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Heteromorphism: Beaconing Isomorphism to Unique Capabilities



IT innovations are critical for firms to be successful and remain competitive among peers.

Quite often, institutional pressure is a major reason to innovate with IT. The literature suggests that institutional pressure leads to numerous mindless IT adoptions that results in isomorphic IT innovations. Institutional pressure can excel IT diffusion, yet it is difficult for firms to derive competitive advantages from isomorphic IT innovations, which forces firms to look and function alike. However, there are observed exceptions of successful cases, in which firms jump on the bandwagon and are still able to develop unique capabilities based on the adopted technology. We believe that firms can develop benefits and competitive advantages from isomorphic IT innovations with the right beacons (processes and driving force). In this study we argue that firms can indeed become heterogeneous under institutional pressure following the right processes and making the right decisions and call this concept Heteromorphism.  

We posit that IT innovations under institutional pressure can create a critical mass, where firms end up with only assets and resources. Mere assets and resources do not necessarily benefit firms, as the capability to make good use of the assets and resources is critical. We argue that firms can learn to make good use of these assets and resources once they get hands on experience with the technology in the development of capabilities that are unique. Such unique capabilities can make a firm distinctive from other firms and be leveraged to bring competitive advantages. This view is supported by recent IT innovations, effective bandwagon with high degree of confidence, that mindless adoptions are common and yet sustained competitive advantages can be subsequently created.

This study utilizes two theories with rather competing results to discuss Heteromorphism, namely institutional theory and the resource based view. We depart from the traditional institutional theory by investigating why institutional pressure does not necessarily lead to isomorphic IT innovations. Instead we study how firms can derive unique capabilities under institutional pressure through a learning process. We will first develop and theorize the Heteromorphism concept through in-depth case studies. Subsequently, a large scale confirmatory study will be designed and conducted to ensure the generalizability of Hetermorphism.


Project In-charge:    Prof. Waiman Cheung and Prof. Sung-chi Chu

Duration:  Jan 2013 – Jun 2015

Sponsor(s):   Research Grants Council