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Defining the conditions, context and process

The research process overview has been demonstrated and presented in the form of a video.
This video highlights in more detail my overall process, and by nature of it, there drawn reference to these later in the review. The vast coverage and amount of material in this review meant that the risk of overwhelming the reader was very apparent, leading me to think creatively about both my research process and presentation. It was also intrinsic to the nature of my research that I come across many valuable and insightful elements and services available to small businesses and entrepreneurs in New Zealand. Being that I wanted to also keep track of these resources for my own 
references alone, I felt there might be some additional benefit in these also having been included and these have been highlighted in the “virtual version”.

The inclusion of this “virtual version” also highlights two key points firstly the need for alternative methods that enable increased facilitation and support the transfer of information between academia and industry is required. In order for the general public to be aware of and gain from the incredibly valuable research done, particularly within the university alone, the delivery of said information needs to be engaging. I believe personally that the individual customisation of such data, which is now achievable through the use of such, makes a fundamental difference as to how much will be absorbed. If the business person is overwhelmed by the language and use of references in the academic based presentation, they will miss the key value presented. Likewise, if academic expectations call for the extraneous use of egregious verbosity, then we would clearly require more than one approach in presentation and disseminating of findings. There have been concerns expressed about the lack of ICT integration within education sectors as well, with “fears that schools are becoming “islands” of pen and paper use (Wright, quoted in Sutton, 2010). Even just recently, Howick College has received some publicity for apparent controversy over their innovative initiatives of utilising student’s cell phones to store class work and complete field work (Sutton, 2010). Yet the public department, NZQA, is moving to enable exams to be marked online (McEntee, 2010).

The Research Framework & Review Process

Prior to initiating this review I had completed studies surrounding similar topics and I have drawn reference to an existing framework developed as part of a research proposal, considering related issues which (consisting of a 4 by 3 grid structure). This has been included as Appendix B. Ultimately, most relevant here is the overlap of the concerns for the different elements of network theory with the varying stages of both network development and business lifecycle. By doing so the intention was to uncover some insight into the most relevant elements of networks at various stages. Most salient in this review was the concern over need for further analysis and consideration and more integrative and overlapping types of literature reviews completed.

Personally,[i] the level of segregation and separation of the varying disciplines, areas and functions within business and related research was most apparent. Much like in the rest of society, the ongoing development and influences of aspirations of growth appeared to have added to the difficulties when attemptting to achieve a holistic understanding of the issues. Taking example not only from the MED’s (2008) Digital Strategy but also the fundamental nature of both the BBIM & SNSs themselves, it was unavoidable for me to ignore the overlap of the varying concerns, with and across each of the various areas and disciplines. Through this frustration, I came to realise, what in retrospect should have been obvious, there could be potential value in further exploring these. Drawing on my prior framework, I utilized two models with the review process.

Using a comparative model template to that referring to the overall review structural outlay (Fig 4) the concept is that if we include the variety of other perspectives, conceptualisations and elements related to a particular topic, we have to learn something (further demonstration and justification of this can be found online). For each of the topics; NZ, SMEs and SNSs, an initial individual review broadly utilises the “Define, Align, Refine” circles model (the same structure used in the presentation of this report). Unable to do to the process adequate justice in this space, I have included the “slideshow” below, which demonstrates a variety of these reviews for numerous articles, representing a range of considerations within all of these sub topics, again more information can be found online.

There are two parts of the framework which essentially enable useful information to rise to the forefront; the X axis refers the consideration of process, an incremental approach to conceptualizing the material. The Y axis refers to varying arenas or levels of concern. I have not suggested this framework application to the research review would be any more or less effective within SNS research to any other particular field as it has much broader potential for application, having been used by myself in various ways throughout this process. Prior research demonstrates the key areas and authors within concerns for network theory and broadly for SME lifecycle research and review. Focusing around the key themes among the Big Three, exploration of my findings has not been aligned with the same structure or limits as previous work, as creativity has replaced conformity in presented importance. The video included demonstrates the range of topics and elements considered through this process but obviously only the most relevant of these are reviewed throughout. The definitions and constructs of the various element/aspects and stage/phase constructs have been derived from considerations across these areas.

Obviously I am unable to consider the framework in its entirety so have focused here on one “grid” which will be simply labeled for all intensive purposes, as “2B”. And insights developed and highlighted further have been derived from the considerations within that grid definition and the various broader reviews of the frame construct itself. The three topics which formed area for scope have been referred to as the “Big Three” and are focus of this initial section. The themes common throughout are explored following the definition and overview of each of the Big Three is covered. Following the exploration that, I will explore the underlying themes indicated and provide an overview of my personal learning throughout this process. A demonstration of this can be explored through the video above, slide show (attached), as well as the photo collages attached as Appendix D. There are also data tables and wiki entries found in the virtual version which provide more specifically details of the insights uncovered. 

Contingency and Embeddedness

In review, there is clear need for new frameworks of understanding as the bounds of the legacy structures and processes for research and business generally are unrepresentative of the reality (Maguire & Singer, 2007). Imposing constrictions in order to quantify, they do not recognise the critical level of importance and the inherent need to adopt a contingency approach which addresses concerns of the context (Dodge, Fullerton & Robbins, 1994). There has also been an ongoing emphasis on focusing on the local, rather than the global context within business in recent years (Chell & Baines, 2000). There is also a broad recognition that international research should acknowledge and be aware of its environmental context (O'Donnell, Gilmore, Cummins, & Carson, 2001), as seen application of contingency theories, particularly within entrepreneurial research, continue to increase (Dodd, 1997).

There is also evidence of wider calls to base research methods and approaches contingently based within the relevant context, streaming broadly across many areas (O’Donnel & Cummins, 1999). Aligned with this, academically there is increasing recognition of the critical need for international research to acknowledge and be aware of its environmental context (O'Donnell, Gilmore, Cummins, & Carson, 2001). Yet the opposing view is not discounted, fundamentally, at the end of the day we are all people, so ultimately the over sweeping generalised, standardised model approach of yesteryear would stand to be explained as deductive reasoning.

Within network studies, Embeddedness is the process of becoming part of social structure; social networks provide mechanism for becoming embedded, which in turn allows nascent entrepreneurs to gain credibility, knowledge and experience (Jack & Anderson, 2002). Whilst being largely saturated through various areas of the literature and widely within research fields, for the most part it appears the overarching majority of reviews, studies and conceptual models throughout, force constructs to simplify and restrict understandings of the concepts we experience in a practical sense (Maguire & Singer, 2007). They appear to have over jumped the starting gun and as such overly narrowed and categorised understandings, encouraging the kind of disparity in research areas seen today.

Defining the 3-Ring research concerns

The availability of information which is provided by ICTs, creates research contexts whereby it is not physically possibly to include every area and topic reviewed, if only due to the rate at which ongoing content is produced. By utilising the SNS tools and services available to me, I was able cover a broader array of material without falling victim to “information overload” quite so quickly. This tendency to get overwhelmed is a current which undertows the interaction of SNSs within any aspect of society, due to “human agency”. Meaning the fundamental fact that is, regardless of the technology or its capability, functionality or security advances, ultimately it is still limited to the capabilities of the person driving it (Kolb, 2002). Before complicating the concepts involved by further overlapping and integrating them, I have defined these within each of their own rights and explored some of the common trends and industry issues which will be integrated.  

Social Network Sites

With SNSs, appearing prolifically through 2003, it only took a few years for them to enter the mainstream, thanks largely to Facebook (Nielsen, 2009). By 2007, the world was so enthralled with them, that internationally the media industry was forced to start paying attention while their readership began to shift mediums. Responsible for creating classic titles such as "Social networking sites now more popular than porn sites!" (Tancer, 2007).  However, despite the over 200 currently active sites (Wikipedia, 2010), it was "Facebook" which was primarily responsible for bring SNSs into the mainstream, and they continue to be the most widely used internationally.

Boyd and Ellison (2007) define Social Network Sites as ‘web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and 

(3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system’ (p2).  The concept of social networks is intrinsic to us as people, its presence can be found in many varying areas of the community, society and economies (MED, 2000). Think of the sports team, church, community groups, extended family etc – whist the latest wave of “social networking sites” are taking a different form and shape through today’s technologies, they are in no means replaced by them. Yet the existence of these networks online and their ability to display and negotiate our connections has changed the game (Kilduff, Tsai & Hanke, 2006).

The influence of these SNSs continues to get increasingly more pervasive, making our “actual” and virtual realities almost indistinguishable (Lewis et al, 2008). But with the possibilities indicated for future adaptation may enable us to tap into the key resource of initiating collective action. Evidence widely recognises their place as a critical requirement for business, social networking gaining ground as the preferred mechanism for both consumers and employees to build, strengthen and extend relationships (Gulati, 1999).

Yet it was long before the invention of SNSs, there has been wide recognition of the importance of one’s network in business (Investment New Zealand, 2006) In fact, “commerce, culture and learning have always required networks to thrive” (Cunliffe, 2007[ii]).  Naturally, the ease and access of Social Networks in their new form online saw them gain rapid popularity, and we now see them being increasingly integrated with daily life in the mainstream (Ellison, Lampe & Steinfield, 2009).  As technology is continuing to advance, it is forcing profound changes on to the nature and structure of business operations and economic exchange (Amit & Zott, 2001).  The continually ongoing developments in the ‘new digital environment’ call for radical shifts in the structures and processes of our economies and society (MED, 2006).

There is also wide recognition that the social networks, particularly those of business owners, are more likely to have an effect and influence on the fundamental attitudes and aims of the individual, and as such the shape and nature of their businesses than the networks they hold commercially (Dodd, 1997). Utilizing the framework, I utilized this kind of mixed methods and medium approaches. Considering the ongoing development of ICTs and SNSs, NZ, like much of the rest of the world, is in the second phase of this developing ‘general-purpose technology’ (MED, 2006, p7). ‘The rise of social media hasn’t changed the fact that successful human beings get even further ahead based on the strength of their networks’ (Levit, 2010). It may however afford advantage to those less confident or whom as more introverted, over the “loud mouth” networkers (of which I would fall in the latter classification, hence will not speculate further).

Widely recognised to disrupt old models and create a whole raft of new challenges for social equity, sovereignty and business development (Cunliffe & Tizard, as cited in MED 2009). One difference online which represents significant direct benefit can be demonstrated by the existence of explicit illustration and visualisation of networks which makes the dynamic different from the past. It creates new meanings for public interaction which takes place as everyone else is privy to it. For the nascent entrepreneur who has sought legitimacy from their connections, the drivers of their connections illustrate a strategic opportunity to leverage on this. If a reputable multinational corporation claims to support entrepreneurial growth for example, connecting with them via their LinkedIn profile would inevitably be more likely to instigate feedback than a private letter may have been in the past, or at least more difficult to ignore.

Thanks to developments such as those in SNSs, we are now able to share common perspective and explore various understandings much more effectively and broadly. Whilst some of the influences of broader recognition of the value of these SNSs is increasingly permeating different perspectives within society and has theoretically been recognised in academia, the application of it has subsequently been less broad. It seems that our research, much like our business, may still be slightly unsure of how to make the value of these SNSs work for them. So while we all continue to remain unsure, certain areas in society forge the way forward for the rest of us. And whilst the imperative focus of organisational studies in the past may have been culture, “connectivity” is the salient new metaphoric alternative (Kolb, 2008). As our world and societies continue to develop and change, the conceptualisations, models and focuses we have had in the past and continue to cling to today, may be in fact the underlying cause of many of the obstacles faced in business progression.

There have long been indications of the potential for social networks to build economic growth (Birley, 1985) and more recently the potential has grown with recognition they can increase social capital in communities in a broader sense (Stringfellow & Shaw, 2009).There has been some discussion about the difference in definitions between considerations of “networks” and “networking” in terms of defining these sites (Chell & Baines, 2000). This is recognized and appreciated however for these purposes, the two terms have been interchangeably. But there is also generally a lack of awareness about the reality of the potential efficiencies of influence of these SNSs. Overlooked potentially by many of the workforce due to the current lack of perceived value and insecurity, especially with reference to the current unemployed sector which is high since the recession has tightened work markets. Yet I have seen very little indication that many of them are, just for example, rethinking how they present their resumes online (virtual version references my personal virtual resume which can be found at; http://jezzieann.qapacity.com/).


Small Businesses, Entrepreneurship, Freelancing, Contracting, other forms of self employment

‘A nation of small businesses (MED, 2009, p9), the entrepreneurial nature of our culture is evident among Auckland small businesses in particular, where the city particular rates highly for entrepreneurship and lifestyle factors (OECD, 2008)..  Our underlying entrepreneurial tendencies are supported by government (MED, 2009, NZTE, 2009). The definition of any indicator such as size is obviously going to be heavily dependent on its context. OCED  (2009) definitions reported that “SMEs are defined as enterprises with 19 or fewer employees and The Ministry of Economic Development appears to maintain this (MED, 2009).  But while 19 people may be a small business in other parts of the world, that constitutes 97% of businesses in New Zealand are this size or smaller (MED, 2009). In fact, 68% of our businesses have no employees beyond the owner/operator. (Statistics NZ, 2009). Despite this incongruence, the general consensus is still to stick to that measure.(Business NZ, 2009).

With the NZ governments definition of enterprise including such legal entities as ‘companies, partnerships, trusts, incorporated societies, government organisations, voluntary organisations and self employed individuals, among others’ (MED, 2009), it’s likely we have SMEs who aren’t even aware they are one. This ambiguity and lack of awareness SME owner/managers broadly appears to not be uncommon (Gill & MacCormick, 1999). Fundamentally, this unawareness is not restricted to the owner/manager category, broadly there appears to be some under-current of this trend throughout the review. SMEs are not simply smaller versions of big businesses. (Coviello & Martin,1999). And while there have been extensive studies within the field of “small business” in the NZ context, particularly by public sector agencies, the majority of these do not focus on what would technically be considered as one.

The majority of government initiatives and studies feature considerations of businesses with turnover of $1M+ or at least 6 employees (Statistics NZ, 2009).Subsequently, they have excluded the large amount of this market whom do not fulfil this criteria. There is wide discussion within these areas with concerns for growth. The “3b syndrome” or ‘boat. Batch and beemer” (NZTE, 2009) phenomenon has been widely debated and discussed.  It concerns the activity of “lifestyle entrepreneurs” and their role in economies and societies (Massey, 2004). Overall the world has in recent years experienced a social trend and concern towards sustainability and environmentally friendly. Now not only are we beginning to recognise in the mainstream the need to correct this, but there has been a shift towards the recognition of “biosphere economy” (Volans, 2010). The shift in power among the different generations is acting as a catalyst for these changes to be faced, or so we do assume.

The size, flexibility and nature of the SME places them in good stead to make maximum advantage as these changes continue to become more main stream in society. The management capabilities of owner/managers and other SMEs in NZ are widely recognised to be one of the markets biggest shortcomings. Their size, on the one hand, provides considerable advantages over the economies current leaders, the Multi-National Corporation (MNC) whom have none of the same ability to be flexible and dynamic (Williamson, 2009). On the other hand, this is at the same time what limits their ability and level of achievement. Hardworking and innovative, the NZ workforce has strong potential, and is one of the higher educated markets internationally (OECD, 2009).

Despite this, SMEs owner / managers will be required to actively consider how they manage this new form of speedy and connected business. The lack of resourcing capabilities within SMEs may explain the lack of uptake with SNSs also. However it is important that the value of these be appreciated by the SME sector, as the unique reality is that the advantages afforded to MNCs through their size, in terms of resources and human capability, potentially can equally be available to SMEs through collaboration. SNSs are the key link, providing us with new and more effective ways to negotiate, organise and facilitate such collaborations.  

Lewis’s (2009) considerations in to young NZ entrepreneurs and the trends of highlights the “aspirational” identities driving the new age of entrepreneurs. They do not identify with the role of being a small firm owner –which imitated perceived mundanely , not a notion that was reconciled easily or resonated with the style of work-life common among them (Lewis, 2009, p135). Ultimately, in an information age, especially one which is found in markets valuing instant gratification, whether they are aware of it or not, every individual is in fact operating as a brand themselves. Ried Hoffmann (one of the founders of LinkedIn) put it best when he describes how he came up with the concept; “I think everyone is now an entrepreneur, whether they realise it or not. The average job is 2-4 years- that makes you a small business, the business of yourself” (Hoffman, as cited in Rao, 2009).  

New Zealand

The unique situation and context that NZ presents along with the innovative approaches adopted by Kiwi Entrepreneurs are by themselves emphasis enough of the need to consider the contingents in this context. Networks are important in the NZ context, potentially more so than so other places in the world (Hairsine, 2010)  especially relevant within small markets like ours, and the relevance of approaches such as word of mouth advertising, are both more immediate and in turn more obvious. The long standing recognition of word of mouth advertising alone in NZ would assumedly assist the appreciation of SNSs, yet we are really only beginning to see their value and potential becoming increasing appreciated in the mainstream. Rob Treacher, Director of Auckland Company, AMPM, put it succulently in an episode of Campbell Live (the TV3 Current Affairs Programme) last week when he referred to SNS as ‘word of mouth on steroids’ (Campbell Live, 2010).

NZ has a unique set of circumstances that make up our markets. Historical traditions of both creativity and agriculture generate dynamic industries at their conjunction. While we have examples of great Kiwi innovations and people “making the big time” offshore, internally the nature of markets and business may be different to how they might appear from an outsider’s perspective. Rife with the influence of tall poppy syndrome there is an undertone within New Zealand society which can be considered ultimately rather nasty, with reluctance to celebrate achievement and aspirations of mediocrity On the other hand this is balanced out by the community spirit and hard working nature of Kiwis. Being innovative, Kiwis have a tendency to make the situations they have work best for them, and often that means taking somewhat of a creative approach and have been referred to as last-end adopters (NZTE, 2009).

Small and limited markets and an entrepreneurial spirit has lead to many hardworking Kiwis to establish their own businesses for centuries. In fact, so intrinsic to our cultures, that the desire to seek autonomy (Van Gelderen & Jansen, 2006) is comparable with the desire to own your own home (Ministry of Economic Development, 2000a, p. 4). Such drivers lend themselves as explanatory factors to the ongoing growth and innovation demonstrated by SMEs. And whilst there is no debate of our innovative nature, the ability of Kiwis to capitalize on the value of the ideas that we produce, seems less apparent (Statistics NZ,2009) . We have a tendency to work harder, but not smarter (NZTE, 2009).

BOOK NOTES: Irving, Kolb, Shephard & Woods (2009) Changing Gears

The workforce and New Zealand markets have remained comparatively sheltered from recessive forces, however we are still demonstrating some of the common trends resulting from it. It is disconcerting to consider the recent international trend also still effecting us here, youth unemployment rates are highest they have been in consider the relative figures around innovation and development, whereby Statistics NZ (2009) found trends indicating that the larger the business, the more likely to innovate.


NZ Initiatives and Government activity within the ICT area has been developed as the Digital Strategy for NZ since the nineties (NZ Government, 2006).The e-government initiatives and evidence of these required structural changes well underway within many government departments and state owned enterprises (consider the “Auckland Super City” initiatives which have seen wide publication recently), whom from all accounts appear (although do not explicitly state) to looking toward the “cloud computing” movement which is the current “in thing” amongst developer and techs alike. The Digital Strategy Advisory Group, established in 2000,  is just one aspect of government changes which as part of the process of transitioning to an e-Government by 2020, are making publically available a lot of useful information. Recognising the importance of this movement, the NZ Government was the first internationally, to make this move towards being online. The Companies Office introduced the first online business registration internationally in 1996 and appreciating the potential, now focus on up skilling and enabling business owners to leverage the resources available to them (NZ Companies Office, 2006).

The ICTs now enable us to utilize our networks faster, enable them to span further and create almost unlimited uses (MED, 2007). The government’s “G20” initiatives (preparing and establishing NZ’s e-government) and evidence of these required structural changes well underway within our state owned enterprises (consider the “Auckland Supercity” initiatives which have seen wide publication recently). There are a wide variety of initiatives, projects and efforts being undertaken, from both the public and private sectors in NZ, to ensure ‘an e-literate population with optimal access to ICTs’ (MED, 2000b, p1). Despite these extensive efforts (more details in virtual version), the uptake of ICTs in broader NZ communities and businesses has been patchy (MED, 2000a, 2000b, 2006).

Capability & Skills Assessment: Broader communities

One of the main strategic concerns receiving the focus of government centres on improving the general populations’ capabilities and confidence with ICTs. The latest version of their Digital Strategy Submission used the ICTs available to them to create an interactive document which inspired my interpretation to be utilised here (the visual summary which they utilise online can be seen as Figure 4). More information about the different aspects and elements of this government progress can be found in the virtual version but ultimately, the work being completed has provided a solid and insightful array of research, review and reports being made available which have been heavily referred to within this review.


The  Digital  Divide 

The NZ government recognizes that ‘motivating and training’ of the general public is required to address concerns of the “digital divide”. There have been a variety of initiatives that the government bodies have been working on over the past few years as we have experienced the wider spread of technology. We are now found within what MED referred to as the transition phase, the second phase in the expected changes as contexts adapt forced by the influences from a general purpose technologies. Despite our high ICT adoption levels, the digital divide in NZ is relatively significant by international standards (OECD, 2009) and innovation. Whilst I did uncover some interesting concepts and potential within these concerns that will not be addressed in this review and some further information can be found online.