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Ernst Abbe's scientific management: theoretical insights from a nineteenth-century dynamic capabilities approach


  • Guido Buenstorf
  • Johann Peter Murmann


'Scientific management' is the label Frederick Taylor attached to the system of shop-floor management devised by him. In this article we present our discovery of very different 'scientific' management principles that, roughly concurrently with Taylorism, were developed by German physicist-turned-manager Ernst Abbe and that are codified in the statutes of the Carl Zeiss Foundation created by Abbe. They exhibit striking parallels to resource- and capability-based theories of the firm, and indicate managerial challenges that warrant further theoretical elaboration. Abbe develops an account for managing a science-based firm and securing its long-term competitiveness, giving detailed prescriptions with regard to the type and scope of a firm's activities, its organizational set-up and its labor relations. We highlight some of the most characteristic features of Abbe's thought, discuss its effects on the development of the firms owned by the Zeiss Foundation, and compare it to and draw out implications for present-day management theory. Copyright 2005, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Guido Buenstorf & Johann Peter Murmann, 2005. "Ernst Abbe's scientific management: theoretical insights from a nineteenth-century dynamic capabilities approach," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 14(4), pages 543-578, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:14:y:2005:i:4:p:543-578

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Guido Buenstorf, 2007. "Creation and Pursuit of Entrepreneurial Opportunities: An Evolutionary Economics Perspective," Small Business Economics, Springer, vol. 28(4), pages 323-337, April.
    2. Ulrich Witt & Christian Zellner, 2009. "How firm organizations adapt to secure a sustained knowledge transfer," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 18(7), pages 647-661.
    3. David Oliver & Matthew Statler & Johan Roos, 2010. "A Meta-Ethical Perspective on Organizational Identity," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 94(3), pages 427-440, July.
    4. Greeven, M.J. & Xiaodong, Z., 2009. "Developing Innovative Competences in an Emerging Business System: New Private Enterprises in Hangzhou’s Software Industry," ERIM Report Series Research in Management ERS-2009-045-ORG, Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM), ERIM is the joint research institute of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) at Erasmus University Rotterdam.
    5. Markus C. Becker, 2012. "The Emergence of Clan Control in a Science-based Firm: The Case of Carl Zeiss," Chapters,in: Evolution, Organization and Economic Behavior, chapter 7 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    6. Guido Buenstorf, 2012. "Introduction," Chapters,in: Evolution, Organization and Economic Behavior, chapter 1 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    7. Guido Buenstorf, 2006. "Perception and pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities: an evolutionary economics perspective," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2006-01, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.

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