Business Relating Business
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Business Relating Business

Managing Organisational Relations and Networks

Ian Wilkinson

Business Relating Business argues that business performance depends on the way a firm is connected to other firms and organisations and not just its own skill and resources. The book synthesises thinking from marketing, management, economics and international business with evolutionary biology and complexity theory, as well as integrating many years’ research on interfirm relations and networks. It develops the management and policy implications of adopting relationship and network perspectives and sets out an agenda for future research.
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Chapter 5: Relationship Attractors: Typologies of Business Relations

Ian Wilkinson


INTRODUCTION When relations grow up they can become many things, not all of which are foretold in their starting conditions. Each relation develops its own history and takes on its own distinctive personality as it is shaped by historical events, context and contingencies, much like a human personality develops. But a relationship is not the product of one mind and body, but of interacting bodies (firms) and minds that self-organise over time through their actions, interactions and responses, or they part company and the relationship ends. What kinds of relationship attractors are there? What forms of relationship arise in business systems in different circumstances and how stable are they? Which forms function better and in which types of conditions? RELATIONSHIP METAPHORS: MARRIAGES, FRIENDSHIPS AND AFFAIRS1 A metaphor used to characterise business relations is that of marriages versus affairs (for example, Levitt 1986; Dwyer et al. 1988). Marriages are long-term, committed relations in which the parties involved cooperate to achieve their goals, with more or less difficulty along the way, just like real marriages. Affairs, on the other hand, are shorter-term, more exploitative relations, where the other party is used as a means to an end, with little value placed on maintaining the relation. Intermediate forms of relations have also been suggested, resembling friendships and acquaintances. The marriage metaphor fits naturally as an extension of the idea of business mating discussed in Chapter 4. But the metaphor is limited because it focuses attention more on the reasons...

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