The Utilization-Gap in Knowledge about the Design of Strategy-Formation Processes: Lessons from Research Methodology and the Philosophy of Science

By Hurtado, Pedro | Competition Forum, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Utilization-Gap in Knowledge about the Design of Strategy-Formation Processes: Lessons from Research Methodology and the Philosophy of Science


Hurtado, Pedro, Competition Forum


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This paper addresses the issue of balancing substantive theory-building with the need for validation, in relation to the practitioners' needs of guidelines for the design of the strategy-formation process. The issue is examined by analyzing strategy-formation as a special type of problem-solving process and by evaluating the adequacy of traditional logical-positivist research methods to gain substantive knowledge about strategy-formation. An expanded model of a problem-solving process is developed and is then used to map some of the approaches to strategy-formation, while highlighting the main ontological and epistemological assumptions of each approach. A discussion ensues that points to limitations of traditional positivist research methods, particularly in regards to substantive theory-building.

Keywords: Strategy-Formation, Utilization-Gap, Research Methodology, Philosophy of Science.

INTRODUCTION

The issue of the utilization-gap between the needs of practitioners and the type of rigorous research output required of academics has been discussed in the literature, both on a general level and in field-related levels. On a general level, it has been the subject of discussion in the philosophy of social science (Bunge 1998; Aken 2001). In the field of Strategic Management, it partly appears as the need for a synthesizing research approach that would integrate the traditional analytical research approach with the clinical or problem-solving research approach (Volberda & Elfring, 2001). In their book 'Rethinking Strategy', Volberda and Elfring point to the need for conceptual studies on defining or categorizing schools of thought in strategic management, as well as studies of various methodological perspectives in strategic management. This research is along those lines, while focusing on basic modeling of the practitioner's problem-solving orientation and a reflection of the adequacy of traditional research methods to address the utilization-gap in strategy-formation.

The paper addresses the issue of balancing substantive theory-building with the need for validation, in relation to the pragmatic problem of designing strategy-formation processes. The issue is examined by analyzing strategy-formation as a special type of problem-solving process, and by evaluating the adequacy of traditional positivist research methods to gain substantive knowledge about strategy-formation.

The analysis of the afore-mentioned issue will be conducted in four steps: (1) the conceptualization of a simple problemsolving process and its relation to the traditional positivist formulation of the scientific method, is presented, (2) an expanded model of a problem-solving process is developed and is then used to discuss some of the existing strategy-formation approaches, (3) a discussion ensues that points to limitations of traditional positivist research methods, and (4) implications are formulated for addressing the utilization-gap created by the conflict between the needs of practitioners (managers) and the needs for academic rigor.

As the first step in the analysis, the conceptualization of a simple problem-solving process and its relation to the traditional positivist formulation of the scientific method is presented. In metaphorical terms, the argument presented in this paper simulates a hypothetical dialog between the problem-solving oriented practitioner and the research scientist. The former is represented by a basic problem-solving process and the latter by the scientific method. This dialog focuses on what the professional needs of both the practitioners and the scientists are, as well as the type of research output the scientist can offer to the practitioner. There is a utilization-gap between what the practitioner needs and what the scientist can offer. The practitioner needs both insight into how to design a process that would lead to effective strategies (a strategy-formation process) as well as advice on substantive strategies to be followed. …

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