Start-Up Weekend on digital entrepreneurship for entrepreneurs and academics

This Fall, the FINDER Project team, in collaboration with Radboud Centre for Organization Restructuring and Atos will host a Start-Up Weekend on digital entrepreneurship, which will be of interest to both entrepreneurs and academics.

This Start-Up Weekend is a public event to help individuals with creative ideas for digital entrepreneurship start their innovation journey. This event intends to surround entrepreneurs with smart and passionate people, with the best tools and approaches that will help move towards creating their own business and connecting with the right people and resources. A wonderful opportunity for idea-stage start-ups with an eye towards a partnered, invested, or acquired future to workshop their ideas opposite a panel of industry experts and a group of the general public. Equally a great opening to provide for an academic perspective on the theme of collaboration for responsible innovation.

We foresee inspiring sessions and lively discussions with panelists/speakers from amongst others Philips, ING, TechQuartier Frankfurt and Atos.

Scheduled for the Fall, this Start-Up Weekend is especially geared towards those with a keen interest in entrepreneurship in the (fin)tech domain, and is organized with the intent to lower the hurdle to early career entrepreneurial activity. As part of a series of events to further tie in academia and business practice, the Start-Up Weekend will be another exciting opportunity to exchange ideas between practice and academia. Cementing for future collaborations in the domain of responsible innovation. In this series the FINDER Project Team and the Radboud Centre for Organization Restructuring prior hosted the Inclusive Digital Innovation Week in FS&I together with our project partner Atos.

Designed as an event that builds an innovative collaborative arrangement among established tech firms and start up enthusiasts, we highly encourage startups, university faculty members and students to sign on if interested.

We are currently looking into the possibility of hosting the Start-Up Weekend on site. However, pending further developments of the coronavirus pandemic, the workshop might be virtually hosted. 

Details for the sign on procedure and further event specifics will be shared shortly.

Additional information for students:

The panel of 5 general public members will have a unique opportunity to peer into the process of business creation, and this may be of scholarly interest for Master’s level students. Especially students who have it in mind to focus on entrepreneurial themes or business innovation as a topic in their thesis, this could be a valuable networking opportunity and a research flashpoint.

Interested applicants will need to stay keyed in to the group dialogues for the duration of the workshop and pitch in when they have ideas or when things don’t make sense to them, as their primary function is to keep the workshop grounded and from getting disconnected from consumer reality. Akin to product testing research, no specific expertise is required, and it’s not in the interest of the workshop for the general public members to emulate being professionals at something: just be your regular self.


Recently Jonas Röttger was invited by the Atos Scientific Community to present his research on CEO personality trades and how they influence strategic choices of firms. His presentation entitled “Loud moves, bold CEOs: The signal interaction effect of CEO overconfidence and deal-specific confidence in M&A announcements“ received one of the highest appreciating ratings during the Atos Scientific Community meeting.

During his presentation Jonas addressed the CEO personality which influences the strategic choices of firms. He investigated whether investors can see through firm actions as a manifestation of CEO personality by analyzing the firm’s M&A communication. In the case of overconfident CEOs, firms can receive more positive M&A announcement stock returns by releasing press statements with a less positive linguistic tone.

The FINDER output was very well received at upper echelon level, the Atos scientific community (approx. 140 people) and included a general discussion revolving around the topic of CEO personality and firm-level outcomes.

A great example of academia-to-practice transitioning – a gap stone point to this ITN program.

Egos Colloquium 2021 sub-theme 19 “Collaboration and the (Ir)Rationalities of Decision-making in a Digital Landscape”

Plenty of (ir)rational decision making commonalities on offer during an inter-disciplinary EGOS subtheme on Collaboration and Decision-making in a Digital Landscape, that kicked off today #EGOS2021

Thanks to presenters and discussants from across the continent (and England of course) we had a lively discussion.

Thank you Yuliia Yehorova, Erik Hanel, Zahra Kashanizadeh, David Langley, Werner Hoffmann, Alexander Engelmann, Renate Kratochvil, Sotirios Paroutis, Daniel Stedjan Svendsrud, Jin Xu, Linda Buis, Marjukka Klippi, Saeed Khanagha, Uli Meyer, James Ellis, Johan Buchholz,  Jonas Röttger, Maryia Zaitsava, Matthew Knight, Szyman Wiercinski, Henk Volberda, Dimitar Krastev and others.

Looking forwards to day 2: this round starting with a session on digital collaboration and its perils and troubles ….

Dr. Rick Aalbers

COVID-19 recovery in Cities and Regions: lessons from the 4th OECD Roundtable on Cities and Regions for the SDGs

After partaking in the prior OECD Roundtables on Cities and Regions it was a pleasure to be part of the community that comprised the 4th OECD Roundtable on Cities and Regions for the SDGs on the theme of a Framework for COVID-19 recovery in Cities and Regions.

Recovery is high on the agenda after the disrupting forces unleased by the recent COVID pandemic. A challenge that transcends form the individual to the firm level, to the city and regional level and back, introducing a relational complexity that is unprecedented. Hence it is great to see the many initiatives that allow firms, cities and regions veer back from the COVID driven turmoil they went through over the past year. A key takeaway from this roundtable has been the role of digital technologies to facilitate the swift recuperation. Technology allows for the communications and lessons learned and shared during this very OECSD hosted roundtable, but there is more to it.

With digital ecosystems operating beyond organizational and industry boundaries, as facilitator for organizational (firms, cities and regions alike) resilience,  such reorientation comes with advanced interdependencies. The management literature provides for some interesting lessons on this front. Reviewing some of the work that has passed by over the last decade, lessons can be learned. Organizations that find themselves in dire circumstances can improve their situation despite these ecosystem interdependencies, however, for instance by proactively implementing strategic change to stem survival-threatening performance decline. While firms’ propensity to reshape under external and internal pressure has received increasing scholarly attention (e.g. Bowman and Singh, 1993; McKinley and Scherer, 2000; Girod and Whittington, 2015), digital ecosystem dynamics have remained relatively understudied as a mechanism facilitating such organizational transitioning (Pagani, 2013).

Our current understanding of how orgnaizations reshape themselves as part of their digital ecosystems is limited however by the lack of a strong theoretical base to understand the implications of digital technology on extant theories and knowledge of organization restructuring as part of a digitally enabled environment (Adner, 2006; Kane et al., 2015). As firms no longer operate in isolation but operate in digital ecosystems that determine the way and magnitude to which a firm can transform a firm’s core architecture and the way it serves its customers (Tangpong et al. 2021). Though there has been more attention to the dynamic nature of business ecosystems in general terms, several scholars have argued that more work is needed to understand reciprocal relationships, timing and causal effects of these events, calling for further attention for dispositional, behavioral and contextual influences (e.g. Quintane et al., 2014).  Equally, extant research on turnaround management typically focuses on traditional outcomes (e.g., profits), and antecedents, (e.g. time and pace of change) with less emphasis on the technological advancements that may foster or hamper the extent to which organizations manage to individually or collectively reshape. On both fronts surprisingly little is known however about the organizational, temporal, and ambidexterity dimensions in digital ecosystems as they endure exogenous tremor. This challenge has recently infused several members of our Centre to shine new light on the challenges and opportunities posed by digital driven business ecosystem collaboration as firms collaboratively are forced to reinvent themselves. Thank you to the organizers of the 4th OECD Roundtable on Cities and Regions for the SDGs On that note for bringing further inspiration to this initiative.

Dr. Rick (H.L.) Aalbers

European Academy of Management 2021 Conference

Last week, S. James Ellis presented his research on bifurcated legitimization strategies at the European Academy of Management, or EURAM, 2021 Online Conference.

Each year, academic conferences the world over provide opportunities for scholars to meet and discuss their embryonic, in-progress, and fully developed papers as well as to network. At larger ones such as EURAM, the conferences are subdivided into interest groups. This groups like-disciplined academics so that critical feedback and conversations with potential collaborators can start at a higher baseline of understanding. In line with the overall theme of FINDER, James participated in the Innovation strategic interest group and specifically, its track titled “Digital Innovation: Strategies, Competencies, Theories, and Practice.”

After a 15 minute presentation, the small group of track scholars engaged in a fruitful dialogue around how to further refine the theoretical and storytelling layout. The common interest in sessions like this is for each scholar to walk away with tools and recommendations that will ideally improve their paper’s chance of publication when they go on from the conference and submit their work to an academic journal.

S. James Ellis, Dr. Rick Aalbers, Dr. Philipp Tuertscher, and the infamous Lenovo attending EURAM 2021.

The conference was one of several that the FINDERs will present their research at this summer. The next will be the European Group for Organization Studies 2021 Colloquium, where Dr. Rick Aalbers and Dr. Saeed Khanagha of the FINDER project along with Dr. Sotirios Paroutis of the Warwick Business School will convene the track “Collaboration and the (Ir)Rationalities of Decision-making in a Digital Landscape.”

Market reactions to acquisition announcements: The importance of signaling ‘why’ and ‘where’

Acquisitions are common in industries, but not all acquisitions succeed and those that fail often have a negative effect on the acquirer. A recent publication in the Long Range Planning further explores multiple levels of risks involved in acquisitions and the importance of signaling the ‘why’ and ‘where’ of said acquisitions.

Dr Rick Aalbers (Associate Professor in Strategy and Innovation at Radboud University Nijmegen and coordinating team member of the FINDER Project) teamed up with Dr Killian J. McCarthy (Associate Professor of Innovation at University of Groningen) and Prof. Dr Koen Heimeriks (Professor of Strategy at Warwick Business School) deep dived into the matter, which resulted in the publication of:

“Market Reactions to Acquisition Announcements: The Importance of Signaling ‘Why’ and ‘Where’”
Aalbers R., McCarthy, K. & Heimeriks, K. (2021)
Long Range Planning

As acquisitions are risky events but not all acquisitions involve the same levels of risk, the authors suggest that the announced acquisition motive – the ‘why’ of the acquisition – is an important risk signal. In the paper they categorize acquisition motives and distinction is made between acquisitions with ‘pure explore’ and ‘pure exploit’ motives. Recognizing that most acquisitions have multiple motives, acquisitions with ‘ambidextrous’ motives – different combinations of explorative and exploitative motives – are identified too.
Building on recent contributions to signaling theory, it is argued that the ‘why’ will matter more, if the ‘where’ pertains to a high-risk setting. The authors measure this, using target-to-acquirer industry relatedness.


  • The market reacts more positively to pure acquisitions, aimed at exploration or exploitation, compared to ambidextrous acquisitions.
  • The market reacts more positively to ambidextrous acquisitions orientated towards exploitation than ambidextrous acquisitions orientated toward exploration.
  • Relatedness moderates this relationship, in that the market is more willing to tolerate exploration in a related industry.

The authors core contribution is to the literatures on acquisition motives and ambidexterity. They provide new insights into the incidence of specific motives, the ways in which they are mixed, and the market’s reaction to their announcement. In addition, they contribute to the emerging literature that takes on behavioral perspective of market reactions by showing that the ‘why’ and ‘where’ of an acquisition matter.

Summary of the FINDER inclusive digital innovation in FS&I week

Last week, we hosted the FINDER inclusive digital innovation week in FS&I together with our project partner Atos. It was an exciting opportunity to exchange ideas between practice and academia and receive food for further thinking. We want to thank the organizers of the event, Remco Neuteboom, Rick Aalbers, Ivo Lujiendijk, Jonas Röttger, Catherine Dutton, Linda Buis, S. James Ellis, Ana Barroso, Belen Gonzalez Rodriguez, and Saeed Khanagha.

Thank you also to all participants! We enjoyed your excellent questions and the discussions.

Summary of the sessions

1. How to de-risk corporate-startup innovations while improving speed and cost? By Josemaria Siota

Josemaria Siota, Executive Director IESE Business School, explained how to engage in venturing as a corporation by pulling from his latest research report (available here). The session was facilitated by Nikhil Chouguley, Global Head of Product Governance & ESG Oversight at Deutsche Bank. Click here for a summary of the session.  

2. GAIA-X: The future of the European datacloud by Hubert Tardieu

Hubert Tardieu, Chairman of the Board of the GAIA-X AISBL, introduced the European business to business data sharing initiative GAIA-X. Click here for a summary of the session.  

3. Ecosystem dominance by S. James Ellis and Ivo Luijendijk

S. James Ellis, FINDER Ph.D. candidate, and Ivo Luijendijk, Industry Director Atos, presented their whitepaper findings on how to achieve dominant positions in ecosystems as a company. Click here for a summary of the session.  

4. Retail Banking transforms into Life-fulfilment services by Eddy Claessens and Jonas Röttger

Eddy Claessens, Industry Director Atos, and Jonas Röttger, FINDER Ph.D. candidate, laid out their vision of how retail banking will transform into a hyper customer-centric model in which customers interact with various industries through a banking portal. Click here for a summary of the session.  

5. Enabling next-generation customer insights & interactions in insurance through explainable AI by Jeremie Abiteboul

Jeremie Abiteboul, Chief Technology Advisor at DreamQuark, explained how explainable AI works, its benefits, and how DreamQuark is implementing it with customers. Click here for a summary of the session.

‘How to de-risk corporate startup innovations, while improving speed and cost?’

FINDER and Atos joined with practitioners, academics, and policy-makers to discuss how to yield benefits from these developments by re-positioning banks in the ecosystem, using Artificial Intelligence in insurance, mitigating risks in new venture collaborations and exploring the opportunities of the European GAIA-X project.

On Monday 15th March, the first day’s sessions took place as part of FINDER and Atos’ ‘Inclusive Digital Innovation in Financial Services & Insurance Event Week’. Atos CTO Remco Neuteboom ( and Rick Aalbers (, Associate Professor Strategy and Innovation at Radboud University hosted the sessions. They were joined by Josemaria Siota – Executive Director of the IESE Business School – who presented findings from a new corporate venturing report. The discussion was moderated by Nikhil Chouguley, the Global Head of Product Governance & ESG Oversight at Deutsche Bank.

The first half of the session was focus on new research on corporate venturing. Josemaria Siota presented the latest research on the new role of corporate venturing as an ‘enabler’. The research findings showed the importance of a corporate venturing ‘enabler’. The enabler is “An institution or individual, within an innovation ecosystem, that facilitates a resource or activity in the collaboration between an established corporation and a startup, in order for the corporation to attract and adopt innovation.” There are many types of enabler, including private accelerators and incubators, research institutions, venture capital firms or investors, governments and even other corporations. The enabler role is to help determine the innovation gap, explore the options for building the innovation capacity or partnering with others, and facilitate any partnership. Then Josemaria Siota answered about the research and its implications in the market.

The second half of the session was open to the audience. Host Nikhil Chouguley introduced himself and explained how he was interested in both sides of the relationship. He is responsible for governance at a major corporate in his day job, but he also operates his own fintech startup. Nikhil was particularly interested in the role of enablers and the relatively new concept of corporate venturing squads. The 25% of collaborations that had succeeded still represented a huge positive as he invited audience questions for Josemaria Siota to answer the research and its implications in the market.

Josemaria Siota explained how the research points to five crucial conclusions for corporates:

1) Protect your company’s core business when running corporate venturing through an enabler

2) Choose capabilities rather than ‘packaging’ to filter potential enablers. For example, working with partners via a local enabler that has a deep understanding of a specific sector in a specific country

3) Remember that enablers are not just consulting firms – the reality is far richer as they bring databases, events and other ways to connect organizations

4) These opportunities offer you a completely new revenue stream: enabling other partnerships through corporate venturing ‘squads’

5) Every day, the company is becoming less and less unique and enablers can improve your value proposition

There was also time for one key conclusion for potential enablers: A proven capability is the most frequent aspect considered by partners. So always under-sell and over-deliver.

The full research findings are available to download for free. (

About the event:

FINDER is a Marie Curie Research and Training Program funded by the European Committee and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 813095. This session took place as part of Atos’s ‘Inclusive Digital Innovation in Financial Services & Insurance Event Week’ (15th to the 18th March 2021). This is part of Atos and Radboud University’s joint initiative FINDER (, funded by the European Commission.

Retail banking transforms into life-fulfillment services – A session of the FINDER inclusive digital innovation week

On Thursday, our event week on inclusive digital innovation in FS&I reached its final day. It was exciting to bring together perspectives from academia and practice. On our last day, we discussed how banks could transform into life-fulfillment services platforms. Eddy Claessens, Industry director at Atos, gave us insight into his hyper customer-centric retail banking vision, so-called life-fulfillment platforms. The session was hosted and facilitated by Jonas Röttger, a Ph.D. Candidate on the FINDER project.

What are life-fulfillment services platforms?

Life-fulfillment platforms refer to a vision on retail banking. It represents a business model in which the customer interacts through the banking platform with various ecosystems to fulfill diverse real-world needs. For instance, purchasing train tickets, filing insurance claims, and organizing a move. Of course, the platform also offers core financial services provided by almost all retail banks today. The general idea is that life-fulfillment platforms cover all of the customer’s needs that are related to financial transactions. These customer needs can be summarized into four cornerstones of the vision.

  1. Pay and spend
  2. Save and borrow
  3. Invest and protect
  4. Receive and earn

Which roles can banks play in this model?

The overall vision is to create a one-stop-shop solution, meaning one bank becomes the exclusive entry point for customers to fulfill various needs (see above for categories of customer needs). The short-term and mid-term perspective requires banks to position themselves concerning their function as links between the customer and various ecosystems. For instance, banks can decide to act as advisors for ecosystems where they have expertise but do not want to get directly involved. Or they can aggregate services and products in their offerings. The role banks can play hinges on their competencies and prospects. The lfie-fulfillment services vision sees four different roles mentioned below as the most promising options for banks:

  1. Advisor: the bank consults the customer on what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and with whom to do it.
  2. Facilitator: the bank provides, orchestrates, and curates a platform for different stakeholder groups to not only find each other but also interact and transact,
  3. Aggregator: the bank will package and integrate homegrown and third-party solutions.
  4. Initiator: the bank offers direct access through bank distribution channelsto specifically supported externally sourced services or products

What did we learn in our discussion with academia and practitioners on the topic of life-fulfillment services?

  • Banks are already working towards the implementation of similar models. The risk of disintermediation and the lower margins in various fields of retail banking requires banks to shift their business models. Hence, becoming a provider of new services is an appealing vision for banks.
  • Banks do not need to fulfill all roles proclaimed in the model. It strongly depends on their customers and their position in the ecosystems. Which relationships can be leveraged? Also, the customer journey for individual use cases shows which role to play.
  • Banks are well-equipped for the data-driven operational model that is needed to become life-fulfillment service platforms. They have the customers’ trust and access to rich financial data. However, the analytic capability might be something that needs further development, and that can be achieved through partnerships.

If you would like to learn more about life-fulfillment services, please reach out to Eddy Claessens for further dialog on this topic.

Orchestration: Dynamic Control from the Panopticon

Business ecosystems are distinct from random collections of companies for the high degree of interactivity between ecosystem participants. In a purely ecological sense, this is the difference between a random collection of penguins, chimpanzees, and grizzly bears in a zoo – who have little if any interaction with each other for being confined to separate enclosures and having no natural connection otherwise – and a collection of lesser long-nosed bats and the night-blooming cacti of the Sonoran Desert. In these more interesting cases, interactivity is beneficial to at least one party and ideally beneficial – but perhaps inert or even damaging – to the other. In the case of the bat and cactus, the relationship might even be a matter of survival.

Businesswise, we see this in, for instance, the smart lighting industry. Providers of smart lighting platforms provide the lights and a basic infrastructure for third parties to provide add-on services. Those complementors then come in and jazz up an otherwise mundane chandelier with services like music synchronization to make the entire ecosystem – platform, complementors, and all – more attractive to customers. Scale these systems up from individual users to smart lighting systems for entire cities, and the potential for ecosystem diversity becomes immense.

However, unreigned chaos – in the constructive rather than destructive sense – rarely provides efficient market outcomes. In the smart lighting example, platform providers have some sort of de facto control over the ecosystem of complementors that amass around their platforms, and they might use this to nudge certain outcomes. This is not always the case. Especially when the “platform” around which complementors come together is more conceptual rather than a tangible product, the roles of who provides the platform and who really guides where it’s going become disentangled. In these settings, a strategically advantageous position to take is that of an orchestrator, which involves putting one’s self or firm in the center of many others and attempting to order and interlace those others’ capabilities and offerings.

This either requires or hopefully provides a panoptical view of the ecosystem, which can then be harnessed to create things of value. Information asymmetry, which we won’t get into, and intentional ambiguity, which we will, can affect what one can do from that panopticon, but in this post, we’ll first discuss orchestration generally as a concept before getting into some literature that addresses the challenges that can burden the orchestrator. Don’t worry though: we’ll also get to some strategic fixes and recommendations to get around those, which will likely become more useful over time as we see ecosystem cooperation – and thus orchestration – rise in importance.

The panopticon is a dynamic literary symbol, i.e. commenting on cultures of surveillance and the vulnerability of those surveilled. Ideally, this post will strike a more positive tone. Artwork created by and used with permission from Adam Simpson.

Defining an Orchestrator

Rarely are business leaders and their stakeholders – employees concerned with career growth, investors looking for substantial returns, and so on – content with being in the passenger seat while unplanned chaos drives. Ecosystems, despite their difficulty to gain unilateral control of, are steerable. They can be steered by the institutions that oversee them from the beginning – such as regulatory authorities providing tax incentives for companies working towards certain Sustainable Development Goals – or they can be steered by actors within the ecosystem – such as firms attempting to establish themselves as industry leaders by enlisting other ecosystem actors to work towards a collaborative, groundbreaking innovation.

An orchestrator, to borrow and slightly adjust the oft-cited definition of Dhanaraj and Parkhe, are central firms that create value by ordering components of an ecosystem into sequences more valuable than the sum of their parts, and then extract value by selling those sequences as products or services. That this is exactly what happens in a professional orchestra is a painfully obvious statement, but also one I’ve not seen anywhere in all this literature, so there it finally is.

In a paper I recently submitted to a few conferences, I focus on Atos as an orchestrator amid the financial services ecosystem. Over the past five years or so, they’ve worked to create a system whereby they search for promising fintechs, daisy-chain those fintechs’ offerings alongside those of other fintechs as well as the ones Atos itself can provide, then sell those solutions to clients. The benefits are clear in this win-win-win situation: fintechs (those being orchestrated) gain market exposure especially to large clients, clients (those for whom the orchestrator is orchestrating) are able to purchase their innovation goals, and Atos (the orchestrator) draws in revenue as the broker of the deal with minimal costs in terms of production.

Orchestration as a theoretical event is not a necessarily new concept. The previously cited Dhanaraj and Parkhe article, which seems to be the root article in a lot of management literature concerning the topic, was published in 2006. It’s been a long time since then, with 2020 accounting for roughly half of it. However, one of our colleagues right here at Radboud University co-authored an article on orchestration that was published in Organization Studies this year, and the insights are particularly valuable for practitioners in likely any industry who seek to achieve a similar role. The above win-win-win dynamic, after all, is about more than generating profit for shareholders: it’s about improving the health of the ecosystem. Whether in an ecological or a market sense of ecosystems, it’s hard to argue against that. I’ll also reference an article co-authored by a partner of the FINDER project, Dr. Miriam Wilhelm, which relates in its discussion of how a central firm must apply different approaches and more specifically ambidextrous ones when dealing with other firms contributing to its outputs.

The difficulty of constantly being in tune with all orchestrated components – being in the panopticon – is no small factor, and it not only requires many sets of eyes to monitor what’s going on in many places at once, but it also involves many sets of hands to address various issues and concerns among the various project participants. Even more importantly, it requires an intuition for when to apply hands-on, dominant solutions and when to only provide a gentle nudge before letting the consensus figure out the rest.

Two Modes

Broadly speaking, the study focuses on interfirm orchestration. This is in contrast to orchestration that occurs between different units within a firm, which I’ll cover in a future post. In their paper, Reypens, Lieven, and Blazevic assess a project with a large collection of stakeholders to explore how orchestrators go about mobilizing agents in a variety of firms to work towards the same objective. They adopt the view from previous literature that there are two modes of orchestration: dominant and consensus-based. These are fairly self-explanatory: in the former, one entity attempts to centrally govern most processes that happen within the endeavor, putting other entities in a de facto subordinate role. In the latter, governance and management are decentralized or revolving. The authors then assert that both of these modes can be employed in a given project and by a given entity dynamically.

It is along this line of thought that they commence their analysis, and their study lays out in great detail the dynamics that occurred between stakeholders through a four-year project. Specifically, they narrate how orchestrators of the project danced between dominant and consensus-based orchestration based on environmental conditions, the growing capabilities and interaction of the network participants, and so on. The paper – cited in full at the bottom – contains insights that would likely be useful for any manager at the head of a collaborative project, and thus is worth a fuller read. I’ll use the remainder of this piece to discuss how key aspects of their abstraction can turn into specific strategic methods for practitioners. In the following section, I’ll refer to orchestrated projects, but keep in mind that this can be scaled up to long-term, international events or scaled down to embedded units within a single company. If you find exceptions to that, feel free to engage in the comments section of whatever medium through which you found this post. For the speed-readers out there, I’ve put the main takeaways in bold.

Strategic Recommendations

This section briefly extracts a few points that are practically relevant for managers finding themselves at the beginning of or in the midst of populated projects. The authors also included a chart in their work for this, which I’ve included below, that discusses specific orchestration practices that address the plurality as well as the diversity of stakeholders – again, the paper is worth a look for a more comprehensive explanation.

To start, I’m going to momentarily reach out to a different theoretical topic before coming back to this paper. You might’ve heard the team “ambidexterity” in contexts not referring to what people can do with their hands lately; as a theoretical topic, it’s a contemporary darling in management literature and not for no reason. At its core, it refers to the basic idea of doing two different things (well) at once. In this paper, the authors suggest that orchestrating dominantly and orchestrating harmoniously must be dynamically balanced over time to account for stakeholder diversity. The link between these concepts is clear, but we can make it clearer if we compress the four-year period they researched the medical project of their focus into one event1. As such, these occur ambidextrously and through three episodes the authors define: connecting members, facilitating their work, and governing the process.

To tie this in with the article co-authored by Dr. Wilhelm, the orchestrator should make it a goal from the beginning to gain a comprehensive understanding of each orchestrated member’s own capabilities and how motivated they are of their own accord to accelerate or modify those capabilities. While a complex task to pull off, it can really pay dividends: having an in-depth knowledge of how certain, KPI-driven members respond to ambiguous versus very specific task guidance sounds intuitive but is also overlooked to a disappointing extent. Consider, if nothing else, how this knowledge might be used to motivate those members to optimize their own processes without repetitive external pressure (from the orchestrator).

To borrow an example from the above-cited paper, Toyota sought cost-reduction behaviors from its supply network partners. However, Toyota also was interested in maintaining quality of parts delivered. While on one hand demarcating clear, measurable cost-reduction goals to all of its suppliers, Toyota on the other hand offered coaching in the production-optimization practice of kaizen2 to individual suppliers without explicitly forcing them to follow it or micromanaging how those suppliers optimize their practices. This lateral freedom allows those suppliers to explore their own potential for improvement, and giving that to members of an orchestration project at every ripe opportunity is a key strategy managers should keep at the top of their toolboxes.

For business leaders finding themselves near the starting line of projects that resonate so far, the connection step is important. Especially as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has largely scattered the workforce out of centralized working locations such as corporate offices or construction jobsites, bringing members back together is necessary to prevent a situation where project members feel like they’re disconnected from their peers. In a material sense, this can have resounding consequences for the serendipitous generation of new ideas that could make a good project even greater. I beg of you, however, to mitigate effects such as “Zoom fatigue” (a review of that linked article being a good first step).

Shifting tracks slightly from connection of members to facilitation of their work, being a present and connected orchestrator goes a long way. “Work” of course means different things in different arenas, but I focus here on the type of work where various members of a larger project have relative freedom in the ways in which they go about performing their tasks. In other words, they’re able to deliberate, think of alternative methods, and perhaps implement them even if it slightly shifts the course of the entire project. This stands in contrast to, for instance, assembly line work, where workers (be they human or machine) perform highly specialized tasks without much room for on-the-spot improvisation.

Members of an orchestrated project – especially due to the tendency for these workers to get into states where their field of vision narrows to what they and only the direct links in the project’s system are concerned with on a daily basis – might find themselves hitting the proverbial “writer’s block,” or perhaps straying away from original objectives. Especially when given ambiguous guidance per the earlier recommendation, this is likely in large projects with a diversity of stakeholders. Orchestrators, however, have an extremely valuable bird’s-eye view of the project even when it might seem chaotically dense. How can they leverage this to refuel, restart, and realign their agents? By making the objectives and especially the interdependencies of other components in the project chain known to straying or stalled participants, giving them a reference point to guide their own way forward.

The nexus of this paper, and the final point I’ll discuss here despite there being much more that’s worth a look in the paper itself, is in discussing the orchestration mode as dynamic through time. Sounds intuitive, doesn’t it? But considering the reasons why that might need an entire research paper to cover alludes to the instinctive and perhaps counterproductive nature of projects with too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.

The project they researched showed that orchestration moved from dominating to consensus-based because “as ambiguity decreases and relationships form, the reliance on formal structures decreases.” It’s not difficult to imagine why this crucial step goes missed in, for example, old-school dinosaur companies that have opted for a community-based innovation approach in trying to leapfrog past their advancing competitors. Relinquishing control, even if for the health of the initiative itself, is a difficult thing to do for high-level managers in these companies who might perceive doing so as jeopardizing their professional reputation.

– S. James Ellis, ESR

The original paper co-authored by our Radboud colleague, Dr. Vera Blazevic:

Reypens, C., Lievens, A., & Blazevic, V. (2019). Hybrid Orchestration in Multi-stakeholder Innovation Networks: Practices of mobilizing multiple, diverse stakeholders across organizational boundaries. Organization Studies, 42(1), 61–83.

The paper co-authored by Dr. Miriam Wilhelm, a member of the broader FINDER team:

Aoki, K., & Wilhelm, M. (2017). The Role of Ambidexterity in Managing Buyer–Supplier Relationships: The Toyota Case. Organization Science, 28(6), 1080–1097.

1: “Why would you do that though?” Good question. In process research methods, and more specifically in researching Markov processes (which I do not claim to be an expert about, so take the following with a grain of salt), occurrences (such as the collaborative writing of one work package that is a small component of a larger project) stack into events (such as the combination, assignment, and fulfillment of these work packages to achieve project outcomes); events then stack into states (such as the project shifting from incomplete to complete). This is not absolute, but rather a good framework through which one can comprehend how long-term processes can be systematically divided up for incremental analysis.

2: Kaizen, per Dr. Katsuki Aoki (the co-author of Dr. Wilhelm’s paper), is “a term generally and broadly used in Japanese manufacturing industries to refer to activity that is implemented onsite by recognizing and bridging the gap between ideal and actual conditions and applying ideas to improve a production situation.”