The persistence of a stigmatised practice: a study of competitive intelligence

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Reinmoeller, P ; Ansari, Shahzad Mumtaz (2015)
  • Publisher: British Journal of Management

Studies on the diffusion of practices provide valuable insights into how organisations adopt, adapt, sustain and abandon practices over time. However, few studies focus on how stigmatised practices diffuse and persist, even when they risk tainting the adopters. To address this issue and understand how firms manage stigmatized practices, we study U.S. organisations associated with the practice of competitive intelligence (CI) between 1985 and 2012. CI includes legitimate information gathering practices that are sometimes also associated with infringements and espionage. Our findings suggest that CI became highly diffused and persisted despite the risk of stigmatising its adopters. We identified three factors to explain CI’s persistence: 1) keeping it opaque to avoid the negative effects of stigmatisation, 2) “constructing” usefulness to justify its ongoing use by leveraging accepted beliefs and invoking fear of unilateral abandonment and 3) adapting it by developing multiple versions to increase its zone of acceptability. These three factors contribute to practice persistence by allowing firms to dilute the potential stigma from use of the practice. Our contribution lies in explaining the adoption, diffusion and ongoing use of a stigmatised practice whose benefits cannot be overtly acknowledged nor made public.
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