Interaction dilemmas

IMP Journal

ISSN: 0809-7259

Article publication date: 6 July 2015


Snehota, A.W.a.I. (2015), "Interaction dilemmas", IMP Journal, Vol. 9 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Interaction dilemmas

Article Type: Editorial From: IMP Journal, Volume 9, Issue 2.

Interaction affects the involved. This simple notion has far-reaching implications. It means, among other things, that interaction can be used by an actor to influence another actor – but that the effects are not isolated to only one of the interacting parties. Both parties will be affected, since interaction gives imprints on both the organizational and technological resources involved. Indeed, one of the main findings of the first IMP research project was that business solutions developed in interaction will fit better with the business solutions of some direct- and indirect-related actors, but will be less useful for others. Hence, business relationships, networks and interaction always have light and dark sides. Business relationships are never smooth but rather full of contradictions and complications, which implies that: “Conflict can characterize these relationships as well as co-operation” (Håkansson, 1982, p. 23). Despite this, a recurrent observation has been that companies seem to find the advantages of interactive relationships overshadow the drawbacks of increased interdependencies and decreased freedom.

The continuous investigations of this main research finding are perhaps the reason why IMP research emerged as a challenge to traditional market thinking. (The latter considers preferential relationships between some buyers and sellers as dysfunctional as they break the norm of independence between market actors, which is assumed to be a condition of “market efficiency”.) The observation that companies are constantly breaking with the market norm of independency is intriguing, and investigating the reasons for this phenomenon and the associated benefits of interaction in business relationships has been a main theme in IMP research – a theme that has attracted a lot of attention.

Three of the papers presented in this paper cast light on the important basic observation that interacting always includes navigating among “light and dark sides of networks” (Håkansson et al., 2009, p. 253) and involves interaction dilemmas that are the topic in focus of this issue of the journal. The first of these papers; “Interaction avoidance in networks”, by Thomas Hoholm, draws attention to the fact that companies do not always want or can engage in interaction. If business actors as well as their resources and the way they are activated are shaped in interaction it is crucial to determine the direction of such interaction and which resources to include and exclude in the interaction process. The ambition of the paper is to shed light on this dilemma as well as on how companies deal with it in terms of strategies for interaction and “non-interaction”. Based on experiences from four published case studies, five reasons why companies deliberately avoid interaction have been identified: To protect knowledge, to enforce progress, to economise in business networks, to avoid wasting resources, and to maintain opportunities. In the concluding discussion, the author argues that “the interaction dilemma” of “influencing or being influenced” has a number of implications in terms of whom to interact with and when.

In the second paper by Milena Ratajczak-Mrozek, “The SME perspectives on motives and success factors in cross-border mergers – the importance of network position”, another interaction dilemma is touched upon. The paper investigates what induces a SME to give up its established interaction pattern on the supplier and user side and instead merge with a multinational group and become embedded into a hierarchical organizational structure. The concept of network position is used to investigate the transformation of a Polish IT company from a micro-company struggling with a few relationships to engaging with a Danish partner, opening the door to a larger resource and interaction pattern of a multinational company. In the concluding discussion, the reason for the merger between the SME and its larger counterpart are identified as: not only a question of the sourcing of resources but also of taking joint decisions concerning how to deal with interdependencies; not only economic but also social aspects; and finally not just a question of sharing resources but also how to use interaction to influence other relationships.

In the third paper “Construction of meanings in business relationships and networks”, Antonella La Rocca, Ivan Snehota and Carlotta Trabattoni shed light on another central interaction dilemma in the interdependent business world; limits on the space for “planned autonomous action”. The paper addresses the issue of how interaction behaviours of actors in inter-organizational business relationships emerge and how they are linked to knowledge and cognition. The paper expands the conceptual framework for analysing the interplay between cognition and action when actors interact in business relationships. Reviewing two related research streams: the socio-cognitive perspective and the practice-based approach to markets and marketing, the authors identify some commonalities and a major difference among these and IMP research. In contrast with the two research streams that deal with market relationships in general, the focus of theorizing in the IMP research is a “specific subset of market relationships”, namely interactive buyer-seller relationships among companies and other organizations. The authors argue that in inter-organizational relationships interaction behaviours reflect meanings mutually attributed to the “organized counterpart” and that such meanings emerge from confronting and connecting different knowledge and belief systems between two organizations, which involves the dilemma of creating and coping with interdependences. In conclusion, the authors discuss storytelling as a tool for the construction of meanings.

The remaining two papers in this issue are conceptual and address two topics that appear in a different light when traditional market assumptions of independence are replaced by the IMP assumptions of an interdependent interactive business landscape.

The first of these is a conceptual paper; “Relationship and networking strategy tools: characterizing the IMP toolbox” by Caroline Cheng and Elsebeth Holmen. The paper starts out with the observation that traditional strategy concepts, based on ideas of the market and autonomous action, are difficult to apply in interactive settings. The paper is a review of how strategy and strategy tools have been approached in the IMP literature and examines the content and dimensions of these. Based on an extensive literature review, the paper identifies a wide variety of relationship and networking strategy tools. These are presented as “an IMP strategizing toolbox”. The merit of the paper is that it brings together concepts previously dispersed in various IMP studies that have dealt with strategizing. In conclusion, the paper outlines a vocabulary that emerges in the dialogue around relationship and networking strategy tools in the IMP literature.

In the second conceptual paper, “Has research on the internationalization of firms from an IMP perspective resulted in a theory of internationalization?”, Sabine Gerbert Persson, Lars-Gunnar Mattson and Christina Öberg examine the contributions theory development in the B2B setting in IMP research have made to the theory of internationalization of business. This paper’s ambition is to contribute to a better understanding of how ideas are developed, used and referenced in research on the specific phenomenon of internationalization of the firm. Building on Johanson and Mattsson’s (1988) notion of a “network approach” to internationalization, the authors trace contributions of the network perspective to the theory of internationalization. The paper identifies a variety of efforts to develop theories on this topic, which various researchers have presented in a number of research papers over the past three decades. While the authors acknowledge the contribution of the network perspective to advancing knowledge on the internationalization process, they find the contributions dispersed and only loosely connected, which makes the authors conclude that such dispersion could be the reason why these contributions are generally not seen as an IMP theory of the phenomenon of “internationalization of firms”.

Alexandra Waluszewski and Ivan Snehota


Håkansson, H. (1982), International Marketing and Purchasing of Industrial Goods: An Interaction Approach, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester

Håkansson, H., Ford, D., Gadde, L.E., Snehota, I. and Waluszewski, A. (2009), Business in Networks, John Wiley and Sons, Chichester

Johanson, J. and Mattsson, L.-G. (1988), “Internationalization in industrial systems – a network approach”, in Buckley, P.J. and Ghauri, P.N. (Eds), The Internationalization of the Firm: A Reader, Academic Press, London, pp. 303-321