a major challenge for global firms. Further, as immigrants move from Latin America to the United States and those from the Middle East move to Europe, the domestic workforce for many global firms is becoming increasingly diverse. On the one hand, such intensifying diversity in the workforce represents challenges. On the other hand, internal corporate diversity may help firms create and adopt unconventional strategies for dealing with the increasing diversity and complexity of consumer markets. How do strategies differ across firms that have and do not have internally diverse workforces? Which strategies truly deserve the label unconventional and how useful are they? Similarly, for the executive suite, does emerging diversity in corporate leadership, especially the presence of women, create truly unconventional strategies? In addition, as more companies both voluntarily and in response to strong expectations, seek to add women and ethnic minorities to their leadership positions, how do they identify and choose among potential candidates? What are the unconventional approaches in this area?

Track Chair: Stephen Tallman, University of Richmond

Scholars, universities, think tanks, consultants and gurus all promote different criteria for identifying vibrant global cities. Across these criteria, however, a set of specific factors clearly emerge: 1) Large, robust economy, 2) High volume of international trade, 3) Concentration of corporate headquarters, 4) Deep foreign investment, 5) Large foreign-born population, 6) Substantial transportation infrastructure, 7) International research centers and 8) Well-established arts and culture scene (as summarized by the Greater Houston Partnership, May 2015). One urban consultant also suggests that a vibrant global city must be the focal point for one or more industries such that firms not connected to that location will see their expertise atrophy. The in- and out-flows of investment, ideas, technology, people, commodities, goods, and knowledge create a unique gateway as ports and airports become conduits to and from global markets. Together this makes exceptional strategies possible, both for the city and its businesses, where global ties shape a global city and a global city influences the world. How do we know when a city has the potential to become a global city? How do we keep a global city from being a victim of its success? How do global cities and flows affect consumer markets and capital markets?

Track Chair: Scott Turner, University of South Carolina

With increasing complexity and interconnectedness come new problems for firms and organizations. The historical separation between competitive strategy and social contribution is breaking down. Rather than treating social and environmental issues as expensive luxuries, many companies are now fusing social mission with competitive strategy. Indeed, a form of “new capitalism” is emerging where environmental and social performance is embedded in the competitive strategy of the firm. For a growing number of companies, competitive advantage is rooted in new capabilities such as eco-efficiency, stakeholder dialogue, clean technology, and poverty alleviation. Sustainable enterprise thus represents the potential for a new private sector-based approach to development that can create profitable businesses while also raising quality of life for the world's poor, increasing respect for cultural diversity, and conserving the ecological integrity of our planet for future generations. Making such a societal contribution while simultaneously creating shareholder value takes real imagination and an unconventional approach to business strategy. Sustainable, stakeholder-based capitalism can help firms unleash new growth while simultaneously solving societal and environmental challenges. Unconventional strategies have the potential to create new platforms and business models to deal with this increasing complexity and interconnectedness.

Interest Group Tracks

Track Chair: Vikas Aggarwal, INSEAD

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, what is competitive advantage? How can firms build and maintain a competitive advantage in a changing world? What role do resources and capabilities play in shaping firms and industries over time and in different geographies? We call for contributions aimed at exploring the roles of firms in developing and implementing strategies that are both responsive to and proactive regarding the emerging complexity and intensifying diversity of the global marketplace. For example, how can firms leverage their global positions, tapping into diverse resources, capabilities, locations, and institutional structures, to create competitive advantage? How does increasing complexity impact the feasibility and performance of various firm strategies? Does the diversity of a firm’s customer base, or the complexity of their operations, result in unconventional strategies that underlay new competitive positions?

Track Chair: Caterina Moschieri, IE University

Research in the Corporate Strategy Interest Group addresses firm scope and boundary decisions, drawing on a range of theories and methods to examine the implementation of change in the firm’s portfolio of businesses through diversification, vertical integration, acquisitions, divestitures, and other decisions related to the firm’s strategies and organizational structure. Thus, the questions asked by corporate strategy scholars are central to this year’s conference theme of Unconventional Strategies in an increasingly complex world. Along with proposals related to the general domain of the Corporate Strategy Interest Group, we encourage submissions that develop theory and evidence regarding how firms grow through leveraging existing strategies or developing new ones to address old and new challenges; and how these processes inform our understanding of the growth and development of the field of strategic management. Proposals are desired that address questions such as: Are existing theories (e.g., TCE and RBT used to explain boundary decision) still valid in addressing corporate strategy issues? How does the increasing complexity of the business world affect corporate strategy? How can scholars help managers understand better and adapt to it?

Track Chair: Randi Lunnan, BI Norwegian Business School

The Global Strategy Interest Group welcomes submissions on organization and strategy operating in a global context. Global companies develop their strategies across geographical, national, and cultural distances, requiring attention to global coordination and complexity while securing local competitiveness. 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 organization, and location strategies. This year’s conference theme – Unconventional Strategies – is of particular relevance to global strategy scholars. Global firms are arguably best positioned to affect change – both positively and negatively – on a truly global sale. The conference theme inspires us to rethink comparative advantages across nations, and how global companies can develop strategies that explore these. Innovations change conventional industry boundaries, opening up new opportunities for global firms as they develop new strategies. Innovations also shape opportunities for new ways of global organizing to enable and implement changes. We welcome submissions that address questions such as: How do global firms develop and implement unconventional strategies successfully? Which global trends provide opportunities for unconventional strategies, and how do they impact the location, operation and coordination of global firms’ activities and capabilities?

Track Chair: Dries Faems, WHU Otto Beisheim School of Management

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. Given the conference theme, we are also interested in studies that delve into processes of how unconventional strategies emerge and how organizations can shift between conventional and unconventional strategies over time.

Track Chair: Lourdes Sosa, London School of Economics and Political Science

As renowned psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi highlighted: “If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity.” We encourage submissions that study the key role of knowledge and innovation as main drivers of complexity and key outcomes of diversity. More importantly, we hope to highlight knowledge and innovation as central elements of any successful managerial strategy to appropriately tackle these phenomena: What types of innovations create value for the growing diaspora of emerging economies that enhances our current diversity? When do firms benefit from matching external complexity with differentiated internal structures, and when do they see greater returns to managing knowledge with “simple rules?” Does organizational knowledge become less valuable as it becomes more contingent on complex interactions? Ultimately, we seek rigorous research about knowledge and innovation at the center of our understanding of diversity and complexity.

Track Chair: George Tovstiga, EDHEC Business School

The thematic scope of the Strategy Practice Interest Group encompasses all aspects relevant to the practice of strategy in real business environments, regardless of whether in the sense-making, formation or execution stages. This year’s conference theme - Unconventional Strategies for Emerging Complexity and Intensifying Diversity - is particularly relevant to the theme of the Strategy Practice Interest Group, given that complexity and diversity increasingly reflect the nature of real business contexts. These contexts, ambiguous, difficult and imperfectly understood though they might be, nonetheless, demand strategic decision-making in real time. So, how is strategic sense-making approached in ambiguous circumstances? How is strategy formulated in contexts that are at best imperfectly understood? How is strategy then executed in dynamic and difficult environments? The Strategy Practice Interest Group welcomes empirical and conceptual papers that explore these and other important questions that probe the relevance and impact of strategizing in the practice field. We are particularly keen to invite the contributions of practitioners of strategy to this year’s submission round.

Track Chair: Justin Webb, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Increasing complexity and diversity provide novel opportunities for entrepreneurial ventures that are constantly in search of new ways of creating value. A shifting business landscape is driven by broader changes such as the decreasing costs of information, availability of large datasets, transition to mobile platforms, an "on-demand" economy, artificial intelligence, social media-based business models, disintermediation, growing significance of “crowd funding,” relevance of environmental considerations, increasing importance of diverse groups of stakeholders, and an increasing focus on the distribution of wealth. Entrepreneurs need to recognize and respond to the external environment that is more complex, interconnected, dynamic and diverse. Novel environments may often require unconventional strategies. Submissions to the Entrepreneurship and Strategy Interest Group are encouraged along the lines consistent with the theme of the conference. Some of the questions that may address these matters include (but are not limited to): How do entrepreneurs respond to the increased complexity and diversity of the business landscape? When are conventional versus unconventional strategies needed? How should we develop further entrepreneurship theories to accommodate the shifts in the real world?

Track Chair: Thomas P. Moliterno, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Research in Strategic Human Capital examines human capital’s influence on firm performance. Human capital is necessarily central to any firm-level approach to managing complexity. The capacity of firms to attract, retain, and develop human capital is central to their ability to generate and sustain high performance in diverse and complex environments. Accordingly, we invite interdisciplinary research that addresses the following types of questions: What role does human capital mobility play in shaping firm outcomes? Why and how do competitive interactions in labor markets differ from competitive interactions in other strategic factor markets? How does firm action in these labor markets associate with environmental complexity? Scholarship that is interdisciplinary and/or spans multiple levels of analysis is especially welcomed.

Track Chair: Flore Bridoux, Erasmus University

In the Stakeholder Strategy Interest Group, we seek to understand the management of various and often conflicting demands on the firm by the many parties affecting and affected by the firm. Stakeholder strategy researchers often challenge and provoke shifts in the boundaries of strategic management. For example, the once unconventional idea that firms can aim to create value for stakeholders other than shareholders has now become a central topic in the strategy field. We can similarly challenge conventional wisdom in such topics as: the tension between value creation involving a plurality of stakeholders and the division of this value among stakeholders; the complexity of human nature and its effect on firm-stakeholder relationships; the ethics, duties, and norms associated with participating in developed and developing free markets; and the spillovers of firm actions on society. We warmly invite you to join in these conversations so that together we can advance our collective understanding of how managers – including those at private, public, and nonprofit institutions – contribute to creating value for stakeholders, the firm, and society at large.

Track Chair: Janet Bercovitz, University of Colorado, Boulder

The study of cooperative strategies seeks to extend our understanding of the key structures and processes that underpin cooperative arrangements as well as their impact on a variety of important outcomes at the group, organization, and cluster level. We welcome proposal submissions related to the general domain of the Cooperative Strategies Interest Group. The study of cooperative strategies can also draw from unconventional practice and real-world experiments as organizations cooperate with diverse actors to address complex challenges. We encourage submissions that address questions that are related to how cooperative strategies can help us to leverage diversity to foster innovation and win-win solutions: What are the unconventional models of cooperation between/among companies, non-governmental organizations, and government agencies at different jurisdictional levels that can help us develop vibrant and robust economies? How do these actors develop creative solutions when working across multiple domains and diverse logics? How can firms and non-commercial entities such as government and academic institutions share the outcomes of their cooperation? How do these cooperative dynamics lead to self-reinforcing growth at the network or geographical cluster level?

Track Chair: Cynthia E Devers, Virginia Tech

Strategic leaders are increasingly confronted by complex environments, situations, and problems. At the same time, pressures to enhance the diversity of their employees, operations, and strategic stakeholders are growing. Accordingly, a wide variety of important strategic leadership and governance research questions arise. For example, how do strategic leaders respond to the complexities they encounter and what results from these actions? What roles do strategic leaders play in shaping and managing organizational diversity? What forms of corporate oversight may enhance diversity or help firms exploit complexity? Do intensifying complexity and diversity stimulate the creation and adoption of unconventional strategies that may help firms better compete, particularly in global markets? Finally, how do various national and supranational cultural norms, institutions, and legal systems influence firms’ responses to complex and diverse environments? These are only a few examples of how strategic leadership and governance researchers can contribute both to the conference theme and the broader challenge of understanding how firms can operate more effectively, as our world continues to evolve.

Track Chair: Violina Rindova, University of Southern California

The theme calls for greater attention to the “mind of the strategist” and the information-gathering, interpretative, problem-solving, situation-framing, and choice processes through which firms develop unconventional strategies and navigate novel environments. The Behavioral Strategy Track encourages submissions that consider questions such as: What are the social and cognitive processes involved in the ideation, formulation, and implementation of unconventional strategies? What is the role of demographic, cognitive, and socio-cultural diversity in these processes? How are organizational forms and structures leveraged and altered through these processes and/or in support of these processes? What cognitive and emotional processes enable individuals, groups, and organizations to counteract conformity and inertia? How do strategists pursue and gain positive evaluations of unconventional strategies by stakeholder audiences? We welcome submissions from diverse theoretical and methodological traditions, including cognition and decision-making; biases and heuristics; mental models, frames, schema, and cognitive categories; reference points and risk-taking; managerial goals, expectations, and perceptions; emotions, motivations, personalities, and pathologies; the psychology of bargaining and organizational politics; individual and organizational learning; organizational routines; sense-making and sense-giving; and the social psychology of group decision-making.

Community Tracks

Track Chair: Karen Schnatterly, Virginia Tech

Strategy researchers face many challenges in leveraging research methods to make sense of an increasingly complex and interrelated world, and to understand and assess the strategies that firms and other entities adopt in response. This year's conference theme allows us to focus on new and unconventional methodological questions and approaches, as well as on the reassessment of existing tools, especially in their applications to unconventional strategies. How relevant are traditional measures of firm performance? How well do metrics used by researchers match those used by managers? What are emerging methodological tools and techniques that can shift the way we ask and answer questions? Finally, to understand, explain, and research changes in a complex world, we need to examine how our community can keep research methods relevant and current. While we seek proposals pertaining to the conference's theme, we welcome all those that open new perspectives on advancing research methods within the SMS.

Track Chair: Paulo Prochno, University of Maryland

Teaching strategy has never been conventional. Using inductive, case-based approaches since the early days of the field, strategy faculty for a long time have practiced some principles that recently became associated with the “flipped classroom” perspective. Yet, the current changes in the higher education environment are presenting new challenges for the traditional methods of teaching strategy. For example, translating the inductive, collective learning process that happens in the classroom into online or blended formats requires some significant changes in course design and delivery. Developing experiential learning becomes more complex when students are not able to meet frequently in person, and using the standard text-based case studies does not provide the lively interaction that students expect. These are just a few of the issues that strategy faculty faces when designing and delivering their courses. Following the Annual Conference theme of “Unconventional Strategies,” we would like to encourage submissions that bring fresh perspectives on teaching to explore different approaches and methods of creating engagement for undergraduates, MBAs, and executives.
Track Chairs:
Patricia Gorman, Goff Strategic Leadership Center
Markus Kreutzer, EBS University of Business and Law
Jorge Walter, George Washington University