Research Plan, Version 17 mei 2016

Below some research ideas and structure for the development of a new firm theory.

A theory is relevant and useful that explains the existence, the behavior and the death of firms with a wide application because of the changing relation between individual people and firms. This is relevant for an extended audience associated with firms such as policy makers and academics even when the latter differ only in their academic school of thought. Such a theory must necessarily be independent of situational variables such as the sector of the firm’s business, its size, the people associated with it, its financing, its assets and all kinds of temporal issues. Bearing in mind the above, the research question can be posed:

What is a firm?’

A hypothesis anwering this question is:

A firm is a pattern in space and time produced by global behavior of some system. Said global behavior is produced by behavior of individual people. Material and energy flow through’ the pattern – the system bringing forth a firm is not in equilibrium. The pattern that is the firm computes its relation to its environment thus acquiring and maintaining its identity. This identity ceases to exist if the firm dies, usually because of its associating with another firm

Meta. The current shape that firms have taken is a result of the set of beliefs that are fashionable in western society. They are of the same stuff that our ‘other’ beliefs are made of: it harks back to what ‘we’ believe to be, to be good, to be useful. We know these things because they have been taught us from an early age on. They are our beliefs sufficiently corroborated by reality to represent reality to us: they work to some sufficient measure, we consider them to be ‘true’, to us they are knowledge, more than just any belief. To enable a peek at this belief system from outside it is required to ‘unbelieve’ these things and not take them as a given and not defend them as beyond doubt. Doing that, however, implies rejecting many certainties as such: the role of humans in the universe, the existence of God, human consciousness, human freedom of will and agency, moral and ethical certainties such as ‘to work is a good thing’. It is required to look beyond a number of dogmas that for practical reasons people consider truths. In doing so it is also required to release any divinity involved in the capabilities and the faculties, of the human brain or human behavior. As a consequence it is required that human beings exist in the same space of possibilities as every other thing in the universe. They are not fast-tracked nor do they otherwise receive a ‘special treat’. And the same goes for human products: they are not sprinkeled with ‘human stardust’: they too must make do with whatever hand nature deals them. Firms also have no special deal with the laws of nature; they must allow the general rules to rule over them also.

Ontology. This hypothesis above generalizes the behavior of firms to a pattern to which people associated with the firm contribute with their individual behavior in their contexts. The pattern can autonomously develop behavior particular to it and in its own context, independent of the people associated with the firm. In this frame of thought the relation between the behavior of people and the behavior of the firm is the subject of study. The people needn’t per se be the master of the firm, actively controlling it, nor does the converse: that firms develop behavior without the involvement of the people associated, hold true. The subject of this study is the behavior of the individual, the behavior of the firm that is the result, and the process that leads from the individual to the collective behavior. This process can be seen as an operation on or a transposition of the individuals’ behavior to the firm’s behavior. However the case may be, the global behavior of the firm can be different from, even contrary to that of the individuals contributing to the extent that it can be damaging for the indivduals bringing it forth. Looking at the question in this generalized way and not restricted to the perspective of people associated with firms – or other mechanics generally traditionally deemed relevant for firm behavior – allows an unbiased observation of the relation between firms and the people associated with them. Somewhat new is the view that firms can exhibit autonomous behavior, which represents a new souvereign being or perhaps adding new characteristics to an existing category of being and attempting to add scope to what is at this point knowable.

Epist. People’s behavior is to some extent motivated by their beliefs. A belief in turn is information believed true after some level of confirmation with reality, however shallow and indirect. It is therefore not fact, but how reality is modeled by the believer. The extent to which it is corroborated by scientific proof and appropriate frame is decisive for whether it is not mere belief but factual knowledge. Individual people’s behavior driving the overall behavior of the firm is therefore not necessarily motivated by factual reality but what people believe to be true and have accepted as a fact. To them there is no knowing of the alternatives in practical terms at a reasonable cost or in a reasonable time-frame, if at all. The behavior of firms and the relation of firms and individual people is driven by what people believe to be true, including what concerns the actual relationship itself. To phrase the hypothesis in this generalized way allows observation of said relation in an unbiased way so as to assess the beliefs that are at its foundations for what they are. This view affects this study in the sense that what the firm is in reality is a result of the beliefs of individual people collectively: in a sense the firm is what it is said to be. The opposite – at this point fashionable – hypothesis is that firms are designed, developed or built and executed conform a preconceived plan or that they are at least being oriented towards some definable level of utility for all involved. In that view the firm itself is the subject of people’s efforts ‘in the field’ and the subject of the studies of firm theories. This is contrary on this study at hand, because it considers the firm itself to be the object of study, while this study considers it a result of the forces internal and external to the firm that motivate it (sic!) to behave in certain ways. It also implies individual people can improve a given state the firm is in, or its perceived utility for the respective stakeholders. The assumption of this study that this is not automatic.

Meth. A model of reality is suggested that sets out to explain the behavior of firms and their relation with people. The final objective of the model is to predict some aspects of the behavior of firms. In so doing this book loosely follows the train of logic leading to the proof of the hypothesis above. Using the developed model firms are observed in an unbiased way, namely based on the current system of beliefs of the western world.

The scope of the concept of a firm used here is restricted so that it is assumed:

  • to have more than one person associated with it

  • to encompass more than a strictly legal body, namely informational

  • to be detachable from the physical objects a firm can encompass and employ

  • to differ from other kinds of human organisations only because its activities are owned by someone or something

  • that it can be studied as a concept and as a real object in the period from their birth to their death

The cultural elements pivotal to this study are restricted so that they are assumed to be of part of culture and traditions considered to be of western origin, but increasingly wide-spread geographically.

The objective is not to design a normative model: with other belief systems, other firm, or organisational in a wider sense, characteristics might be possible. At best it can show how this belief might lead to that relation between people and their firms and the relation with the world around them. And so in no way is the model intended to qualify peope’s beliefs regarding this or to issue advice regarding people’s actions required for that. Otherwise the approach is pragmatic in the sense that whatever works to predict the current situation is used.

As the study is to a large extent philosophical in nature, the approach is to describe the state of the art in the respective fields, namely universal darwinism, psychology of free will, belief and thinking, neuro-psychological processes of decision making, theoretical ecology, cognitive science, computational sciences, complex sciences, thermodynamics, memetics that cover the chain of logic of the study and to argue and debate relevant viewpoints in each field and their connections. The linking pin is the way that the firm computes its anticipated future. To prove that the individual people’s collectively held belief systems can produce behavioral patterns such as a firm, computer simulation is used.

The stance is constructivist in the sense that a pivot is that the behavior of individuals propels the behavior of the collective, namely the firm, which in turn is to a large extent the environment of the individual associated with the firm in that way motivating its behavior. And in that sense the knowledge of reality of the associated individual depends on the knowledge structures of the system, the firm in this case, that individual amasses by interacting with the system.

The individual acts in the context created by her own actions and those of other entities in the environment of the firm as a system: the agency of the individual is less than complete while structure is an important influence but dependent on her own actions. To bridge this gap between agency and structure, the construct of Jobs is proposed1 as a locus for thoughts. A subset of the class of thoughts is the class of knowledge objects, a concept describing social relations within cultures, unfolding structures that are non-identical with themselves.

Social constructionism examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world that form the basis for shared assumptions about reality. The theory centers on the notion that human beings rationalize their experience by creating models of the social world and sharing these via language. A social construct concerns the meaning placed on an object or an event by a society, and adopted by the individual members of that society with respect to how they view or deal with it. A social construct can be widely accepted as natural by the members of the society, but not necessarily by those outside it, and the construct would be an “invention or artifice of that society.”

Social constructionism uncovers ways in which members participate in the construction of their perceived social reality. It involves looking at the ways social phenomena are created, institutionalized, known, and made into tradition by humans. “Social construction” may mean many things to many people. Ian Hacking argues that when something is said to be “socially constructed”, this is shorthand for at least the following two claims: 0) In the present state of affairs, X is taken for granted; X appears to be inevitable, 1) X need not have existed, or need not be as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable.

Hacking adds that the following claims are also often, though not always, implied by the use of the phrase “social construction”: 2) X is quite bad as it is, 3) We would be much better off if X were done away with, or at least radically transformed.

Social constructionism is cultural in nature and critics argue that it ignores biological influences on behavior or culture. Many scientists suggest that behavior is a complex outcome of both biological and cultural influences or a nature–nurture interactionism approach is taken to understand behavior or cultural phenomena.

Phenom. From a logical perspective the suggested theory is a construct of a number of partial theories. They loosely start from the philosophies pertaining to the various disciplines listed in the alinea above. Some of them, such as the theory of free will, the theory of memetics, the theory of universal darwinism and the theory of universal computation, are for various reasons and to a various extent dynamic at this time. Some parts of the developed model are therefore falsifications per se and in its entirety the hypothesis is a generalisation and therefore scientifically a falsification also. However, an advantage of a hypothesis at this level over one at a lower level of abstraction is that discussion about the foundations of the concept of firms and their role in society is possible, unbiased by the supposed role of people in its establishment or maintenance.

It is hoped that this overarching theory for firms become an item of discussion and in that way to ‘firm itself up’ in various directions as a viable and robust theory. In this way it is hopefully a contribution to the ongoing discussion about the role of the firm in the development of society.

@naar boven bij ontologie of naar intentional stance believe – act

2) Van gedragsverklaring naar handelingsverklaring: Popper probeert dualisme te overwinnen, namelijk een waarheid voor de natuur en iets anders voor de mens. De essentie van die brug is dat gedrag dat bijv. een amoebe vertoont iets anders is dan handelen dat een mens vertoont: het verschil is overleg. Dat laatse kan niet met natuurwetten worden verklaard, omdat daar het overleg en de rationaliteit (precies het verschil tussen de beide wetenschappelijke benaderingen) niet in is inbegrepen.

1 The construct of ‘situation‘ in methodological situationalism [Knorr-Cetina, K. and Cicourel, A.V.. . The micro-sociological challenge of macro-sociology: towards a reconstruction of social theory and methodology . 1981 . Advances in social theory and methodology . Boston . pp. 1-47].