Network forms of organization – Summary of Powell (1990)

I have read it several times – excited to discuss it tomorrow in the orgnizaitonal communication technology class taught by Janet.

Powell, W. W. (1990). Neither market nor hierarchy: Network forms of organization. Research in organizational behavior, 12, 295-336.


  1. What is alluded to but not formally discussed in this paper is the impact of communication technologies on the evolution of organizational forms. Since organizations use more and more communication technology, are they all moving towards network forms? Or are they just replicating their existing structure electronically?
  2. Network relations may be temporal (actually market could be conceived as a network with one-time relations) as well as long-term. How do we incorporate time into our understanding of network forms?
  3. In this paper and other recent literature of network form of organization, researchers seem to imply that networks represent a better form of organizing and are well-suited for today’s industries that are increasingly technology-intensive. But are there any cases where networks are inadequate or inferior to market or hierarchy? In other words, is network always good? Under what circumstance will network collapse?


  • Three modes of organization (table 1)
    • Market: One night stand
      • good for exchanges that are straightforward, non-repetitive and require no transaction-specific investments.
      • A form of non-coercive organization, coordinating without integrating.
      • Price is the invisible hand.
      • It offers choice, flexibility, and opportunity, but it is bad at capturing technological know-how.
    • Hierarchy: Marriage
      • good when asset specificity goes up (because of bounded human rationality and opportunism)
      • The boundary of a firm expands to internalize market transactions.
      • Management is the visible hand.
      • Reliable but inflexible and inertial.
    • Network: Marriage without licence?
      • Transactions are reciprocal and repeated
      • Can deliver efficient, reliable and tacit information.
      • Organizational boundary has a relational dimension.
      • Reputation/Trust is key
  • Examples of network organization
    • Craft industries (tacit knowledge)
    • Film and recording industries (creative and project-based)
    • Industrial districts
    • Strategic alliances and partnerships
    • Vertical disaggregation (internal)
  • Network forms are for:
    • Activities based on know-how: networks foster lateral communication and mutual obligation
    • Activities that demands speed: networks are good for disseminating and interpreting new information
    • Exchanges based on trust: in certain social contexts that emphasize generalized reciprocity, networks are sufficient for controlling opportunism.

September 9, 2007 at 4:17 pm 1 comment

Digital Natives – OII SDP notes

Here comes my OII SDP notes again.

The very first leture was on digital natives: how do we understand the generation that was born and raised after ICTs become an integral part of our lives. Today’s tech-savvy youth may pose an intimidating object for us to understand. They are consumers as well as creators. The lecture asked questions rather than providing any conclusive answers.

The syllabus does a nice job to summarzie those questions:

With over a million young people “born digital,” now is the time to examine the emerging trends of how these digital natives construct identity, learn, create, and socialize in an ever-changing “always on” landscape. How do we give digital natives the tools (in terms of know-how, technology, social norms, or other means) to navigate safely in the emerging digital social space? How can copyright holders work with digital creators to understand their needs and practices in a way that doesn’t stifle their creativity? As a global society, can we come to understand what’s happening with a generation online, to embrace a digital present, and to shape, in constructive ways, a more digital future?


Their Space: Education for a digital generation – Hannah Green, Celia Hannon

And the Digital Natives wiki

September 2, 2007 at 11:50 pm 1 comment

OII SDP recap – Cool widgets

It was almost three weeks ago when I dragged myself, reluctantly, out of the awesome Austin Hall at Harvard for an all-too-early flight. But I still feel somewhat immersed in the information-intensive OII SDP boot camp. Though I have read a lot of SDP friends’ own final reports of OII SDP on their blogs, I still feel the urge to dig into my tons of notes and write a series of stuff about the very interesting and inspiring two weeks I had at Berkman Center. Starting from today I will try to put on a section every day.

Let me start with the widgets I used or was introduced to during the two weeks. As a new media scholar I have to consciously keep track of the never ending development of new gadgets, a task that sometimes gets a bit overwhelming. Since OII is about Internet I am not surprised how tech-savvy our faculty and fellow participants were. The following is a list of the widgets that impressed me the most (Ismael published a similar list here):

  • Wiki: it is the site for a two week peer intellectual production. we are on the wiki 24/7 during the two weeks. No exaggeration.
  • Mindmapping applications: some speakers used them to illustrate sophisticated relations between nodes (if you think our brain works as a network…). Freemind seems to be the most popular and I am going to try it myself.
  • The Live Question Tool: used to publish questions while listening to the speaker. But I found it a bit distracting.
  • H2O Playlists, to broadcast a master list of refernces mentioned during the two weeks.
  • OII/Berkman 2007 Summer Doctoral Programme planet aggregator: get all the buzz in one click.
  • Dopplr: a site for traveling friends to keep in touch. A good way for the new generation of academic-wanderers.
  • Couchsurfing: a site for traveles to make connections and stay on each other’s couch. (Great for students without enough conference budget)
  • Facebook: I was not using it actively till SDP. This is the way to be in the loop.

August 21, 2007 at 1:03 am 2 comments

Are you in the same network?

A recent article in NY Times caught my eye: Mobile phone networks are changing people’s social relations by their “talk-free-in-the-same-network” gimmick. When people switch network, they have to take their friends’ network into consideration and they may well lose their friends if they switch to the wrong one.

This is a perfect example of technology interfering human relations. Or more specifically, the physical (phone) network influences the social network. This sounds very much like McLuhan’s technological determinism, but the truth is, any technology has certain affordances and constraints. Harold Innis call this “the bias of communications”. Larry Lessig says “code is law”. And I say that human behavior is conditioned by technological parameters.

Now the smart mobs are clustered within certain sub-networks. Being in different networks make people more distant. Several interesting observations can be made:

  1. the law of homophily would predict the same thing, but its explanatory power seems to be limited. We are in the same network….what does that say about us being alike? I’d say not that much!
  2. friends become more distant when they switch to different networks…but do acquitances become closer when they switch to the same network? This is still an open question.
  3. From a technology adoption perspective, this illustrates the network effect of adoption. People think about their friends before deciding which network to join and the more your friends are with network A, the more like you will choose – and get stuck with network A. If I am one of the marketing people of those networks, I’d add some new customer referral bonu, too.

August 9, 2007 at 9:14 pm Leave a comment

Hello world!

I started blogging a long, long time ago… And once upon a time, I wrote for two blogs simultaneously.

But, most of the blog entries I wrote are for personal, recreational, and other trivial purposes. I did thought about having a research blog, but was intimidated by the “seriousness” it sounds, and the time commitment it implies.

If blogs are virtual representaions of oneself, I was willingly getting my trivial and personal side up there. But, hey, research sounds like too much responsibility for a commitment phobic. One reason is that people connect one’s virtual ranting with one’s physical identity. Unfortunately, at the age of reputation, a dog can no longer hide at the other end of the net.  In other words, what I blog here about “research” may have real consequences and I am quite wary about it.

It was not until I went to the OII SDP2007, held at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard, that I realized how not cool it is for researchers to not blog.  Almost every participants have a research blog and they even post live notes to their blogs, or personal research portals, during sessions. And, at the time when knowledge travels 10 million times faster than publication cycles, JZ said that it is important to get your stuff out there, time stamped.

There is even a student organized session on personal research portals, or research blogs. I missed some interesting discussion because I had to catch a flight. For me, some key questions remain: 1. what purposes does the blog serve? 2. how do we position blogging  in the myriad of research activities? Anyway,  let me experiment with this research blog and hopefully the answer will emerge sometime later.

July 31, 2007 at 8:22 pm 1 comment

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