An attention-based view of family firm adaptation to discontinuous technologies: Exploring the role of family CEOs’ non-economic goals

Nadine Kammerlander, Melanie Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

162 Citations (SciVal)
152 Downloads (Pure)


Recent studies show that managerial attention is a particularly important precursor of established firms’ responses to discontinuous technological change. However, little is known about the factors that shape managerial attention-response patterns. In our qualitative study, we investigate how the attention of family firm CEOs to discontinuous technological shifts, the interpretation and decision-making processes associated with these changes, and ultimately organizations’ responses are affected by CEOs’ non-economic goals. Based on seven longitudinal case studies in the German consumer goods industry, we induce a process model that extends the findings of the literature on the attention-based view and helps to explain heterogeneity in family firms’ adaptation to discontinuous technological change. We show that the family CEO’s specific non-economic goals—such as power and control, transgenerational value, the maintenance of family reputation, the continuance of personal ties, or personal affect associated with the family business—determine whether the CEO assesses an emerging technology as relevant enough to warrant a reaction from the firm. Moreover, the family CEO’s non-economic goals constrain the set of considered responses. The outcome of this sensemaking process determines the organization’s response. For instance, in the specific context of this study, the goal of “family power and control” entailed an immediate interpretation of the focal trend as important for maintaining influence, and resulted in an unconstrained set of responses and, ultimately, high innovation in the new domain. Over time, family CEOs might re-evaluate the emerging trend based on their goals and adapt organizational moves accordingly. We identify and discuss how ambiguities and dilemmas may arise during this process. Our findings contribute to the literature on adaptation to discontinuous technological change and to family firm research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-383
Number of pages23
JournalThe Journal Of Product Innovation Management
Issue number3
Early online date23 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'An attention-based view of family firm adaptation to discontinuous technologies: Exploring the role of family CEOs’ non-economic goals'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this