Creating something from nothing: Resource construction through entrepreneurial bricolage

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Citation: Ted Baker, Reed E. Nelson (2005) Creating something from nothing: Resource construction through entrepreneurial bricolage. Administrative Science Quarterly (RSS)




Tagged: Business (RSS) entrepreneurship (RSS), bricolage (RSS), innovation (RSS)


Summary:

Baker and Nelson borrow Levi-Stauss's concept of bricolage to explain how entrepreneurs can make do with very little in the form of resources in extremely resource-poor environments. Bricolage is defined, roughly, as "making do by applying combinations of the resources at hand to new problems and opportunities." They explain in terms of a refusal to accept limitations.

The paper presents an in-depth field study of 29 new organizations in an economically depressed area. The paper presents a large number of examples of bricolage that include people retrofitting machines to use them in contexts in which they were not intended, making new software or combining existing systems with homegrown appendages.

The authors suggest that bricolage can happen in a number of different domains that include: (1) physical inputs, (2) labor, (3) customers, (4) skills, (5) institutional or regulatory.

They also suggest that bricolage is associated with a number of different elements that include: (1) a diverse trove of physical resources, (2) broad self-taught skills (3) violation of norms, (4) a multiple network, and (5) multiply reinforcing use of bricolage.

They authors find they can divide up the 29 firms that they study in depth into three roughly evenly sized groups:

  • Parallel bricolage: This includes groups that operate with bricolage in every domain (or missing a single domain) and using every single element.
  • Selective bricolage: Groups that will use bricolage here or there in their work and are not afraid to use, but don't practice it as a core part of their business.
  • None: Business which do not, or almost never, practice bricolage at all.

The authors data suggests that it was the firms that were engaged in selective bricolage were often able to grow. Firms that used parallel bricolage and none at all often found more difficult growing in the examples. The authors present a model which suggests that it is the mutually reinforcing nature of parallel bricolage which presents the biggest barrier to growth. A non-mutually reinforcing environment lets a firm take advantage of the benefits of bricolage while also allowing for limitations in the form of routinization and richer more demanding markets which can be associated with growth.

As a secondary takeaway, by arguing that organizations refuse to make due with limited resources at hand, the implication is that some entrepreneurs can create something out of nothing. This has strong implications against an objective view of resources and suggest a more "constructivist" approach.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Baker and Nelson's article has been cited more than 200 times since it was published 5 years ago, almost entirely in the literature on entrepreneurship and strategy.