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Article

Strategic Flexibility and Competitive Advantage  

Kathryn Rudie Harrigan

Concerns regarding strategic flexibility arose from companies’ need to survive excess capacity and flagging sales in the face of previously unforeseen competitive conditions. Strategic flexibility became an organizational mandate for coping with changing competitive conditions and managers learned to plan for inevitable restructurings. They learned to reposition assets and capabilities to suit their firms’ new strategic aspirations by overcoming barriers to change. Core rigidities flared up in the form of legacy costs, regulatory constraints, political animosity, and social resistance to adjusting firms’ strategic postures; managers learned that their firms’ past strategic choices could later become barriers to adapting corporate strategy. Managerial insights concerning how to modify firms’ resources changed the way in which they were subsequently regarded. Enterprises saw assets lose their relative productivity and value as mastery of specific knowledge become less germane to success. Managers recognized that their firms’ capabilities were mismatched to market or value-chain relationships. They struggled to adapt by overcoming barriers to change. Flexibility problems were inevitable. Even if competitive conditions were not impacted by exogenous change forces, sustaining advantage in a steady-state competitive arena became difficult; sustaining advantage in dynamic arenas became nearly impossible. Confronted with the difficulties of changing strategic postures, market orientations, and overall cost competitiveness, managers embraced the need to combat organizational rigidity in all aspects of their firms’ operations. Strategic flexibility affected enterprise assets, capabilities, and potential relationships with other parties within firms’ value-creating ecosystems; the need for strategic flexibility influenced investment choices made to escape organizational rigidity, capability traps and other forms of previously unrecognized resource inflexibility. Where entry barriers once protected a firm’s strategic posture, flexibility issues arose when the need for endogenous changes occurred. The temporary protection afforded by imitation barriers slowed an organization’s responsiveness to changing its strategy imperatives—making the firm rigid when adaptiveness was needed instead. A firm’s own inertia to change sometimes created mobility barriers that had to be overcome when hypercompetitive conditions arose in their traditional market arenas and forced firms to change how they competed. Where exogenous changes drove competitive conditions to become more volatile, attainment of strategic flexibility mandated the need to downsize the scope of a firm’s activities, shut down facilities, prune product lines, reduce headcount, and eliminate redundancies—as typically occurred during an organizational turnaround—while simultaneously increasing the scope of external activities performed by an enterprise’s value-adding network of suppliers, distributors, value-added resellers, complementors, and alliance partners, among others. Such structural value-chain changes typically exacerbated pressures on the firm’s internal organization to search more broadly for value-adding innovations to renew products and processes to keep up with the accelerated pace of industry change. Exploratory processes of self-renewal forced confrontations with mobility or exit barriers that were long tolerated by firms in order to avoid coping with the painful process of their ultimate elimination. The sometimes surprising efforts by firms to avoid inflexibility included changes in the nature of firms’ asset investments, value-chain relationships, and human-resource practices. Strategic flexibility concerns often trumped the traditional strengths accorded to resource-based strategies.

Article

From Absorptive Capacity in International Business to Strategic Flexibility of Multinational Corporations  

Carine Peeters

Both the absorptive capacity (AC) and international business (IB) literatures are interested in knowledge processes and learning in organizations. Although originating from different streams of research, AC and IB were thus meant to meet and reinforce each other. Fundamentally, the role of AC in IB is to condition the performance outcome of firms’ internationalization efforts. Firms benefit from their IB activities conditional on being able to absorb new knowledge and learn. In other words, multinational corporations (MNCs) need to have the necessary AC to overcome their liabilities of foreignness and outsidership. Short of AC, the costs and challenges of entering foreign markets and operating across countries are likely to outweigh potential performance gains. Moreover, AC plays a role in the technological upgrade and economic development of nations, as it helps firms in emerging economies to benefit from spillovers of foreign direct investments by MNCs from more economically advanced economies. And national governments can play an important role to facilitate this effect by developing appropriate economic and innovation policies that support knowledge creation and learning. Firms can also proactively develop AC. For instance, MNCs can nurture a broad knowledge base that can be leveraged in different contexts and opt for a decentralized structure with mechanisms that help subsidiaries access the knowledge base of the parent organization. They can also practice specific routines to identify and access relevant knowledge from their external environment, transfer that knowledge in their organization, and assimilate it in their own knowledge creation processes. Moreover, MNCs can adopt human resources management practices that help raise the capacity and motivation of their employees to acquire and exploit new knowledge. Ultimately, the most important contribution of AC in IB might be to help MNCs develop the strategic flexibility that enables them to thrive in dynamic environments. High-AC MNCs may indeed be in a better position than other firms to (a) build diverse options to prepare for uncertain evolutions in the market, (b) access flexible resources to allocate to new courses of actions, and (c) redeploy resources across options over time. Unpacking the exact mechanisms as well as boundary conditions for the role of AC in building strategic flexibility offers ample opportunities for future research on a highly relevant topic for MNCs.

Article

Biodiversity Metrics in Lifespan Developmental Methodology  

Lizbeth Benson and Nilam Ram

In ecological sciences, biodiversity is the dispersion of organisms across species and is used to describe the complexity of systems where species interact with each other and the environment. Some argue that biodiversity is important to cultivate and maintain because higher levels are indicative of health and resilience of the ecosystem. Because each species performs functional roles, more diverse ecosystems have greater capability to respond, maintain function, resist damage, and recover quickly from perturbations or disruptions. In the behavioral sciences, diversity-type constructs and metrics are being defined and operationalized across a variety of functional domains (socioemotional, self, cognitive, activities and environment, stress, and biological). Emodiversity, for instance, is the dispersion of an individual’s emotion experiences across emotion types (e.g., happy, anger, sad). Although not always explicitly labeled as such, many core propositions in lifespan developmental theory—such as differentiation, dedifferentiation, and integration—imply intraindividual change in diversity and/or interindividual differences in diversity. For example, socioemotional theories of aging suggest that as individuals get older, they increasingly self-select into more positive valence and low arousal emotion inducing experiences, which might suggest that diversity in positive and low arousal emotion experiences increases with age. When conceptualizing and studying diversity, important considerations include that diversity (a) provides a holistic representation of human systems, (b) differs in direction, interpretation, and linkages to other constructs such as health (c) exists at multiple scales, (d) is context-specific, and (e) is flexible to many study designs and data types. Additionally, there are also a variety of methodological considerations in study of diversity-type constructs including nuances pertaining theory-driven or data-driven approaches to choosing a metric. The relevance of diversity to a broad range of phenomena and the utility of biodiversity metrics for quantifying dispersion across categories in multivariate and/or repeated measures data suggests further use of biodiversity conceptualizations and methods in studies of lifespan development.

Article

Twenty-First-Century Learning Spaces and Pedagogical Change  

Jill Colton

Twenty-first-century learning spaces are designed to enable students to develop the skills and dispositions required for uncertain and transformed futures. They are characterized by flexibility and openness, with architectural and technological features that allow for variable arrangements and digitally enhanced learning. Flexibility is achieved through the provision of features such as sliding doors, moveable furniture, open spaces, and smaller breakout rooms, which may be used by teachers and students in different ways. The flexibility and openness of these spaces are considered to enhance the collaborative, self-directed and inquiry- or project-based learning that are regarded as crucial for an education that prepares students for work and citizenship in the 21st century. The integration of networked digital tools and applications is a key aspect of 21st-century learning spaces and of the pedagogical changes that shape and are shaped by these spaces. Sociomaterial theoretical perspectives offer a way of interpreting and analyzing 21st-century learning spaces in relation to pedagogical change. The flexibility of these spaces is implicated in the flexibility of pedagogical approaches, and the opportunities for movement and varied arrangements in physical and digital spaces are correspondent with the self-managing, digitally literate learner. Links between learning spaces that are flexible, open, and digitally networked and the pedagogies enacted in those spaces have been the subject of empirical studies in Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, Scandinavia, the United States, and New Zealand. These studies illustrate the importance of considering theoretical perspectives in research that investigates pedagogical change and learning space design.

Article

Learning Identity, Flexibility, and Lifelong Experiential Learning  

Mai P. Trinh

The world is changing faster than ever before. Recent advances in technology are constantly making old knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) obsolete while also creating new KSAs and increasing the demand for jobs that have never existed before. These advances place tremendous pressure on people to learn, adapt, and innovate in order to keep up with these changes. Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) has been widely and effectively applied in various settings in the last four decades. This theory posits that learning is a proactive process, coming from the holistic integration of all learning modes in the human being: experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting. Learners must own and drive this process, because ownership of their own experiential learning process empowers learners to do far more than an external person—whether a parent, a teacher, or a friend—can accomplish. More than just a way to learn, experiential learning is a way of being and living that permeates all aspects of a person’s life. Given the demands of the fast-changing world we live in, what do individuals need to do to make sure they stay ahead of the change curve, remain fit with the changing environment, survive, and thrive? At the individual level, a number of important competencies need to be developed, including learning identity and learning flexibility. At the system level, learning and education as a whole must be treated differently. Education should be an abductive process in which learners are taught to ask different types of questions and then connect new knowledge with their own personal experiences. The outcome of education, likewise, should be adaptive and developmental. Instead of promoting global learning outcomes that every student needs to achieve, educators need to hold each student individually responsible for incrementally knowing more than he or she previously knew, and teach students not only how to answer questions but also how to ask good questions to extract knowledge from future unknown circumstances. Helping students foster a learning identity and become lifelong learners are among the most important tasks of educators in today’s fast-changing world.

Article

The Indonesian Equivalency Program for Out-of-School Youth  

Ila Rosmilawati and Carol Reid

The global educational landscape is now focused on educational provision for all. Many countries in the Asia Pacific, including Indonesia, have moved outside the “box” of traditional schooling. In Indonesia, equivalency programs have been set up to accommodate children and youth who have previously been pushed out by the traditional system. The Indonesian Equivalency Program gives young people, especially those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds, the opportunity to reengage with schooling through an alternative pathway. Attending alternative schooling provides a “second chance” at education for these young people and flexible learning strategies. The Indonesia’s Equivalency Program includes Package A (primary school equivalent), Package B (junior secondary school equivalent), and Package C (senior secondary school equivalent). Flexible learning strategies are the foundation of the equivalency program to bring education to excluded children and youth. Many disadvantaged Indonesian youth discover their own authentic learning in this program. This educational program has made a difference by empowering young people and creating the opportunity for them to graduate from high school and achieve long-term economic benefits.

Article

Trade Agreements: Theoretical Foundations  

Mostafa Beshkar and Eric Bond

International trade agreements have played a significant role in the reduction of trade barriers that has taken place since the end of World War II. One objective of the theoretical literature on trade agreements is to address the question of why bilateral and multilateral trade agreements, rather than simple unilateral actions by individual countries, have been required to reduce trade barriers. The predominant explanation has been the terms of trade theory, which argues that unilateral tariff policies lead to a prisoner’s dilemma due to the negative effect of a country’s tariffs on its trading partners. Reciprocal tariff reductions through a trade agreement are required to obtain tariff reductions that improve on the noncooperative equilibrium. An alternative explanation, the commitment theory of trade agreements, focuses on the use of external enforcement under a trade agreement to discipline domestic politics. A second objective of the theoretical literature has been to understand the design of trade agreements. Insights from contract theory are used to study various flexibility mechanisms that are embodied in trade agreements. These mechanisms include contingent protection measures such as safeguards and antidumping, and unilateral flexibility through tariff overhang. The literature also addresses the enforcement of agreements in the absence of an external enforcement mechanism. The theories of the dispute settlement process of the WTO portray it as an institution with an informational role that facilitates the coordination among parties with incomplete information about the states of the world and the nature of the actions taken by each signatory. Finally, the literature examines whether the ability to form preferential trade agreements serves as a stumbling block or a building block to multilateral liberalization.

Article

Transcriptomic Architecture of Reproductive Plasticity  

Susan C. P. Renn and Nadia Aubin-Horth

Several species show diversity in reproductive patterns that result from phenotypic plasticity. This reproductive plasticity is found for example in mate choice, parental care, reproduction suppression, reproductive tactics, sex role, and sex reversal. Studying the genome-wide changes in transcription that are associated with these plastic phenotypes will help answer several questions, including those regarding which genes are expressed and where they are expressed when an individual is faced with a reproductive choice, as well as those regarding whether males and females have the same brain genomic signature when they express the same behaviors, or if they activate sex-specific molecular pathways to output similar behavioral responses. The comparative approach of studying transcription in a wide array of species allows us to uncover genes, pathways, and biological functions that are repeatedly co-opted (“genetic toolkit”) as well as those that are unique to a particular system (“genomic signature”). Additionally, by quantifying the transcriptome, a labile trait, using time series has the potential to uncover the causes and consequences of expressing one plastic phenotype or another. There are of course gaps in our knowledge of reproductive plasticity, but no shortage of possibilities for future directions.

Article

Adjectivalization in Morphology  

Petra Sleeman

Adjectivalization is the derivation of adjectives from a verb, a noun, an adjective, and occasionally from other parts of speech or from phrases. Cross-linguistically, adjectivalization seems to be less frequent than nominalization and verbalization. In most languages adjectivalization involves suffixation, but other adjectivalization devices, such as prefixation, reduplication or zero derivation, are also attested. Adjectivalization by means of suffixation has been studied in depth for English. As for other languages in which suffixation is used for adjectivalization, topics that have been studied for English are the types of suffixes used for adjectivalization, their productivity, their semantic contribution, the category of the base to which they attach, and their etymology. For English an etymological distinction between native suffixes and suffixes with a Romance, more specifically Latinate, origin can be made, related to their bound or non-bound character, the type of base to which they attach, and the prosody of the derived word. One of the major challenges to the idea of word-class changing derivation, in this case adjectivalization, comes from polyfunctional words. Participles may function both as verbs and as adjectives, which leads to the question how these complex forms are formally and semantically related. There are also derivational suffixes that are used for the formation of both adjectives and nouns. For these cases as well the formal and semantic relation has to be established. For several Western European languages a relation has been established, in the theoretical literature, between the polyfunctionality of adjectival/nominal suffixes and their influence on the prosody or the phonological properties of the root, due to their etymology. It seems that the dichotomy between two types of suffixes that is created in this way does not always occur and that there is also a mixed case.

Article

The Application of Real Option Approach in International Business Research  

Tailan Chi and Yan Huang

The real option theory (ROT), a theory on investment decision making under uncertainty, has been applied to analyzing a broad range of questions in international business (IB). In the face of uncertainty, any discretion that the managers of a multinational enterprise (MNE) have over the timing, scale, speed, and sequence of investing or using the firm’s resources, in the forms of physical or intellectual capital or managerial time and effort, can be a real option. Such options confer upon the managers the right, but not the obligation, to exploit the upside potential while limiting the downside risk. Uncertainty, irreversibility, and absence of immediate and complete preemption are three necessary conditions for a real option to create value. Uncertainty offers opportunities to gather more information in the future, and such information can help managers make better decisions or alter prior decisions for improvement. Irreversibility is defined as the proportion of the investment committed to a project that cannot be recouped if the project is abandoned. Preemption refers to the revocation of the decision-making discretion that nullifies the option. It is possible to distinguish seven types of real options that have been examined in IB studies: (a) option to defer, (b) option to abandon/exit, (c) option to exchange, (d) option to grow/scale up, (e) option to contract/scale down, (f) option to switch, and (g) compound options. These types of options are found to influence a firm’s international market-entry strategies (e.g., location, timing, scale, speed, and mode) and the configuration and organization of the firm’s geographically dispersed production network. ROT has also been integrated with other economic theories, such as transaction cost economics and resource-based view, to better understand these decisions. Although ROT assumes a strong form of rationality on the part of the decision maker, it is also possible to incorporate cognitive or cultural biases into the theory and give the theory’s analysis greater realism. ROT represents a theoretical approach that can be integrated with various economic and noneconomic theories. More work in such theoretical integration can potentially help researchers gain deeper or more complete understandings of IB questions. Extant studies in IB typically analyze only a single type of option in isolation. But the global production network of a MNE typically has a portfolio of different types of options embedded, and the different types of options inevitably interact. The study of interactions among two or more types of options under different sources of uncertainty is likely to yield new insights on the strategy and organization of the MNE.

Article

Occupational Health Psychology  

Sharon Clarke

Occupational health psychology is concerned with improving the quality of work life and protecting and promoting the safety, health, and well-being of workers. Research and theoretical development in this area of psychology has focused on a number of core areas, particularly the study of workplace stress, health and safety at work, workplace aggression and bullying, work–life balance, and impact of the organization of work on health and well-being, including flexible work and new technology. Researchers have devoted attention to understanding the causes and mechanisms linking work design and organizational factors to health, safety, and well-being in the workplace, as well as developing interventions to improve work conditions and promote well-being. While much of this work has focused on alleviating negative effects (e.g., preventing disease and injury and reducing stress symptoms), positive psychology has influenced researchers to examine motivating effects that create the conditions for personal growth and learning (e.g., job crafting, thriving at work, and work engagement).

Article

The Diverging Theory and Practice of International Law  

Leslie Johns

Existing theories of international law are largely state-centric. While international cooperation can benefit all, states are often tempted to violate their promises in order to manage economic and political crises. States must accordingly balance enforcement against flexibility: legal institutions must provide enough enforcement that states comply most of the time yet also provide enough flexibility that states can violate during crises. Such a balance is possible when laws are crafted and enforced by unitary actors that will tolerate occasional violations by others in order to preserve their own right to occasionally violate. However, the changing doctrine of sovereign immunity has dramatically transformed the actual practice of international law. Non-state actors and domestic courts play an increasingly important role in challenging state legal violations, generating a divergence between the theory and practice of contemporary international law. This divergence is apparent in many issue areas, including terrorism, human rights, sovereign debt, and foreign investment. This divergence suggests that political scientists and legal scholars must reconsider the limits of state-centric theories and examine the role of non-state actors and domestic courts.

Article

Product and Innovation Portfolio Management  

Vinícius Chagas Brasil and J.P. Eggers

In competitive strategy, firms manage two primary (non-financial) portfolios—the product portfolio and the innovation portfolio. Portfolio management involves resource allocation to balance the important tradeoff of risk reduction and upside maximization, with important decisions around the evaluation, prioritization and selection of products and innovation projects. These two portfolios are interdependent in ways that create reinforcing dynamics—the innovation portfolio is the array of potential future products, while the product portfolio both informs innovation strategy and provides inputs to future innovation efforts. Additionally, portfolio management processes operate at two levels, which is reflected in the literature's structure. The first is a micro lens which focuses on management frameworks to boost portfolio performance and success through project-level selection tools. This research has its roots in financial portfolio management, relates closely to research on new product development and marketing product management, and explores the effects of portfolio management decisions on other organizational functions (e.g., operations). The second lens is a macro lens on portfolio management research, which considers the portfolio as a whole and integrates key organizational and competitive concepts such as entry timing, portfolio management resource allocation regimes (e.g., real options reasoning), organizational experience, and the culling of products and projects. This literature aims to set portfolio management as higher level organizational decision-making capability that embodies the growth strategy of the organization. The organizational ability to manage both the product and innovation portfolios connects portfolio management to key strategic organizational capabilities, including ambidexterity and dynamic capabilities, and operationalizes strategic flexibility. We therefore view portfolio management as a source of competitive advantage that supports organizational renewal.

Article

Human Needs: Work and Employment  

Susan J. Lambert

This entry traces the development of both theory and empirical knowledge on the relationship between work and mental and physical health. Intrinsic job characteristics continue to shape the extent to which workers find meaning in what they do, and theories of stress and social roles continue to guide research. The field now includes investigations of how work affects personal life and theories that recognize the beneficial health effects of well-designed jobs. Social workers are advised that lower-level jobs come up short on all the positive qualities of employment covered in this entry, placing their workers' mental and physical health at risk.