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The Value of Moderate Obsession: Insights from a New Model of Organizational Search


  • Gino Cattani
  • Alex Dorsch
  • Sidney G. Winter


This study presents a new model of search on a rugged landscape, which employs modeling techniques from fractal geometry rather than the now-familiar NK modeling technique. In our simulations,firms search locally in a two-dimensional fitness landscape, choosing moves in a way that responds both to local payoff considerations and to a more global sense of opportunity represented by a firm-specific preferred direction. The latter concept provides a very simple device for introducing cognitive or motivational considerations into the formal account of search behavior, alongside payoff considerations. After describing the objectives and the structure of the model, we report a first experiment which explores how the ruggedness of the landscape affects the interplay of local payoff and cognitive considerations (preferred direction) in search. We show that an intermediate search strategy, combining the guidance of local search with a moderate level of non-local obsession, is distinctly advantageous in searching a rugged landscape. We also explore the effects of other considerations, including the objective validity of the preferred direction and the degree of dispersion of firm strategies. We conclude by noting available features of the model that are not exercised in this experiment. Given the inherent flexibility of the model, the range of questions that might potentially be explored is extremely large.

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  • Gino Cattani & Alex Dorsch & Sidney G. Winter, 2007. "The Value of Moderate Obsession: Insights from a New Model of Organizational Search," LEM Papers Series 2007/03, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
  • Handle: RePEc:ssa:lemwps:2007/03

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jan W. Rivkin & Nicolaj Siggelkow, 2003. "Balancing Search and Stability: Interdependencies Among Elements of Organizational Design," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(3), pages 290-311, March.
    2. Nelson, Richard R., 2008. "Bounded rationality, cognitive maps, and trial and error learning," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 78-89, July.
    3. Fleming, Lee & Sorenson, Olav, 2001. "Technology as a complex adaptive system: evidence from patent data," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(7), pages 1019-1039, August.
    4. Levinthal, Daniel A, 1998. "The Slow Pace of Rapid Technological Change: Gradualism and Punctuation in Technological Change," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 7(2), pages 217-247, June.
    5. Lippman, Steven A & McCall, John J, 1976. "The Economics of Job Search: A Survey," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 14(3), pages 347-368, September.
    6. Richard R. Nelson, 1982. "The Role of Knowledge in R&D Efficiency," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 97(3), pages 453-470.
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    Cited by:

    1. J├╝rgen Mihm & Christoph H. Loch & Dennis Wilkinson & Bernardo A. Huberman, 2010. "Hierarchical Structure and Search in Complex Organizations," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 56(5), pages 831-848, May.
    2. Alessandra Perri & Raffaele Oriani & Francesco Rullani, 2013. "Knowledge breadth of MNC subsidiaries and the duration of host-country firms' search," Working Papers 7, Department of Management, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia.
    3. Basu, Sandip & Sahaym, Arvin & Howard, Michael D. & Boeker, Warren, 2015. "Parent inheritance, founder expertise, and venture strategy: Determinants of new venture knowledge impact," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 322-337.
    4. Pandza, Krsto & Ellwood, Paul, 2013. "Strategic and ethical foundations for responsible innovation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(5), pages 1112-1125.
    5. Peter Moran & Michele Simoni & Gianluca Vagnani, 2011. "Becoming the best: by beating or ignoring the best? Toward an expanded view of the role of managerial selection in complex and turbulent environments," Journal of Management & Governance, Springer;Accademia Italiana di Economia Aziendale (AIDEA), vol. 15(3), pages 447-481, August.
    6. Jean-Philippe Vergne & Rodolphe Durand, 2010. "The Missing Link Between the Theory and Empirics of Path Dependence: Conceptual Clarification, Testability Issue, and Methodological Implications," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 47(4), pages 736-759, June.
    7. Stefano Brusoni & Lorenzo Cassi, 2007. "Re-Inventing the Wheel: Knowledge Integration in Fast-changing Environments," KITeS Working Papers 209, KITeS, Centre for Knowledge, Internationalization and Technology Studies, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy, revised Dec 2007.
    8. Peter Earl, 2012. "Behavioural Theory," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics and Theory of the Firm, chapter 10 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    9. Garud, Raghu & Gehman, Joel, 2012. "Metatheoretical perspectives on sustainability journeys: Evolutionary, relational and durational," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 41(6), pages 980-995.
    10. Sidney G. Winter, 2016. "Pursuing the Evolutionary Agenda in Economics and Management Research," LEM Papers Series 2016/22, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    11. Helmut M. Dietl & Markus Lang & Eric Lucas & Dirk Martignoni, 2012. "Learning Through Inaccurate Replication," Working Papers 312, University of Zurich, Department of Business Administration (IBW).
    12. repec:oup:indcch:v:26:y:2017:i:4:p:571-591. is not listed on IDEAS
    13. Christopher Watts & Nigel Gilbert, 2014. "Simulating Innovation," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 13981.

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    Rugged Landscapes; Local Search; Cognition; Obsession; Fractal Geometry;

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