A Hegelian Dialogue on the Micro-Foundations of Organizational Routines and Capabilities

Sidney Winter, Management, The Wharton School; Nicolai Foss, Copenhagen Business School; Koen Heimeriks, Warwick Business School; and Maurizio Zollo, Bocconi University

Abstract: This paper aims to further the alignment among different theoretical approaches and future scholarship on the complex themes related to the micro-foundational processes characterizing the emergence and development of organizational routines and capabilities. It has been constructed with a typical Hegelian structure represented by a thesis, an antithesis and an attempt of a synthesis, each presented by different scholars, primed by a common set of questions related to the role of individual actors in shaping organizational change processes. The dialogue is introduced by Koen Heimeriks, followed by Sidney Winter proposing the ‘thesis’ for an evolutionary perspective on the problem, and an ‘antithesis’ is offered by Nicolai Foss with a number of critical points made from different economics and social science perspectives. Finally, Maurizio Zollo offers an attempt of a synthesis between the two positions with some proposals for conceptual and empirical advancement. The dialogue points to a convergence on the usefulness of evolutionary theory as a theoretical lens, but also on the need to add to the central notion of routinized behavior, other stable organizational traits of evolutionary relevance, such as the cognitive, motivational and identity-based antecedents to behavior, as well as key dimensions of intentionality and consciousness of change, which have been so far given either implicit or axiomatic roles. An overarching model of firm evolution that includes these micro-level factors in the context of more collective-level dynamics might help forging collaborative work across different schools of thought, as well as bridging the two levels of analysis in a way that is both theoretically well-grounded and empirically testable.

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