Implications of the *individual for organization theory: Three essays on subjectivity, interdependence, and organizational processes

Benjamin Caldwell Powell, University of Pennsylvania


The three essays in this dissertation develop a common but implicit theme—that organizations' reliance on the knowledge and actions of individuals affects organizational processes. The cognitive and physical capabilities of individuals have not changed significantly over the past centuries, but those of organizations have. The enhanced capabilities of organizations are not based on corresponding enhancements in the capabilities of individuals but on better ways of exploiting these capabilities. However, organizations' dependence on individuals imposes limits on organizational capabilities. The essays in this dissertation explore these limits and their implications for organization theory. In the first essay we examine limits on organizations' ability to change, i.e. structural inertia. Using the concept of interdependence from structural contingency theory to complement evolutionary theory, we suggest an architecture for individuals' actions. We then employ this architecture and evolutionary theory in identifying conditions affecting inertia, i.e. decomposability, fungibility, munificence, and specificity. The second and third essays focus on a specific type of organizational process—venture creation. By examining the metaphors employed in the names of Internet incubators, the second essay attempts to access entrepreneurs' mental models of venture creation and to relate these mental models to environmental conditions. In the third essay we assert that new ventures face a fundamental dilemma—Winter's dilemma—in managing their subjective organizational knowledge. Knowledge-rich inducements support competitive imitation, but knowledge-poor inducements fail to induce the contributions needed from potential investors, employees, customers, and suppliers. We investigate an emerging means for addressing Winter's dilemma—technological articulation via the World Wide Web—and evaluate the impact of this semantic bridge on new ventures' survival odds. As mankind continues to press the frontier of organizational capabilities, the relatively stagnant capabilities of individuals and the limits they impose will become increasingly salient. These essays represent a very small step toward understanding the implications of the individual for organization theory. ^

Subject Area

Sociology, Theory and Methods|Business Administration, Management

Recommended Citation

Benjamin Caldwell Powell, "Implications of the *individual for organization theory: Three essays on subjectivity, interdependence, and organizational processes" (January 1, 2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. Paper AAI3095930.