The value of a metaphor: Organizations and ecosystems


Matthew M. Mars
Judith L. Bronstein
Organizational scholars often adopt biological models to explain the emergence and evolution of organizations and human systems. One recent example of such adoption is the organizational ecosystem metaphor. In this article, we contend that taking a rigorous ecological approach over the application of loose ecosystem language has the potential to illuminate patterns in the life span of organizations and human systems. We first define five central properties of biological ecosystems and demonstrate their potential relevance to human-constructed systems (organizational ecosystems). We then argue the value of developing biologically based hypotheses that can be tested in the context of organizational systems. Next, we propose a set of hypotheses specific to organizational stability and disruption, using Arizona charter schools as an example to demonstrate the promise of the rigorous application of the organizational ecosystem metaphor. We close with a discussion of how the insights generated might be applied across other organizational settings and systems. [Faculty] Mars, Matthew M., & Judith L. Bronstein (2017). The promise of the organizational ecosystem metaphor: An argument for biological rigor. Journal of Management Inquiry, 1-10. (Advanced online publication) doi: 10.1177/10564926177006546

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