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Posted by on Jan 5, 2013 in Journal Updates, News, Science

The 5 Most Cited Strategic Management Journal Articles

The 5 Most Cited Strategic Management Journal Articles


“What are the most influential academic articles and ideas in the strategic management field?” is a question that has resided in the back of my mind for a long time. Fascinating as it is, finding the answer is not straightforward, as there are many scientific journals in which strategic management research is published. As a first step, I looked at the Strategic Management Journal, as it is one of the most influential ones, and is directly concerned with strategic management research. To establish what articles are the most influential, I simply looked at the five articles that have been cited the most. It is interesting to see that 4 of the 5 articles were published in the 1990s, and that several of them concern the resource-based view of the firm. Below, you will find  an overview of the five articles, accompanied by a short description of their main ideas and findings.

1. A Resource Based View of the Firm (B. Wernerfeld, 1984)

With more than 14.000 citations, this well-known article is the undisputed number 1 on the list. Written by Birger Wernerfelt and published in 1984, the article explores the usefulness of analyzing firms from the resource-side rather than the product-side. By looking at the resources possessed by a firm  (resource = a tangible or intangible asset that is tied semi-permanently to the firm), Wernerfelt shows that examining firms in terms of their resources leads to different insights than examining them in terms of their products. By identifying and acquiring or developing certain resources, firms can increase their profitability (e.g., by developing know-how or obtaining a patent). Furthermore, to stay competitive, firms should strike a balance between the exploitation of existent resources and the development of new ones.

Number of Citations: 14316
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2. Toward a Knowledge-Based Theory of the Firm (R.M. Grant, 1996)

The second article of this list, conceptualizes the firm as an institution for integrating knowledge. By synthesizing existing literature, Robert Grant develops the idea that firms exist as institutions, because they create conditions under which individuals can share and integrate their specific knowledge. Without this knowledge integration, the production of goods or services cannot exist. The principal role of management, therefore, is making sure that the individual knowledge of all organization members can be integrated. The article describes several coördination mechanisms, like the development of  organizational routines.  The conceptualization of the firm as a knowledge-integrating institution also has implications for the structure of the firm. Structures that rely on a strong hierarchy are not beneficial for knowledge integration, as they inhibit access to knowledge that is dispersed throughout the organization. The boundaries of the firm are determined by the relative efficiency of knowledge utilization.

Number of Citations: 8334
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3. The Cornerstones of Competitive Advantage: A Resource‐Based View (M.A. Peteraf, 1993)

This article, written by Margaret Peteraf, looks at the underlying economics of the resource-based view of competitive advantage. By integrating various strands of earlier research, a basic model is developed. The essence of this model is that four conditions underlie sustained competitive advantage, all of which must be met. The first condition is the possession of superior resources (heterogeneity within an industry). Superior resources enable the firm to produce more economically or better satisfy customer needs. The second condition is the existence of  ex post limits to competition, which allows for the preservation of the first condition. The less competition the company faces after it has obtained its unique position, the longer it can sustain its superior earnings. The third condition is the existence of imperfect resource mobility, which means that the firm has to possess resources that cannot (easily) be traded. The final condition is the existence of ex ante limits to competition, which mean that prior to the firm obtaining a superior resource position, there must be limited competition for that position. If the initial competition for the position is too high, potential profits will be competed away.

Number of Citations: 6901
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4. Strategic Assets and Organizational Rent (R. Amit & P.J.H. Schoemaker, 1993)

The fourth article of this lists links the external influences on firm strategy (e.g., competition and  industry) with the  internal influences (e.g., resources and capabilities)  and highlights the human limitations in crafting firm strategy. By reviewing earlier research, Raphael Amit and Paul Schoemaker show that firm-specific aspects (i.e., strategic assets) are very important in explaining variations in the economic rents of firms. They argue that economic rents are influenced by the resources & capabilities that are the most important in creating rents in the industry (i.e., strategic industry factors). Furthermore, these rents are influenced by firm-specific resources and capabilities developed by management (i.e., strategic assets). An important aspect of generating rents, is that it is difficult for managers to identify, develop, and deploy the right set of strategic assets. As managers face uncertainty, complexity, and conflict (both in and outside the firm), different managers make different decisions, and different firms will therefore employ different strategic assets.

Number of Citations: 6039
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5. Exploring Internal Stickiness: Impediments to the Transfer of Best Practice Within The Firm (G. Szulanski, 1996)

The ability to transfer best practices internally is an important aspect of a firm’s competitiveness. In the last paper of this list, Gabriel Szulanski shows that the internal imitation of best practices can be very difficult. This ‘internal stickiness’ is mainly due to three reasons. First, the recipient of the best practice lacks absorptive capacity. In other words, the recipient is not able to recognize, assimilate and/or use the best practice. Second, it may be unclear what the components or underlying processes of the best practices are, resulting in causal ambiguity. The third and last reason is an arduous relationship between the recipient of the best practice and its source. A non-workable relationship can distort the imitation of best practices, as the transfer of best practices heavily relies on the communication between individuals. In contrast with conventional wisdom, motivational problems are not the main source of internal stickiness. According to the findings of this article, knowledge-related barriers are much more important.

Number of Citations: 5097
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  1. Wernerfelt, B. 1984. A Resource-based View of the Firm. Strategic Management Journal, 5(June 1982): 171–180.
  2. Grant, R. M. 1996. Toward A Knowledge-Based Theory of The Firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17: 109–122.
  3. Peteraf, M. A. 1993. The Cornerstones of Competitive Advantage: A Resource-Based View. Strategic Management Journal, 14(3): 179–191.
  4. Amit, R., & Schoemaker, P. J. H. 1993. Strategic Assets and Organizational Rent. Strategic Management Journal, 14(1): 33–46.
  5. Szulanski, G. 1996. Exploring Internal Stickiness: Impediments to the Transfer of Best Practice Within the Firm. Strategic Management Journal, 17: 27–43.

The citation data is derived from Google Scholar on the 5th of January 2013.