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We propose a dynamic view of inter-firm collaborations that disciplines the acceptable normative prescriptions provided by the theory of strategic management via a more rigorous analytical process to help alliance managers cultivate and exploit long-run adaptive flexibility and, as a result, create and sustain competitive advantage. Our options-approach to strategic alliance-making brings coherently together the key paradigms developed in the strategy literature into a single, comprehensive framework. In line with the resource-based view of the firm, strategic growth options should be exercised with reference to the competences and capabilities that the alliance has relative to its competitors. Consistently with the dynamic capabilities view of the firm, an alliance strategy can be seen as a series of long-term, partly irreversible commitments to certain domains of competence, which is similar to a chain of interrelated strategic (compound-like) options whose exercise accumulates resources over time and generates new opportunities in an uncertain environment. Hence, options thinking enables an explicit quantification of alliance strategy under uncertainty, which encompasses NPV analysis as a special case and incorporates the value of real options arising from management of evolving cooperative ventures. It represents an alternative methodology for estimating the “real” performance of a strategic partnership if compared to traditional tools (e.g., cost-benefit analysis, DCF).
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