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Poole College Entrepreneurship Professor Ted Baker Receives Research Impact Award

Dr. Ted Baker, Poole College associate professor of entrepreneurship, and his co-author, Dr. Reed E. Nelson at Southern Illinois University and the Universidade de Sao Paulo, received the award for their paper, “Creating Something from Nothing: Resource Construction through Entrepreneurial Bricolage,” published in Administrative Science Quarterly in 2005.

This award is given to researchers who published the most impactful entrepreneurship article six years ago in the top management and entrepreneurship journals. Impact is measured as the number of Social Sciences Citation Index citations received in the five years following publication. As of mid-August, 2011, Baker’s and Nelson’s paper had 347 citations, according to Google Scholar, and over 100 in the Web of Science.

Bricolage: Using as Resources That Others Call Worthless

Their paper is based on results of a field study of 29 resource-constrained firms that varied dramatically in how they were able to create entrepreneurial businesses by recombining elements at hand for new purposes. In it, they use their field data and the existing literature on bricolage to advance a formal definition of entrepreneurial bricolage and induce the beginnings of a process model of bricolage and firm growth. Central to their research is the notion that companies engaging in bricolage “refuse to enact the limitations” imposed by dominant definitions of resource environments,” they state.

“We found that Lévi-Strauss’s concept of bricolage—making do with what is at hand—explained many of the behaviors we observed in small firms that were able to create something from nothing by exploiting physical, social, or institutional inputs that other firms rejected or ignored,” the authors state in their paper. “Our fieldwork took us beyond the conceptualizations of making do in the existing literature on bricolage to bring a more constructivist perspective to the idea. We consistently observed a conscious and frequently willful tendency for firms in our sample to disregard the limitations of commonly accepted definitions of material inputs, practices, and definitions and standards, insisting instead on trying out solutions, observing, and dealing with the results.”

Baker, in a recent interview, said the focus of entrepreneurial bricolage “is on treating as resources things that other people treat as worthless.”

Asked if the research might have particular relevance in today’s global economic crisis, he said, “Bricolage appears to be common at most times and in most places, but it is reasonable to expect that it represents a higher percentage of business activity during downtimes and in places with few standard resources.”

He added, “The notion of entrepreneurs ‘making do’ includes two elements: a bias for action; that is, doing something rather than nothing even when resources seem to be inadequate, and looking beyond the ‘warts’ of imperfect resources to find ways – creatively – to combine them in order to work toward goals,” Baker said.

He offered as an example Moneyball, the book by Michael Lewis and the movie with Brad Pitt. Baker summarizes the story line as follows. Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s put together a team that did much better than what anyone thought possible, a very limited budget by rejecting conventional scouting wisdom (refusing to enact limitations), playing around with ‘sabremetrics’ ideas and constructing a team from a combination of players from the Island of Misfit Toys.

Another example, this one from his field work, involves a farmer and abandoned coal mines. The farmer is growing tomatoes hydroponically, something made possible when he finds a way to tap methane that had been trapped in the abandoned coal mines on his property. He used the methane to power a generator, producing free electricity to light his greenhouses and selling the rest to the local utility. Excess heat from the generator warms the water for the hydroponic plants, and tilapia that he grows in the warm water provides fertilizer for the plants’ roots.

Bricolage Research – both Global and Local

Baker is the principal foreign investigator on the Comprehensive Australian Study of Entrepreneurial Emergence (CAUSEE), based at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australian. It is Australia’s largest nascent entrepreneurship research project. He was recruited for the project by Per Davidsson, head of CAUSEE and a globally recognized entrepreneurship researcher. Together, they are working to create a measure of bricolage. Along with a team of researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, Baker has written a series of working papers on the topic. The researchers also have invited graduate students from around the world to incorporate the measure into their dissertation research.

Baker also is working on this research with faculty at other business colleges in the United States, South Africa, Canada, and Sweden, among others.

“My work on bricolage spans traditional high tech-high growth ventures, entrepreneurship in emerging and struggling economies, and entrepreneurship in rural areas of North Carolina facing hardships,” Baker said.

Classroom Connections

This focus on bricolage also impacts entrepreneurship courses that Baker and other faculty teach at the NC State Poole College of Management and Jenkins Graduate School. “We explicitly teach bricolage,” he said. “It is part of HiTEC (the Jenkins MBA concentration in entrepreneurship) and part of the growth ventures course. We have students who practice bricolage and are therefore able to move forward in the face of resource constraints that would stop others,” he said.

“One student, in the college’s Master of Global Innovation Management (MGIM) program, did his master’s thesis on bricolage,” he added. Beyond Poole College, a doctoral student in NC State’s College of Textiles focused her dissertation partly around the idea of human capital bricolage.


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