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Contents of IMP Journal issue 1, volume 1
The Idea of Business Interaction
David Ford and Håkan Håkansson
This paper argues that a view of business activity as a process of interaction between active,
individually significant and interdependent actors challenges accepted ideas on both the structure and
processes of business. We argue that if we take an interactive view of business, then it becomes selfevident
that we cannot understand business activity by looking at it from the perspective of a single
company and its aims and actions. Nor can we hope to understand business activity if we view it as a
process directed by companies towards some generalized “other”, such as a market of customers or
suppliers. An interactive view sees business as a world where the actions of a single company are based
on its interpretation of the previous actions of specific others and on its anticipation of the possible re-actions
and re-re-actions of those specific others in the future. This means that in an interactive world, the
companies that surround an actor are heterogeneous in their resources, problems, aims and in their
interactions. These heterogeneous companies cannot easily be categorized into neat, supposedly
homogeneous groups with names like customers, suppliers, competitors, manufacturers or retailers. Nor
can we consider what happens between these heterogeneous companies as a linear flow of goods or
services, coordinated or controlled by any single one of them. Instead, we see a world of single companies,
each motivated by their own problems and each with their own idiosyncratic view of their own resources and
those of the companies that surround them and with which they are interdependent. An interactive view of
business also means that the interaction that we currently see taking place is firmly rooted in the past and
will have effects on many aspects and on the potential directions of interaction in the future. All business
interaction is part of a process that involves resources from far wider in the surrounding network of actors
than from the small numbers of actors that are apparently involved in it. Even more importantly, the tangible
characteristics of business such as companies and their products, sales and purchases are no more
substantial in an interactive world than the apparently ephemeral relationships that exist between those
This paper examines five issues in interaction: Time; Interdependence; Jointness; Relativity and
Subjective Interpretation. The paper argues that these issues both individually and together are important
areas of research for those attempting to understand business interaction. It also argues that because of
the paucity of our knowledge of business interaction, each of these represent significant problems for the
researcher. The paper attempts to explore these issues as a way of trying to understand business
relationships and as a first stage towards building a theoretical framework for using interaction as a useful
metaphor for economic activity.
Keywords: Interaction, networks, interdependence, time, heterogeneity, jointness, subjective perception,
The Relationship between Technical and Organisational Interfaces in Product Development.
Anna Dubois and Luis Araujo
The purpose of this paper is to look at product development as a distributed activity, embedded in complex
network of relationships combining technical and organizational interdependencies. Rather than privileging
the role of lead firms as systems integrators in hierarchical supply networks, we argue that interactions at
the level of firms, dyadic relationships and networks are more distributed, non-hierarchical and unpredictable
in their scope and consequences than conventionally assumed. The paper introduces an empirical case,
embedded in a larger product development project undertook by Scania trucks, to demonstrate the
interaction between technical and organizational interfaces at the level of firms, relationships and networks
of connected relationships.
Keywords: Distributed activities, networks, organisational interdependencies, product development,
Embedding and utilizing low weight: Value creation and resource configurations in the networks around IKEA’s Lack table and Holmen’s newsprint
Enrico Baraldi and Torkel Strömsten
This article builds on an industrial network perspective to present the value creation process in a new
light, by stressing the importance of resource interfaces in two concomitant sub-processes: value embedding
and daily value production and utilization. We analyse the networks around two very different
resources, Holmen’s newsprint and IKEA’s Lack table, but we focus on the very same value-bearing
feature for both resources, namely low-weight. We stress that the value of a resource derives from its
combination with other resources in the network. Therefore, the interfaces between the involved resources
play a key role both when this value is first embedded in the focal resource and when it is then
daily produced and utilized across the network. Our analysis of the two empirical cases shows relevant
differences in the ways in which value is created in the newsprint and in the Lack networks. In the
newsprint case, value embedding and daily utilization are more closely connected compared to the Lack
case, where the two sub-processes can be more easily distinguished. Such differences are also related
to the configuration of resource interfaces in the two networks: resources are more “dispersed” in the
newsprint network, where technology is more complex, a wider range and several types of resources
intervene, giving rise to many more indirect and hidden interfaces and heavy technical interdependencies.
All this requires value embedding and daily utilization to proceed hand in hand. By converse,
Lack’s network is technically and socially more streamlined, which allows one strong actor, IKEA, to
separate and directly coordinate value embedding and daily value utilization. Whereas value creation is
characterized by weak coordination and local rationality in the newsprint case, in the Lack case it is
characterized by stronger coordination and overall rationality, driven by IKEA. We conclude the article
with a series of theoretical implications that summarize our contribution to the value creation literature.
Hoping for Network Effects or Fearing Network Effects
The network society is here, declares sociologist Manuel Castells (1998). He sketches company
life “inside” these networks in considerably lighter colours than those living “outside” the networks.
And Castells is not alone. Researchers engaged in “networks”, “clusters” and “innovation systems” all
stress how relationships and networks can be used to create new economic resources – although what
is understood by these networks is sometimes vaguely defined. Even more optimistic interpretations are
made by policy organisations throughout the world. These hope for networks as transferors of knowledge
to economic resources. Policy supported network-like constructions have also increased dramatically.
In the US alone there are about 50 policy supported biotech cluster projects. In the small country
of Sweden, the business magazine Biotech Sweden (2003, No 5, p.26) reports a new record in Swedish
biotech clusters, “from zero to fourteen within a few years”.
However, there are also voices expressing fear of networks and their effects. “Networks combine
the idea of connection with the idea of disconnection”, says the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman
(Axess, 2003, No 6, p. 13), who sketches a considerably darker picture of the emerging network society.
Instead of a stable and reliable business and organisational world, characterised by defined roles and
engagements, Bauman (2000) stresses that network structures are loose, temporary and unreliable
constructions, characterised by a lack of long-range obligations.
But, on whom shall we rely? Those who put their hope in networks and stress the possibilities
of utilising relationships to create benefits in business and organisational life? Or those who fear networks
and stress that relationships are unreliable, non-transparent and include risks of nepotism? In this
article we will use the IMP framework as our analytical tool in an investigation of what is behind these
many different kinds of networks. An interesting result is that the IMP framework challenges neither
those with hope for nor those fearing networks – both aspects are treated as highly relevant effects of
connected relationships. However, what is also outlined is that visible exchange relationships between
customers and suppliers are only the tip of the iceberg of the technological and organisational interdependencies
that can be caught by the network metaphor. Thus, besides providing tools for pin-pointing
the dark and light sides of relationships, the IMP framework reveals a more complicated issue: if we
develop network-like structures, does this also mean that network processes occur?
Keywords: Networks, knowledge transfer, organisation structures, political effects.