Networks and population ecology

To understand how cooperative adoption might be different from other types of adoption, we must look at the structure of inter-organizational systems. Increasingly, firms are part of a web of relationships that encompass both vertical partners (such as suppliers and customers) and horizontal partners (including both competing and non-competing firms), which overlap within markets (Achrol, 1997). Managing such networks is unwieldy, as they are "self-organizing systems where there is not necessarily a leader or captain" (Ritter and Gemiinden, 2003, p. 693). Organization in these systems, like those in ecosystems, involves many microinteractions to co-produce outcomes (Ritter et al., 2004). Not all networks are the same, however, and some networks have powerful members or groups of members who have the ability direct the actions of other firms through their control over necessary resources (Ritter et al., 2004).

These negative dependencies may be expedient for producing joint action, but they have negative long-term consequences. For instance, the dependency may coerce

Angela Hausman, Wesley J. Johnston and Adesegun Oyedele partners into cooperative action, only to see the action fail through their lack of commitment to the course of action. This symbolic adoption and its negative consequences noted in prior studies (Rogers, 1995). Moreover, negative dependency might lead to dissolution of the relationship since the conflict generated by the use of coercive influence acts as a cancer to slowly destroy the effectiveness of other joint actions. The cycle of conflict, decreased cooperation, and lower performance ultimately outweighs any benefits achieved and one or more firms decide to terminate the relationship.

Unlike ecosystems, however, organizations have the ability to act proactively by anticipating or directing change within the network. In fact, organizational (perhaps network) survival relies on the ability of firms to recognize environmental opportunities and mobilize network partners to behave in a manner that capitalizes on them. The learning organization literature refers to the first as environmental sensing and a great deal of research supports its importance in organizational survival (Day, 1994). The latter involves inter-organizational adaptation or, in the context of innovations, cooperative adoption (Hausman and Stock, 2003). This suggests a positive dependency that encourages joint action among partner firms that encourages integration of individual competencies toward mutually beneficial outcomes (Ritter et al. , 2004).

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