Search Modes, Temporal Reference Points, and Organizational Emergence



I inductively examine organizational search in uncertain environments. Here, search is central to determine organizational structure, instead of following from it. I build theory from longitudinal case data that I collected by closely following the emergence of 35 new technology ventures over a core period of 2.5 years. I find two contrasting modes of how founders search to develop organizational structure. Both originate from cognitive biases, either toward the future or the past, and affect the emergence of organizational structures: searching backward from future reference points allows founders to identify related strategies to create coherent organizational structures  and achieve a stable development. Contrary, when searching forward from past reference points founders pursue opportunistic decisions to meet short-term performance goals, causing incoherent organizational structures and multi-directional development. By opening the black box of organizational search I depict the process as less mechanistic. Especially when triggered by foresight, it is largely influenced by idiosyncratic human agency. I highlight the power of mental representations to search more specifically in highly uncertain environments and to create more novel outcomes.