Nested identities as cognitive drivers of strategy

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Research Summary: Organizations face tensions to conform to industry norms for legitimacy yet differentiate for competitive advantage when implementing strategies. We suggest this tension is due to and resolved through organizations’ cognitive negotiations of multiple levels of identity. Through an inductive study in the recreational vehicle industry, we find that organizations concurrently draw on identities at the organizational, industry, and strategic group levels to formulate and enact specific competitive actions. Specifically, we find that organizational identity relates to decisions on product offerings; industry identity relates to downstream strategy; and strategic group identity relates to upstream strategy, firm boundaries, and expansion mode. Our findings highlight the importance of strategic group identity and inform a grounded model describing how organizations draw upon different levels of identity to influence strategy. Managerial Summary: Many managers experience tensions of differentiating their firms’ competitive actions from rivals, while conforming with industry norms and practices. In this article, we argue that a manager can navigate these tensions by understanding their firm, strategic group, and industry identities and how these identities interrelate. Through a qualitative case study of the U.S. recreational vehicle industry, we show that each level of identity influences different competitive actions, with firm identity connected to product offerings, industry identity related to managing downstream distribution, and strategic group identity related to firm boundary and acquisition strategies. Overall, strategic group identity is the most critical for managers as this level filters how they view competitors and provides the rules of competition.




Irwin, Jennifer, Brooke Lahneman, and Anne Parmigiani. "Nested identities as cognitive drivers of strategy." Strategic Management Journal 39, no. 2 (December 2017): 269-294. DOI: 10.1002/smj.2735.
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