Managing in uncertainty

Roberta Bocconcelli (Università degli Studi di Urbino "Carlo Bo", Urbino, Italy)
Simone Guercini (University of Florence, Florence, Italy)
Håkan Håkansson (BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo Norway)

IMP Journal

ISSN: 0809-7259

Article publication date: 19 October 2015


Bocconcelli, R., Guercini, S. and Håkansson, H. (2015), "Managing in uncertainty", IMP Journal, Vol. 9 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Managing in uncertainty

Article Type: Guest editorial From: IMP Journal, Volume 9, Issue 3

Management is to a large degree to cope with uncertainty. This is in the IMP perspective taking a very special meaning compared to the traditional market perspective where uncertainty is related to either market complexity or market dynamics. Instead, based on the assumption that interaction is the substance of business world (Ford and Håkansson, 2006a,b) the uncertainty is considered to be related to the development of business relationships. Traditional view of the market conceives "relationships as an exception to the norm" (Håkansson et al., 2009, p. 179) thus, within such perspective, companies and managers are assumed to use business relationships in particular situations as a mechanism to make the most of the situations of general uncertainty that has to be reduced and controlled. In contrast, IMP view of business relying on the idea of interaction being of substantive nature, always implies that actors cannot control, plan, forecast, govern or unilaterally manage business relationships to achieve planned objectives. Indeed, actors are coping with evolving and changing business relationships in time and space, constantly trying to adapt, and react to unexpected developments (Guercini et al., 2014). This means that uncertainty is inherent to the unpredictability of business relationships development in interaction.

One consequence is that the management of relationships become of vital importance. Given the problems with the uncertainty in management of relationships this task is certainly challenging. This is well illustrated in the four papers presented in this issue of the journal. They all deal with business relationships development as a main issue in the interactive business landscape, shedding light on the way actors are constantly coping with this. Three of the four papers are empirical papers with interesting case studies from different industries and contexts.

The first paper "Relationship beginning and serendipity: insights from an Italian case study" by Andrea Perna, Andrea Runfola, Simone Guercini and Gian Luca Gregori draws attention to the unplanned development of the relationship and the opportunities that stem from taking "serendipity" as a shaping factor of relationship beginning. The authors develop an in depth longitudinal case study of a relationship of Loccioni, an Italian manufacturer of testing and quality control systems for household appliances, with a Chinese home appliances producer. Loccioni, after a long time spent to actively promote a forefront technology in the field of test for refrigerators to previously identified customers with no results, serendipitously started a new relationship with the Chinese customer and the new technology commercialization finally initiated. Even though authors are aware that interaction concept embodies per se the fact that some relationships are actually accidental and develop in a casual way, they argue that the concept of serendipity may integrate the interactive view of relationship beginning and development when interpreted as an "enabler of missing bonds." Even if serendipity cannot be managed, due to its nature, being "prepared for serendipitous events" represents a way to leverage the positive effects of the unplanned development of the relationship.

The second paper "From a service-dominant logic to a good-dominant logic: consequences for the buyer-seller relationships of a corporate bank" by Daniela Andreini, Jari Salo, Robert Wendelin, Giuditta Pezzotta and Paolo Gaiardelli, shows how an "internally planned change" within a corporate bank in a Nordic country mainly aimed to achieve a progressive productivization (i.e. the progressive standardization of internal processes and services packages) of the bank offering, has consequences on the relationships with important large customers. The change which in itself is a way to reduce the uncertainty in performed internal activities through standardization is increasing the uncertainty for the customers as they have to decide and adapt to these changes. In relationships actors have to co-develop and when one actor is making a substantial change this will certainly affect the counterparts and their way of acting. The bank is neglecting that an increased productivization is shaping the bank’s behavior and consequently also the relationships development with customers. Thus, the intention to reduce uncertainty through an increased standardization resulted instead in an increased uncertainty in the business relationships.

In the third paper by Chiara Cantù, "A service incubator business model: the external networking orientation," services are set in focus and another important issue related to relationships development and uncertainty is touched upon. In the context of incubator/incubatees relationships the author stresses the importance for an incubator to embrace a business model that encompasses the development of business relationships "outside the boundaries" of the incubator itself. The case of the Como NExT Incubator, able to enhance "external" business relationships development, envisages a new business model from which incubatees start-ups appear to have largely benefited. The paper, in this sense, gives a contribution towards the reinforcement of the concept of jointness of actors in space within the IMP framework.

The fourth paper "Business interaction between competitors – towards a model for analyzing strategic alliances" is conceptual and addresses the issue of business relationships development between competitors within strategic alliances. In the paper, José Novais Santos and Cristina Sales Baptista show the importance of considering business interaction in order to fully understand the actual nature of strategic alliances. They argue for turning the attention to the interdependences between actors while strategic alliances have been previously investigated mostly with the lens of traditional market view as substantially independent. The authors argue that adopting an IMP perspective a different and more effective model emerges for understanding the development of horizontal business relationships within strategic alliances.

Roberta Bocconcelli, Università degli Studi di Urbino "Carlo Bo", Urbino, Italy

Simone Guercini, University of Florence, Florence, Italy, and

Håkan Håkansson, BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo, Norway


Ford, D. and Håkansson, H. (2006a), "IMP – some things achieved: much more to do", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 40 Nos 3/4, pp. 248-258

Ford, D. and Håkansson, H. (2006b), "The idea of interaction", The IMP Journal, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 4-27

Guercini, S., La Rocca, A., Runfola, A. and Snehota, I. (2014), "Interaction behaviors in business relationships and heuristics: issues for management and research agenda", Industrial Marketing Management, Vol. 43 No. 6, pp. 929-937

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