Exceptionalism and Outliers: Advancing Management Theory and Public Policy from Power Law Distribution in Growth-driven Phenomena
- Daniel Clark, Ivey School of Business, Western University (Canada)
- Robert Pidduck, Strome Business School, Old Dominion University (USA)
- G. Christopher Crawford, Sykes College of Business, University of Tampa (USA)
- Per Davidsson, Jönköping International Business School (Sweden) & Queensland University of Technology (Australia)
- Nicola Breugst, TUM School of Management, Technical University of Munich (Germany)
- Christian Lechner, Luiss Business School, Luiss University (Italy)
AMP Associate Editor:
There is a rarified class of so-called “exceptional” or “star” or “outlier” performer firms whose names are synonymous with growth and success. These firms—along with the individuals within them—have a resonating impact on future entrepreneurs long after these entities are no longer considered “entrepreneurial.” Firms like this inspire and educate the rising generations. As such, their philosophies and actions are the “canary in the coalmine” for future strategies and management principles implemented in growth-oriented firms around the world, including: social enterprises, public sector organizations, NGOs, governments, charities, and even religious organizations.
Exceptional firms have relatively large data footprints (through media, public appearances, and the reporting requirements that come with larger firms), allowing researchers to take a data-driven approach to developing new theory, consolidating and extending existing theory. Further, where the myth of the “lone hero” entrepreneur has long been debunked as a misleading exaggeration of the typical development of successful ventures (McMullen, 2017); there remains the opportunity to learn from both entrepreneurial leadership and employment practices horizontally across outlier firms.
Star performing firms and individuals (specifically entrepreneurs and senior managers), likely have unique behaviors, processes, practices, and even individual-level cognitions that can inform theory and policy. The seeds of creative destruction often arise in a few exceptional initiatives and subsequently inform the landscape defining best practice for other aspiring ventures. Rather than writing off outliers as aberrations to our theorizing, this call seeks to draw attention to how we can advance greater understanding of success from the exceptional and highly influential few. Outliers oftentimes start as everyday ventures, but with exceptional outcomes, they continue to serve as inspiration and models for legions of potential entrepreneurs (Peter & Pierk, 2021). They exist in all industries, all nations, and all types of venturing. They are a statistical phenomenon, the people in the tail of the distribution, but it is their highly desirable place in the curve that makes them interesting. This is the focus of this special issue: examining exceptional high-growth firms, for the purposes of better understanding outliers as a context, exploring the boundary conditions of existing theory, and developing new theory and policy towards future exceptional firms.
So, how do we know an exceptional outlier? The star performer literature suggests that means and standard deviations are meaningless, and that star performers are found in a power law distribution (Sornette, 2006; Taleb, 2020). This is also true for nascent, young, and high-growth firms (Crawford, Aguinis, Lichtenstein, Davidsson & McKelvey, 2015). Outliers are identified as those observations in the tail of the power law distribution (Crawford et al., 2015); as such, depending on the relative exceptionalism: outliers can account for anywhere between .1%-18% of the total observations in the distribution, explaining an overwhelming disproportion of results. Thus, papers in this special issue may classify an outlier according to the shape of the particular distribution under study. Further, we can study the phenomenon as it occurs, because exceptional outliers will far exceed the distribution curve long before their ultimate outcome. As such, it is incumbent upon researchers to keep these two considerations in mind as they design their research and identify potential outliers: a focus on outcomes, and extreme outperformance relative to peers.
Aims and Scope of the Special Issue
The study of growth star performers can occur at multiple levels (Beamish & Hasse, 2022): the ecosystem, the firm, and even the unique contribution of key individuals—any that might influence exceptional outcomes. Outliers are the culmination of factors: innovations, personality, philosophies, a unique management style, strategies, resource management, (at least sometimes) impression management tactics, and more; but how each of these explains, expands, redefines, and contradicts prevailing theories is the undiscovered country of this research tract. This special issue will address the call from Crawford et al.’s (2015) findings of ubiquitous power law distributions in the inputs and outcomes of new venture emergence and growth: “Our results call for the development of new theory to explain and predict the mechanisms that generate these distributions and the outliers therein (p. 696).”
We encourage research exploring a wide range of assumptions and research questions: some example research questions are listed below. With a focus on growth, entrepreneurship research is expected and welcomed, but so is research from any management domain.
Potential Research Questions
Exceptional Outlier Entrepreneurs or Firms vs. “Normal” Entrepreneurs or Firms
- What are the various ways we can conceptualize and operationalize outliers?
- What mechanisms drive the emergence of outliers?
- How do outliers amass and deploy human, social, and financial capital?
- How do outliers search for, recognize, assess, and pursue opportunities?
- How do outliers ideate, process, refine, resource, and launch potential ventures?
- Do outliers differ on cognitive and behavioral measures (e.g., passion, imaginativeness, self-efficacy, etc.)?
- How do outliers embody, discuss, reflect, or embrace social values within and outside their firms?
- How do outliers work in and lead their firms? Do they have any repeated personal habits?
- What are the cognitions, dispositions, beliefs of outliers?
- What are some goals, aspirations, motivations, and expectations for growth of outliers?
Exceptional Outlier Entrepreneurs or Firms (within)
- What are the domains of exceptional outliers e.g., profitability, growth, sales, resources acquired, etc.; do those domains matter?
- How do outliers manifest in non-commercial contexts? (i.e., social, institutional, cultural)?
- How do outliers interact with and exist within institutional alignments?
- How do outliers affect and inspire existing and future entrepreneurs?
- What are the political beliefs and involvement of outliers?
- What are some of the family alignments, involvement of family within business, and relationships of outliers?
- How do entrepreneurs create a reputation for being exceptional outliers and how do they use this reputation?
Exceptional Outlier Entrepreneurs or Firms (across contexts)
- Do the effects, manifestations, or implications of outliers differ across industries?
- Do the effects, manifestations, or implications of outliers differ across nations, regions, or cultures?
- Do the effects, manifestations, or implications of outliers differ between commercial and non-commercial contexts?
- How does the public reception/perception of outliers differ across contexts? When are “stars” celebrated or vilified?
- Does the recognition of outliers effect the firm, positively or negatively, and how?
- How could outliers reduce systemic wealth inequalities across different environments?
- Scholars are reminded that AMP seeks papers that advance theory and contribute to policy (broadly defined).
- We welcome conceptual, quantitative, and qualitative (e.g., narratives, multiple cases, experiments) inductive papers, but note that AMP is neither a theory-tested nor a mathematical modeling journal.
We welcome informal enquiries relating to the Special Issue, proposed topics, and potential fit with the Special Issue objectives. Please direct any questions on the Special Issue to the Guest Editors.
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