RENEWING AMERICAN INDUSTRY by Paul R. & Davis Dyer Lawrence


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Lawrence and Dyer, Harvard Business School specialists in organizational behavior, seek to use organization theory to ascertain ""why. . . so many American firms and industries fail, in their maturity, to maintain their competitive vitality."" Except as an academic exercise, that effort is a bust: in the first chapter, the authors introduce an Analytic Framework of Adaptation (whereby nine types of industrial environment can be charted according to their combination of ""informational complexity"" and ""resource scarcity"") and engage in much definition-of-terms; in the last chapter, they arrive at a few, almost banal conclusions. Many maturing firms, they find, ""have drifted into adversarial relationships with both their work forces and the government."" In between, however, they provide relatively straightforward case-histories of seven diverse industries--autos, steel, hospitals, agriculture, residential construction, coal, and telecommunications--which can be read separately and which do, together, permit of some cross-comparison. The authors' aptitude for organizational analysis pays off, that is, in pointed, instructive description. Agriculture and home-building prove to be the most adaptive of the industries surveyed--best at reconciling efficiency and innovation. In both cases, small, site-bound units are connected by informal and flexible linkages. Lawrence and Dyer make a point, in the first instance, of distinguishing between agribusiness (wherein family farms contract to sell their output to processing or marketing firms) and corporate farming (of which there's less, they say, than imagined). They are not unmindful, however, of the problems of fluctuating income and out-of-sight land. In the second instance, their major point is to deny that home-building is a low-output, superannuated industry (""full-scale, vertical integration of housing,"" they successfully demonstrate, ""is difficult to manage""). But it could be more productive and innovative, given changes in home-financing and building-regulations. At the other end of the scale is AT&T: in the late 1960s, ""a functionally organized, increasingly complacent monopoly, increasingly unable to respond to new conditions, new technology, and competition""; today, reoriented--""the satisfaction of consumer needs has replaced the provision of high-quality service""--but at individual and social cost. ""Many employees,"" the authors observe, ""joined AT&T precisely because it was a monopoly and nota competitive, pressure-filled, risky business"" (and AT&T chairman Butts speaks regretfully of the service-mindedness ""bred in the bones of telephone people""). All the detailing is not that acute, but the elaborate theoretical modeling does mask some reference-worthy history (based on a range of select sources) and some distinct, valuable insights.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1983
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan