Some of the great issues of our time are climate change, systemic financial risk, socio-economic disparity, privacy and ensuing control issues, the effects of the Corona pandemic and the war in Ukraine on the globalized economy.
I am fascinated by complex systems in general and firms in specific. However, my concern about the shelf life of the way humanity currently operates is another motivation to engage with the firm as a research topic. While people’s behavior is generally guided by morally acceptable principles, it recently appears to turn against itself.
Firms are a part of these issues and they play an important part in people’s existence: Who can honestly say she has performed any conscious action without any involvement of a firm at all – ever? And all the while firms resist change which they consider counter to their interests to remain autonomous.
Against this backdrop I set out to research the relation between the behavior of people and the behavior of firms. People are generally assumed to control the firm, and the firm is assumed to be malleable, the person’s instrument. I suggest a second perspective, namely that the firm is autonomous and the control of the person is limited. Thus, the autonomy of person and firm varies with the stages of development of the latter.
This theory is based on the notion that a variable yet persistent pattern of behavior arises from an evolving coherent system of memes when people enact them. Specifically what evolves, is the complex of memes belonging to a firm in conjunction with the behavior they motivate in people (which they enact).
A widespread body of memes originating from Western culture is conjugated with the developed hypothesis, namely those encompassed by the market system and belief in progress. Thus, the firm is modeled as a complex of coherent memes co-evolving with other bodies of culture in society to become operationally closed, and thereby autonomous and cognitive – instead of people’s mere instruments.
Thus, according to the second perspective, contrary to communis opinio, firms are not controlled by people in the same way a tool is wielded by say a carpenter. Some control and autonomy is relinquished by people to regain other control and autonomy. This outcome is consequential for the relation between stakeholders and firms, and for changes to realistically be expected of interventions by people into the operations of firms.