Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

The Role of Socially Constructed Temporal Perspectives in the Emergence of Rapid-Growth Firms

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

The Role of Socially Constructed Temporal Perspectives in the Emergence of Rapid-Growth Firms

Article excerpt

How do firms that may not have existed six months ago, or that may have existed for 10 years and grown only slightly in that time, suddenly emerge as "rapid-growth firms"? Rapid growth (defined here as having a minimum average growth in sales of over 20% per annum for a five-year period), is one fascinating type of the emergence phenomenon (Gartner, Bird, & Starr, 1992) and emergence has been characterized as definitional to entrepreneurship (Katz & Gartner, 1988). The fact that firms that grow at rates in excess of 20% per year are believed to account for the majority of job creation in the U.S. economy (Birch, 1997) makes understanding such firms of both theoretical and practical importance. Yet little is known about whatever unique characteristics and processes these rapid-growth firms may possess.

This paper explores the enactment of time by top management team members in some firms that have sustained rapid growth and in some that have failed to do so. Time enactment by top management was chosen as a focal phenomenon since one of the most fascinating characteristics of rapid-growth firms is the accelerated pace at which they evolve relative to other firms that seem comparable, before the onset of growth, with regard to market characteristics and opportunities. It seems plausible that the management teams in firms that grow rapidly shape - that is, socially construct - perceptions of time shared by firm members in order to facilitate this high-velocity growth. This paper explores the notion that time is socially constructed within rapid-growth organizations, focussing on the characteristics of these temporal perspectives. It considers how temporal perspectives emerge and figure in the emergence of rapid growth.

The paper begins with a review of what is known about rapid-growth firms and about time as a socially constructed phenomenon, in order to situate the role that the enactment of particular temporal perspectives may play in rapid-growth firms. It then describes the qualitative methods used to study the phenomenon of enacted time in rapid-growth firms. The themes that emerge from data analysis are then discussed. Both the limitations and the implications of the study are outlined in the conclusion.


Much of the entrepreneurship literature is concerned with explaining the factors that make some firms more successful than others. A very small subset has focused selective attention on firms that are, judging by the velocity of their sales growth, abnormally successful (cf. Birch 1987). As Hambrick and Crozier (1985, p. 32) put it, "on first thought, it is hard to be very concerned about a company that is growing at over 50% per year." On second thought, there are multiple reasons why such firms deserve some consideration in their own right. First, understanding the factors involved with very rapid growth may contribute to our understanding of success in general. Second, as mentioned above, rapid-growth firms are often job creators, so ensuring that they prosper rather than stumble in a spectacular manner (as often happens; cf. Hambrick & Crozier, 1985) is of considerable economic importance. Third, as Gartner, Bird, and Starr (1992) note, one permutation of the entrepreneurial emergence phenomenon is to be found in rapid-growth firms; studying them may lead to a greater understanding of the generation of specific patterns of interlocked behavior that characterize ongoing organizations.

The studies of rapid-growth firms thus far reported in the literature have been more directed toward addressing the first and second of the three points above than toward addressing the third. That is, these studies have focused either on comparative predictors of marginal versus substantial growth (e.g. Cooper, Girocho-Gascon, & Woo, 1994) or on the unique problems rapid-growth firms face (e.g. Fombrum & Wally, 1989; Hambrick & Crozier, 1985; Kotter & Sathe, 1978; Willard, Krueger, & Feeser, 1992). …

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