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Putting new wine in old bottles Putting new wine in old bottles Document Transcript

  • The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0025-1747.htm New wine intoPutting new wine into old bottles old bottlesMindfulness as a micro-foundation of dynamic capabilities ¨ Christian Gartner 253 Department of Economics and Social Sciences, Helmut Schmidt University, Hamburg, GermanyAbstractPurpose – This paper seeks to provide a critical review of the theoretical conception and practicalimplications of the notion of mindfulness (introduced to organization theory by Karl Weick andcolleagues). As this concept aims at clarifying the mechanisms of knowledge creation and knowledgere-configuration, the notion of mindfulness is used and refined to contribute to explaining some of themicro-foundations of dynamic capabilities. Thus, the paper aims to show how putting “new wine”(mindfulness) into “old bottles” (dynamic capabilities) can add to the clarification of the nature anddevelopment of dynamic capabilities.Design/methodology/approach – The paper explores and reviews the literature on mindfulness aswell as dynamic capabilities and engages in conceptual development based on this literature. Based onthis literature review, propositions are developed that regard mindfulness as a micro-foundation ofdynamic capabilities.Findings – It is shown that the literature neglects opportunistic behaviour, issues of power, andself-contradictory aspects of the principles for mindful organizing. It is argued that mindfulnessshould neither be understood as an attribute of an entity nor be simply contrasted with routine, butshould rather be depicted as a medium and outcome of social practices which involves enacting powerand drawing pre-reflectively on a background that is built up by routines. Five propositions describehow such a refined understanding of mindfulness can contribute to explaining the micro-foundationsof dynamic capabilities such as “sensing opportunities and threats”, “seizing opportunities”, and“reconfiguring a company’s assets”.Research limitations/implications – While there are apparent parallels between the notion ofmindfulness and the concept of dynamic capabilities, there are also some notable differences. Thediscussion of dynamic capability puts more emphasis on routines that introduce instability andambiguity rather than coping with (externally posed) the unexpected. As a consequence, thepropositions regarding the relation between mindfulness and dynamic capabilities should be furtherelaborated and validated or refuted empirically.Originality/value – First, the paper delineates the limits of (organizing for) mindfulness which hasbeen applied quite uncritically by organization scholars. Second, it derives five propositions thathighlight previously neglected mechanisms of how dynamic capabilities develop, therefore adding toone’s understanding of the micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities.Keywords Organizational theory, Critical thinkingPaper type Conceptual paper “Good management of the unexpected is mindful management” (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007, p. 17).1. In search of the constantly enhancing organizationResponses to the question “How do companies in fast-moving business environments Management Decision Vol. 49 No. 2, 2011achieve the capacity for continuous reconfiguration?” are manifold and propose things pp. 253-269like the implementation of “dynamic capabilities”, “a resilient organization”, “a q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0025-1747learning organization”, or “mindful management”. Despite the differences in detail all DOI 10.1108/00251741111109142
  • MD of these concepts refer to constantly enhancing a company’s action repertoire,49,2 especially in circumstances of unexpected change. Hence, the relevant questions for organization research and management are: how do organizations manage to act flexible and how do they enhance their knowledge base in order to create a sustained competitive advantage? If the “how” is addressed, research is directed to the micro-foundations (skills, processes, procedures, rules) that generate such qualities254 that emerge on an organizational level (Gavetti, 2005; Teece, 2007; Ambrosini and Bowman, 2009). Enquiries into dynamic capabilities have only recently begun to explore the micro-foundations of a dynamic capability (Zollo and Winter, 2002; Gavetti, 2005; Teece, 2007; Hodgkinson and Healey, 2009). This paper will show what mindfulness as a concept that discusses (managerial) cognition and its relation to knowledge creation and organizational learning can contribute to the understanding of how a company constantly enhances its capacity to act by developing dynamic capabilities. Although mindfulness has emerged as an important notion in organizational analyses (Weick et al., 1999; Fiol and O’Connor, 2003; Levinthal and Rerup, 2006; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006, 2007; Valorinta, 2009; Romme et al., 2010), there are only a few hints for exploring the linkages between mindfulness and organizational learning or dynamic capabilities: Weick (2001) mentions that the notion of an attitude of wisdom – which is quite similar to mindfulness – will be interesting for organizational learning and knowledge creation. In a similar vein, Zollo and Winter (2002) suggest to explore the link between organizational learning – in terms of the way individuals generate a set of ideas on how to approach old problems in novel ways or to tackle new challenges – and the mechanisms through which organizations develop dynamic capabilities. What they call the “cyclical evolution of organizational knowledge” resembles Weick’s ideas about how people cope with variations by making use of (in terms of an evolutionary theory: selection) existing routines (retention). However, while Zollo and Winter (2002, p. 343) assert that this process “may involve substantial creativity”, Weick’s (1979, pp. 224-8) argument was and still is (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006, 2007, p. 157) that it is not so much creativity, but remaining an ambivalence regarding the results of the retention process (knowledge in the form of retained experiences, existing cognitive maps, etc.) that is key to continuously adapting to changing conditions. Weick and Sutcliffe (2006) as well as Levinthal and Rerup (2006) have discussed the contribution of mindfulness to learning in the sense of encoding ambiguous stimuli in ways that match action repertoires with changed conditions. They sketch some of the building blocks for a framework of organizational learning that is based on mindfulness. However, they are rather concerned with defining mindfulness and its demarcation from mindlessness than with developing a theory or model of organizational learning, resilience and continuous adaption. Recently, Romme et al. (2010) have incorporated mindfulness in their simulation model and find that it positively effects the development of dynamic capabilities. However, they understand mindfulness rather as a communication style than as a specific cognitive activity that can be facilitated by certain ways of organizing. Besides these brief references there is no elaboration of the relation between mindfulness and dynamic capabilities. This paper aims at explicating this relation by using a refined notion of mindfulness to explain the micro-foundations of dynamic capabilities. In order to achieve such a description on a conceptual basis, the paper will
  • engage in exploring the literature on mindfulness and dynamic capabilities. With New wine intoreference to mindfulness the focus will be on a critical review of the use of the conceptby Weick and colleagues, because these scholars have provided seminal contributions old bottlesto the study of mindfulness in the area of management and organization theory. Withreference to dynamic capabilities this article will draw on Teece’s (2007) framework asit is the most comprehensive to date for analyzing the micro-foundations of capabilitiesdevelopment. The paper adds a critical review of mindfulness to the existing literature. 255The outcome of this critique is a refined conceptualization of mindfulness, an accountthat does not present mindfulness as having no dependencies with issues of power orconflicts of interests, or having no unintended consequences, or being the result of aconscious, cognitive process only. The central message of this article is that such arefined understanding can offer new insights into the development of dynamiccapabilities, because it clarifies mechanisms of knowledge creation and knowledgere-configuration. As a first step, it seems to be reasonable to explore such a conceptualclaim from a theoretical perspective and base it on a review of the existing literature.The remainder of the paper is structured as follows: section 2 discusses the concept ofmindfulness and its usage in organization studies. In section 3, the implications of theconcept for (thinking about) practices are outlined, followed by a discussion of thelimitations of (thinking about) mindful management and organizing in section 4.Section 5 provides propositions that relate the notions of mindfulness and dynamiccapabilities. Section 6 indicates conclusions and directions for future research.’2. The concept of mindfulnessThe concept’s roots lie within philosophy, medicine, medical psychology, and socialpsychology. Ellen Langer (1989, 1997), a psychologist, provided importantcontributions to the understanding of mindfulness. She argued that mindfulness isheterogeneous construct, yet a mindful approach to any activity includes threecharacteristics: (1) the continuous creation of new categories; (2) openness to new information; and (3) an implicit awareness of more than one perspective.The notion of mindfulness has been made popular by Weick and others. They adoptLanger’s definition of mindfulness and emphasize its usefulness for studies thataddress managing and organizing in the face of uncertainty in order to enhance anorganization’s resilience and enrich its action repertoire by learning and growing fromprevious episodes of resilient action (Weick et al., 1999; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006,2007). Mindfulness is defined as the “capability to induce a rich awareness ofdiscriminatory detail and a capacity for action”. Mindlessness is characterized byfewer cognitive processes, acting on “automatic pilot”, precluding attention to newinformation, relying on past categories, and fixating on a single perspective (Weicket al., 1999; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006). It has frequently been noted that categories (or concepts) play a crucial role both inorganization theory and in the discussion of mindfulness (Levinthal and Rerup, 2006;Weick, 2006; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006): whereas organizing is about institutionalizingspecific behavior by providing actors a set of cognitive categories and a typology ofaction options (Tsoukas, 2005, p. 124), mindfulness is about seeing the limits of a
  • MD category and of categorizing itself (Weick, 2006; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006). Seeing the49,2 limits is achieved by the simultaneity of knowing/belief and doubt, respectively, treating past experiences with ambivalence (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006, 2007). Obviously, although not made explicitly, they make reference to Weick’s (1979, pp. 224-8) previous ideas about how unforeseen vulnerabilities, unexpected leverage points, or details that foreshadow new consequences can be seen. This aspect is crucial256 because it specifies the relation between knowing, mindfulness, and enactment: If knowledge is understood as a cognitive function of the mind while its content is manifested in concepts/categories (Weick and Putnam, 2006) and if people tend to self-fulfilling prophecies in their enactments (Weick, 1979) as well as retrospective justifications (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007), then mindfulness is the only way to overcome cognitive distortions or inertia and enact changed or new ways of behavior. The quality and scope of the action repertoire is related to better and poorer concepts such as that better concepts sweep in more inter-connected details so that people know more fully what is happening (Weick and Putnam, 2006). Because of this capacity of introducing new concepts to existing ones, mindfulness is like constantly “putting some new wine into old bottles”, thereby enabling practitioners to reflect on and change the rules of performance they are entering into and socializing in. The above-mentioned qualities and functions are located at the level of individual experience, ranging from understanding mindfulness as a cognitive capability, a personality trait or cognitive style. Weick’s ontology is that organizational phenomena emerge out of interaction between individuals. Thus, mindfulness occurs on the level of individual cognition and action, but can be facilitated (or inhibited) by organizational structures and practices of organizing. Organizing for mindfulness is described as a “joint capability” of five principles that guide practice: (1) reluctance to simplify interpretations; (2) sensitivity to operations; (3) commitment to resilience; (4) under-specification of structure; and (5) preoccupation with failure (Weick et al., 1999). In later versions “underspecification of structure” has been replaced by “deference to expertise” (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006, 2007). In other words, organizing for mindfulness means that small failures have to be noticed (5) and that their distinctiveness has to be retained rather than lost in a category (1). If people want to notice such nuances they must remain aware of ongoing operations (2), be able to locate pathways to recovery (3), and attend to the expertise to implement those pathways (4) (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006). These five principles were initially derived from an analysis of the literature on high reliability organizations (HROs). HROs operate almost faultlessly in a fast-changing, complex, and unforeseeable environment, where the scale of consequences precludes learning through experimentation (Weick et al., 1999). Thus, mindfulness has been introduced to organization studies as a concept explaining error-free, reliable performance. It is only recently that mindfulness has been discussed in the area of adaptive learning (Eisenberg, 2006), and has been seen as crucial to pro-actively establishing a flexible range of behaviors (Fiol and O’Connor, 2003; Levinthal and
  • Rerup, 2006) or enhance a firm’s ability to innovate (Vogus and Welbourne, 2003). New wine intoWeick has pushed the idea in another direction by linking it with wisdom and the old bottlesability to focus attention on present details, without being dependent on categories,codes, or encoding processes (so called “nonconceptual mindfulness”; Weick andPutnam, 2006; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006). Although all of these studies still focus onhow mindfulness establishes reliability, they also try to show how mindfulorganizations remain open to change their existing action repertoire. However, the 257link between mindfulness and a company’s capability to re-configure its resource base– a definition of dynamic capabilities – has not been explicated on a conceptual levelso far. Instead, the studies make the implicit and unwarranted assumptions thatmindful individuals can directly change collective routines or that processes formindful organizing cause routine-changing behavior. These lines of argumentculminate in the imperative for practitioners: good management is mindfulmanagement (i.e. the more mindful your people and organizing processes are, thebetter). The following sections will critically examine these claims and clarify therelation between mindfulness and routines.3. Impact of “mindfulness” for (thinking about) management practicesFirst, theoretical implications are outlined; recommendations for managementpractices are described afterwards, while being aware that this is not acomprehensive list.3.1 Mindfulness as an aspect of managerial cognition and actionTheory building in the field of cognitive management studies, especially managerialcognition, refers to managerial information processing, beliefs, and mental models thatserve as a basis for decision making. It is argued that limits and biases regardingpeople’s perceptions and interpretations produce a definition of a situation that in turnform the basis for (managerial) decisions (Porac and Thomas, 2002). Cognitivedistortions and inappropriate mental maps are of special interest, because they maythwart change (e.g. Tripsas and Gavetti, 2000). More conceptually, Weick observes(1979, 2006; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007) basically three drivers that cause cognitivedistortions: (1) people tend to be subject to self-fulfilling prophecies; (2) simplifying complex phenomena; and (3) retrospective justification reducing cognitive dissonance.The limited capacity to attend to and process information results in a simplifiedperception of a problem. If there are beliefs or predictions about how an event isstructured or will turn out, self-fulfilling prophecies are likely, i.e. the prediction causesitself to become true. Part of this self-enforcing mechanism is the tendency to search forarguments or evidence confirming and justifying the choices made earlier(retrospective justification). This strategy can also be applied if people have to copewith two contradictory pieces of information, in order to reduce this cognitivedissonance. These drivers result in searching too narrowly, overlooking small eventsthat indicate negative trajectories, reinforcing traditional mental models, losing thevividness of awareness, not communicating and – as an outcome – limit anorganization’s capacity, because people rely on learned behavior and are committed to
  • MD an action (Weick, 1979; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006, 2007). The notion of mindfulness can49,2 be read as counteracting the drivers of cognitive distortions and the inertia of inappropriate cognitive structures because new categories/mental maps are created continuously. Mindfulness ensures openness to new information beyond the followed trajectory. This function is also enforced by being aware of more than one perspective during the course of action and yields a dynamic mechanism. Mindfulness as a258 knowledge context or a cognitive style of acquiring, sharing, and using knowledge is also a mode of creating (enacting) reality. By seeing the limits of a category and the limits of choosing specific categories the way decisions are made, or unexpected events, and anomalies are treated is becoming more flexible. Arguing for such a relation between mindfulness and enactment also means that all these organizational phenomena are not only (passively) perceived or discovered, but also (actively) constructed. Although managers are tempted to perpetuate old categories, they are not doomed to escalating commitment (Staw, 1981) and inertia. In contrast with some economic theories that assume bounded rationality while people perceive and process information and that people behave opportunistically (Williamson, 1985), Weick’s view of cognition and behavior in organizations is quite positive, which is reflected by words such as “mindfulness”, “resilience”, “expertise”, “respect”, “wisdom”, “reflection”, “thriving”, “updating” (Weick, 2003). In his writings, people appear to be the main – and sometimes only – resource that is capable of for with information overload, ambiguity, complexity, and unexpected events. And they do so not for the sake of their own interest, but in order to keep things going on, even in the face of “the unexpected”, breakdown or equivocality. The fact that they sometimes make wrong decisions or fail is neither caused by “self interest seeking with guile” nor by “calculated efforts to mislead, distort, disguise, obfuscate, or otherwise confuse” (Williamson, 1985, p. 47). In Weick’s analyses wrong decisions and failures are caused by the ongoing flux of (organizational) life that cannot be captured by plans or rational, mental calculation: mistakes and fallibility are inevitable in organizing (Weick, 2003). 3.2 Implications for practices of managing and organizing Following Weick’s discussion, the implications on management practices are quite different from those suggested by traditional management models that are based on economic theories (like transaction cost or principal agent theory): it is not personal interests, (formal) roles and responsibilities, or goals that determine the course of action, but it is what experts know and how they can contribute to solving the challenge at hand. Expertise is more respected than what the hierarchy, authority, plans or goals prescribe (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007, p. 148). If mindfulness is established, people do not need to be monitored permanently because respectful and trustful interactions are the norm, and there will hardly be a mismatch between a manager’s interests or goals and those of shareholders or employees because the latter work hard in order to enhance the organization’s capacity to act. Consequently, they reject rational choice theorems that result in management practices such as stating a strategy and goals in the first place and elaborating on plans whose application is monitored within hierarchical settings afterwards (Weick et al., 1999; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007). Moreover, planning can do more harm than good because it unwarrantedly simplifies the complexity of organizational challenges, enforces the generation of specific expectations that lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, narrow what
  • is noticed and limit the repertoire of possible actions especially in the face of novel or New wine intounexpected events (Weick, 1979; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007). Instead of planning, old bottlescategorizing, and prescribing what people should do (via rules, processes, IT-basedprocedures, etc.) the implications drawn from Weick’s writing direct to a form of ad hocstructuring that aims at facilitating respectful communication between knowledgeableexperts (for positive as well as negative impacts of information technology onmindfulness, see Valorinta, 2009). 259 Putting the five principles for mindful organizing into practice is not easy since, itasks for counterintuitive behavior (e.g. pay attention to failures not successes; getbetter at being reactive rather than proactive or improving plans). In addition, anorganizational culture must be established where reporting of failures is withoutblaming individuals is fostered, where values defer to expertise in order to enablechange, and where learning is part of its institutionalization (Weick and Sutcliffe,2007). Yet, there are some frugal tools for auditing how well an organization hasalready implemented the five principles and for further enhancing the capability ofmindfulness. For example, a nine-item-questionnaire addresses how strong a firm’smindful organizing practices are by asking respondents to evaluate assertions like “Wetalk about mistakes and ways to learn” or “We discuss our unique skills with eachother so that we know who has relevant specialized skills and knowledge” (Weick andSutcliffe, 2007, p. 103). These questionnaires for auditing are accompanied withrecommendations for small wins in mindful organizing, e.g. the advice to implement abriefing protocol called STICC (for “situation”, “task”, “intent”, “concern”, “calibrate”)as it is known from models of naturalistic decision making. Its major benefit is stepfour, which asks people to think about and watch out for small events, failures,anomalies or, in general, details that would change the situation, thus requesting tochange expectations (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2007, p. 156). However, besides anecdotalevidence and case studies, there is no empirical evidence about the effect of these tools. A different approach to putting the five principles into action was provided byVogus and Welbourne (2003), who examined the impact of certain HR practices onthe establishment of the principles. For example, the use of skilled temporaryemployees will create divergent ideas and a reluctance to simplify interpretations.Positive employee relations will create a climate that facilitates intensive ongoingcommunication and sensitivity to operations, and an emphasis on training valuesrecovery skills and resilience and builds the competence to enable them. Vogus andWelbourne (2003) find that firms that utilized these human resource practicesinnovated more frequently, and firms with more innovations had higher stock pricesover time. However, they admit that they did not test principles of mindfulness, butonly hypothesize and test the direct relationship between HR practices andinnovation (Vogus and Welbourne, 2003). Thus, it is not clear at all whether theyreally captured the management practices that establish the principles for mindfulorganizing.4. Limitations of (thinking about) mindful management and organizingSo far, the concept of mindfulness has been used by organization research in anon-critical way. If it is discussed critically, then the line of argument is about the costsof mindfulness: opportunity costs of invested cognitive capacity that cannot beinvested elsewhere and the costs of not using established routines more mindlessly
  • MD (Rerup, 2005; Levinthal and Rerup, 2006). Yet, there are more limitations regarding the49,2 theoretical and practical implications and they are in conflict with the positive view of mindfulness as it is presented by Weick and others. 4.1 Emphasis on positive effects neglects opportunistic behavior and issues of power The notion of mindfulness is biased with a positive and optimistic stance. It is argued260 that a refinement of concepts, acquisition of more details, and the treatment of no news as news (thus: information) increase mindfulness (Weick and Putnam, 2006; Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006). For such a line of argument, it must be implicitly presupposed that more information is neither confusing nor increasing complexity, and that confusion is neither deliberately caused by opportunistic actors nor that people could hesitate or resign in the face of ever-increasing complexity. There is an implicit assumption in the literature on mindfulness that organization members are all experts who can perceive and interpret anomalies and novel events or, in general, the unexpected rightly – and that they will act like archangels. Mindfulness as depicted by scholars like Weick and Sutcliffe is positive in terms of cognition and action, because whenever people spot unexpected leverage points or vulnerabilities, they do not exploit them for their own agenda, but in the interest of solving the task at hand and serving the group or organization. Information asymmetries, diverging interests or opportunistic behavior, which request considering notions of power, domination, contracting, or other forms of conflict resolution, do not appear. Instead, activities that become interlocked are conceived of as equal, i.e. there are no dominant or self-interest seeking units within the network of loosely coupled systems in and between organizations. Yet, if information overload or obfuscation and opportunistic behavior are acknowledged as quite common phenomena in organizations, it follows that not every subtle cue, anomaly or small event makes it to the (strategic) agenda of (top) management (e.g. Dutton, 1997; Rouleau, 2005). This is not only due to a limited capacity of mindfulness or even mindlessness (as argued by Levinthal and Rerup, 2006), but because mindfulness also facilitates the usage of influence tactics. On the other hand, leveraging power relations is constitutive for achieving mindfulness because bringing small events to the level of organizational attention requires leveraging resources of power. Resources are, for example, technical expertise and social skills that help to understand the issue and persuade others of its benefits as well as being able to use an organization’s rules and procedures for coordination and allocation such as investment or budgeting rules (see Crozier and Friedberg, 1980). At least, we have to acknowledge that power plays a crucial role for acting mindfully. 4.2 Unintended consequences of the principles for mindful organizing The positive bias on the level of behavior is mirrored by a one-sided description of the principles for organizing. The principles themselves are questionable and can contradict the establishment of mindfulness by producing unintended outcomes that encourage opportunistic behavior. Weick himself (2001, p. 144) observes that people “are most tempted to act in a mindless fashion [. . .] when they are preoccupied with something”. The “something” can be “preoccupation with failure” because sustained conversations about failure threaten workers’ identities as long as failure is associated with incompetence and blame (Eisenberg, 2006). Such outcomes will impede respectful communication
  • between knowledgeable experts. Preoccupation with failure is then revealed to be a New wine intomixed blessing that can facilitate both mindfulness and mindlessness. If people old bottlesconstantly scrutinize and criticize what is going on, respect, consistency and trust canhardly be established. Instead, colleagues are likely to perceive continuous attentionand criticism as being monitored and controlled which in turn creates, reinforces, andincreases distrust and opportunistic behavior (Goshal and Moran, 1996; Goshal,2005).There is empirical evidence for these mechanisms that produce what Kets de 261Vries (2004, for example) calls “suspicious organizations”, which are characterized byan atmosphere of distrust and paranoia because they are preoccupied that somethingcan go wrong and are too focused on external threats. Constant scrutiny is close to andcan lead to repressive practices and structures that facilitate exactly those “badmanagement practices” that Weick seeks to avoid. Another example for the self-contradictory tendency of the principles formindfulness is emphasizing the importance of expertise. This can also be read as apreoccupation, and therefore as supporting mindlessness instead of mindfulness,because experts are treated as more valuable than a novice or (advanced) beginner. It isinteresting that Eastern accounts of mindfulness argue just the other way round (andWeick is not only familiar with these accounts, but is also in favor of them; Weick andPutnam, 2006): mindfulness is depicted as “a beginner’s mind” instead of “an expert’smind” because expertise tempts people to use prior experience and to search solutionswithin or next to the field they are already experts in, which in turn confinespossibilities (Suzuki, 1980). In other words, preoccupation with expertise can favorreusing old concepts over exploring new ones. If expertise is not only understood as anattribute or trait of individuals, but is addressed on the level of practices or interlockedbehavior, it can be understood as a group or organization phenomenon. If it is put insupra-individual terms, the relation to the discussion of core competencies and corerigidities respectively path-dependencies becomes obvious: a given expertise (orcompetency) in a specific subject might lead to further investments for exploiting thisarea, thus yielding self-reinforcing mechanisms that might result in a lock-in thatimpedes the adaption to changed (environmental) conditions (e.g. Leonard-Barton,1992).4.3 Mindfulness versus routine, mindful routines or routines for mindfulness?The question how mindfulness relates to routines is decisive for understanding theconnection between mindfulness and (dynamic) capabilities because there is a broadconsensus that (dynamic) capabilities consist of routines (e.g. Winter, 2003; Helfat et al.,2007; Teece, 2007; Easterby-Smith et al., 2009). Thus, if mindfulness contradicts thenotion of routines, it would not be a useful concept for explaining (themicro-foundations of) dynamic capabilities. On the other hand, if mindfulnesscontributes somehow to the (re)configuration of routines, it is a dimension that mustnot be neglected in a discussion of the nature and development of dynamic capabilities. Originally, mindfulness and routine behavior are presented as opposing each other:mindlessness is either associated with automaticity, routine, habit, stability, andcontinuity (e.g. Weick et al., 1999; Fiol and O’Connor, 2003), or mindfulness is depictedas distinct from routine because both draw on the same resources, therefore theycannot function simultaneously (Weick and Sutcliffe, 2006). In contrast, it is argued forgrades of mindfulness and relations between mindfulness and less-mindfulness in such
  • MD a way that they make use of each other (e.g. Bigley and Roberts, 2001; Rerup, 2005;49,2 Levinthal and Rerup, 2006). Basically these are attempts to link mindfulness and routine by showing either that routines are (to some extent) mindful, i.e. they consume more attention than was first thought, or that mindfulness needs routines because they relieve the mind from attending to too many objects or provide the raw material for recombination. For example, re-fitting a routine according to the specifics of the262 situation (anomalies, small deviations, etc.) at hand is an effortful accomplishment that consumes attention and awareness – in other words, mindfulness (Levinthal and Rerup, 2006). It is interesting and at the same time confusing that Weick and Sutcliffe (2007, p. 61) agree with such a line of argument: they affirm that enacting routines involves mindful activity; thus, mindless and routine cannot be synonyms. However, Weick and Sutcliffe (2006) do also stress that routines and mindfulness are distinct because they cannot occur simultaneously. They suggest that routines go along with a single distinction and simple interpretations, whereas mindfulness is associated with multiple distinctions and a variety of interpretations. Hence, they present routines as repeated activity which can be conducted “simple-minded”, i.e. the accomplishment does not make use of a significant amount of conceptual complexity that derives from considering situational discriminators. In order to avoid confusion and clarify the conceptions of mindfulness and routine, we should be aware of the distinction between notions of awareness and distinction-making, and between the level of the individual and the collective level. First, being mindful means to be aware of many situational discriminators. However, the crucial questions is, whether agents have to be fully aware of the distinctions they apply in order to see anomalies. Following Polanyi (1966) and Searle (1995), there is a “background” of distinctions that actors pre-reflectively draw upon in order to perceive, think, interpret, and understand the world[1]. Routine in the sense of behavior that has been repeated again and again in a variety of situations creates this background, whereby more routine enhances its scope and quality: the greater the repertoire of situational discriminators, the more refined the distinctions are and the more appropriate the judgments and actions are (Dreyfus and Dreyfus, 2005). It is only in this way that experts are prevented from falling into a competency trap, i.e. favoring old concepts over exploring new ones. If agents repeatedly engage in the same activity, but without significantly changed circumstances they can only build up and draw on a limited background. Thus, they might be fully aware of what they are regularly doing, but we would not call it mindful behavior. Second, the notion of mindfulness is associated with individual cognitive activity, whereas routines are depicted as collective patterns of behavior (e.g. Winter, 2003). Following the analytical distinction between the individual and the collective, activities in organizations are described in the sense of agents enacting, encoding or exploiting routines, respectively the other way round in the sense of routines that enable mindfulness. Such a view is applied by Levinthal and Rerup as well as Weick and Sutcliffe. By doing so, they implicitly argue for a dualism between agency and structure, with the (more or less) mindful agent applying routines (respectively routines that enable an agent to act mindfully). By drawing on Giddens’ (1984) idea of the duality of structure, we can see that the principles for mindful organizing are preconditions or the medium and results of agents’ activities. They are a set of rules that actors draw upon in the practices that enhance or diminish a feature of a social
  • system that is called action repertoire for managing the unexpected. Mindfulness does New wine intonot appear as an attribute of an entity (the mindful individual, group or organization) old bottlesbut as an outcome of social practices that shapes further practices. The practice lensealso brings issues of power and their relation to mindfulness (as discussed above) intothe focus of analysis.5. Mindfulness and the nature and development of dynamic capabilities 263Dynamic capabilities refer to the firm’s ability to alter the resource base (e.g.Eisenhardt and Martin, 2000). The emerging literature on dynamic capabilities is farfrom reaching a common understanding concerning even its most basic aspects: thedefinition, nature, and development of dynamic capabilities (Di Stefano et al., 2010). Inorder to overcome these shortcomings, there is an increasing interest in explicating themicro-foundations of dynamic capabilities (Zollo and Winter, 2002; Gavetti, 2005;Teece, 2007). It is frequently argued that cognition plays a crucial role in thedevelopment of dynamic capabilities: as managerial initiatives are directed bycognitive orientations, the development of dynamic capabilities is contingent uponmanagerial action (e.g. Narayanan et al. 2009; Easterby-Smith et al., 2009). Most of thediscussion about the psychological micro-foundations of capability development isgrounded in theories of human cognition and agency that privilege consciousreasoning and dispassionate analysis as means of overcoming cognitive bias andinertia (Hodgkinson and Healey, 2009). In a similar vein, the few studies that considermindfulness argue for a causal and positive relationship between becomingconsciously aware of the reasons for successes or failures of prior performances andthe extent of developing dynamic capabilities: the more conscious awareness of rootcauses, the better/more dynamic capabilities are developed (Romme et al., 2010).However, this article suggests that overcoming cognitive distortions is not only aconscious cognitive process but must consider a pre-reflective dimension of cognitionas well as issues of power. To develop more plausible models of the micro-foundationsof dynamic capabilities it is necessary to revisit the understanding of the nature ofmental processes such as mindfulness and their relation to action, routines, andchanging (collective) routines. By drawing on Teece’s (2007) suggestion that dynamic capabilities can bedisaggregated into the capacity to sense and shape opportunities and threats, thecapacity to seize opportunities, and the capacity to reconfigure a company’s intangibleand tangible assets, several propositions regarding the relation between mindfulnessand the three capabilities suggested by Teece can be derived. Treating past experience with ambivalence as a major characteristic of mindfulnesshelps to sense opportunities and threats because it enables individuals andorganizations to scrutinize scan for, interpret, and learn about small events,anomalies, unforeseen vulnerabilities or unexpected leverage points that are earlywarning signals of threats as well as opportunities. As a consequence, organizationalactions are more sensitive to operations as well as on alert regarding changes in theenvironment. Arguing from the perspective of individual mindfulness it is not thecontent of new information that may contradict extant beliefs and then lead to anadaption of mental maps but the cognitive style that shapes whether the cue isperceived as critical or as irrelevant. Arguing from the perspective of organizing formindfulness it is not only people’s perceptions but the processes and practices of
  • MD organizing and managing that constitute whether an event counts as critical, favorable,49,2 or irrelevant. Organizational practices and processes that foster mindfulness (e.g. conducting STICC protocols) should also enhance the development of dynamic capabilities. In fact, there is evidence in the research on dynamic capabilities that resembles practices known from the literature on organizing for mindfulness. For example, discussing the reasons for successes and failures in prior experiences, is a264 way of unveiling some of the causal ambiguity that pertains to most organizational activity. Thereby the cyclical evolution of organizational knowledge that leads to dynamic capabilities is initiated (Zollo and Winter, 2002). P1. Being more mindful enhances the capability of sensing opportunities and threats because treating past experience with ambivalence means scrutinizing what has been learned by scanning for and (re-)interpreting early warning signals. It has been argued that cognitive structures inhibit the unbiased evaluation of opportunities and produce the unwanted effect that actors look for alternatives only in the neighborhood of the current practices, thus unintentionally suppressing unconventional initiatives (Burgelman, 2002). The overcoming of biases, delusions, or hubris in order to seize opportunities appropriately is a challenge that has recently entered the literature about dynamic capabilities (Nelson and Winter, 2002; Teece, 2007; Hodgkinson and Healey, 2009). Mindful behavior counteracts the drivers of cognitive distortions and inertia of inappropriate cognitive structures and results in changes of routines. It does so by sweeping in more interconnected details and introducing new concepts to existing ones, thereby enabling practitioners to constantly reflect on and change the rules of performance they are entering into and socializing in, so that people know more fully what is happening. This mechanism of mindfulness explains a crucial feature of dynamic capabilities: the phenomenon that dynamic capabilities enable a deviation to take place from the knowledge that otherwise would have arisen from experiential learning (Pandza and Thorpe, 2009). P2. Being more mindful enhances the capability of seizing opportunities by counteracting the drivers of cognitive distortions and inertia of inappropriate cognitive structures. Mindfulness increases vividness and resilience, i.e. it encompasses the ability to recover and preserve functioning despite the presence of adversity. This means that mindfulness enables an organization to reconfigure already available resources and to improvise by integrating new resources in order to cope with changed conditions. In addition, being more mindful is to attend to nuances, anomalies, etc., with greater stability; therefore, such events do not get lost during further processes of organizing. This means that mindful organizing not only ensures the detection of opportunities and threats, but also stabilizes the way solutions to the adversity are implemented in the day-to-day production. The change in social practices is possible since mindfulness and power are interwoven, i.e. mindfulness involves the capacity to (re)produce social practices. P3. Being more mindful enhances the capability of reconfiguring assets to maintain competitiveness because of its capacity to stay focused on events and transform social practices.
  • Following the line of argument that mindfulness should rather be understood as an New wine intooutcome of social practices that shapes further practices than as an attribute of an entity, old bottlesthe relation of routines and mindfulness has been reconsidered. Such a view can shedlight on a difference proposed by Winter (2003) who asserts that “ad hoc problemsolving” must be distinguished from routine, and therefore is not relevant for thedevelopment of dynamic capabilities. If an organization has learned how to solveproblems constantly ad hoc by reproducing practices that enable such “ad hoc problem 265solving behaviors”, we can easily call this feature of the social system a routine thatfacilitates a company to constantly enhance its action repertoire to address changingenvironments. Thus, the crucial question for organization theory and managementpractices is not whether assumption regarding personal of behavioral characteristics(e.g. opportunism, mindfulness) are right or wrong, but rather whether “goodmanagement theories” can create “good management practices” that in turn justify thepositive assumptions drawn by the respective theory. First affirming signals areidentified by the research on “positive organizational scholarship”. For example, Duttonand Glynn (2008) provide an overview of studies that show how positive emotion (e.g.joy, happiness, contentment), positive meaning (e.g. seeing ones’ job as a calling,assessing one’s career as valuable), and positive connections (e.g. connections with othersthat are trusting, respectful) develop an environment that allows mindful, resilient,respectful, wise, reflected, thriving, competent action. However, I have also argued thatthe principles for mindful organizing can produce distrust, paranoia, hysteria and thelike. Thus, we have to acknowledge that people’s practices amend as well as reproducethe stock of practices on which they draw and that there are thresholds that demarcate“tipping points”, where practices of mindful organizing become practices of mindlessorganizing. Boundary conditions (e.g. profit versus non-profit organization; economiccrisis versus boom; small anomalies versus emergencies; availability of slack resources)might play a mediating role for the tipping points. P4a. “Good management practices” that facilitate positive emotion, meaning, and connection increase the (re)production of mindfulness as a medium and outcome of social practices. P4b. Boundary conditions influence the “tipping points” that demarcate when “good management practices” decrease the (re)production of mindfulness as a medium and outcome of social practices.6. ConclusionsThe paper reviewed the notion of mindfulness critically, especially its applicationwithin organization studies, and shows how putting “new wine” (mindfulness) into“old bottles” (dynamic capabilities) can contribute to the explanation of the nature anddevelopment of dynamic capabilities. By arguing that a concept of power is missingand that the principles for mindful organizing can turn out to enforce practices thatcontradict the characteristics of mindfulness the notion of mindfulness is refined. It issuggested that scholars should put more emphasis on practices as depicted by socialpractice theory, in order to be able to analyze how power relations are mobilized and tocapture the tipping points of processes of organizing and managing. Hence, more “newwine” (power, unintended consequences, social practice theory) is put into “old bottles”(mindfulness). If both scholars and practitioners want to understand why some
  • MD organizations seem to adjust and enhance their capacity to act more effectively than49,2 others, it is important to look at mindfulness on the level of practices and how they evolve. While there are apparent parallels between the notion of mindfulness and the concept of dynamic capabilities, there are also some notable differences. The discussion of dynamic capabilities is not only concerned with managerial (cognitive)266 activity that introduces new categories and changes routines, but also with change routines, i.e. (second or high-level) routines that change ordinary operational routines. In addition, it is more focused on how to initiate market changes. Studies in mindfulness are more interested in how to discover unexpected events in ongoing operations rather than creating them and they are focused on internal changes rather than influencing markets. Even more “new wine” could be put into the “old bottles of organization theory” if insights from other disciplines, for example medicine, regarding the nature and mechanisms of mindfulness were considered: fatigue, dogmatism, lack of opportunities to practice mindfulness, unexamined negative emotions (and the lack of forums to deal with fears), failure of imagination, and the (economic, social, or temporal) pressure to act all limit mindfulness (Epstein, 1999). Thus, the absence of these factors is a precondition for mindful behavior and management practices should aim at reducing them. Considering such issues might well lead to propose more than the five principles that are suggested by Weick and others. The “positive organizational scholarship” movement might be a helpful resource for identifying boundary conditions for mindfulness (e.g. viewing one’s career as flourishing or stuck might impact the preoccupation with failure; cf. Dutton and Glynn, 2008). There is still some work to do regarding the conceptual rigor of the notion of mindfulness. As outlined in this paper, Weick and colleagues provide a wide range of definitions, possible outcomes, and interrelations with other constructs. One of the contributions of this paper is to have discerned these similarities and interrelations, but also the limits of the concept’s explanatory power. Future research might refine the propositions regarding the relation between mindfulness and dynamic capabilities and validate or refute them empirically. Note 1. Owing to space limitations, the relevance of Polanyi and Searle can only be indicated: Searle (1995) as well as Polanyi (1966) try to explain how typification or categorization is possible without getting stuck in the search paradox. While Searle argues that a “background” consisting of non-intentional structures must exist, Polanyi refers to a mode of knowing in which actors draw from a proximal term (e.g. the body’s sensory system), of which they are not focally aware, to the distal term (e.g. the object that is perceived). Both scholars depict a mechanism that argues for a mutual constitution of pre-reflectively processes, i.e. perceiving, sensing, feeling, thinking without consciously processing predicative or propositional representations, and being consciously aware, whereby the former builds the basis (or background) for the latter. References Ambrosini, V. and Bowman, C. (2009), “What are dynamic capabilities and are they a useful construct in strategic management?”, International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 29-49.
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