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Plato’s Cave and The Resource Based View Workshop for [..]* Dr Kevin Morrell The name of the firm has been withheld – this version of the presentation also has minimal formatting & is mainly in black and white to enhance accessibility. BACKGROUND - 1.

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Plato’s Cave and The Resource Based View

Workshop for [..]*

Dr Kevin Morrell

The name of the firm has been withheld – this version of the presentation also has minimal formatting & is mainly in black and white to enhance accessibility

background 1

This presentation was the introduction to, and basis of a 2-day workshop with a medium sized research consultancy. The name of the firm is not shown for commercial reasons but I can provide references and testimonials. In close consultation with the senior management team I developed and agreed two aims for the workshop: (1) to encourage people in that consultancy to think about the importance of knowledge work to their competitive context; and (2) to prepare the ground for some specialist training in advanced analytical techniques.

I used the parable of Plato’s Cave (explained in the presentation) as an organising metaphor to illustrate themes relating to organisational learning, the competitive context, and the dangers of superficial approaches to strategy and studying social the world. This involved making three areas of research relevant: (1) research on the knowledge economy and organisational learning, (2) HR strategy and the competitive context of the firm, (3) Use of Multivariate techniques in analysis.

background 2

As well as the senior managers who had approached me, the workshop had three groups of stakeholders: (i) other senior staff on the board, (ii) analysts who were ‘back-office’, and also (iii) ‘front of house’ sales and marketing staff. The sales and marketing staff were not expected to be trained in these techniques, but needed to understand them, and the context for them in order to be able to communicate them effectively to prospective clients.

The workshop, my materials and subsequent support from me helped this firm to develop competencies that led to their securing several contracts with high profile clients in the short term.

Today, some 5 years later, that firm is still using the techniques I helped them to learn and apply. Because I prepared high quality reference materials and exercises, they are able to induct new members in these techniques so that learning is shared.

background 3

The presentation shows some of what we did in those two days, and there were supplementary materials and subsequent support after the workshop. Most of the supplementary materials for discussion were in WORD format and I also provided some relevant data in the form of EXCEL spreadsheets.

The company received a bespoke ‘manual’ of training materials incorporating the presentation, exercises, tutorials and data. All of this was relevant to their needs. Also, because it was of particular relevance to their industry, I also offered an up to date review of current scientific research on decision making – the latest thinking translated into a format that they could use to think about and represent their practice to prospective clients. Finally, I offered support after the course too, while the learning was bedding in.

Feel free to contact me for more on this workshop, or to see if your firm could benefit from a similar approach that makes research relevant.

  • Who am I?
  • Who are you?
  • Why are we here?
structure of session 1
Structure of Session 1
  • The Context: Strategy and Learning
  • Two Parables
  • Some Examples
what will we learn about
What Will We Learn About?
  • Strategy and the Importance of Learning
  • Reg Revans
  • Plato’s Republic
  • Edwin Abbot’s novel ‘Flatland’
what will we be able to do
What Will We Be Able To Do?
  • Say what multivariate analysis is
  • Say why [company name] needs to know about it
  • Give some examples
  • Identify some of the pitfalls
business strategy
Business Strategy
  • Knowledge Economy
  • Competitive Environment
  • Technological Climate
  • [the company’s] Strengths
hr strategy
HR Strategy
  • Resource-Based View
    • Valuable
    • Scarce
    • Inimitable
  • Revans’ Law
  • Requisite Variety
why multivariate analysis
Why Multivariate Analysis
  • A complex, changing environment requires commitment to learning
  • Technological supremacy doesn’t guarantee competitive advantage in the long term
  • Technological sophistication needs to be matched with analytical sophistication
  • Modelling the social world requires a multivariate approach
  • [Competitors] use it

You can see another example of this image on

the parable of plato s cave 1
The Parable of Plato’s Cave - 1

Plato asks us to imagine an underground cave with its opening facing a fire. The inhabitants of the cave are chained so that they cannot move. All they can see is the cave wall that is directly facing them. This wall is lit up by the flames from fire. These flames project shadows of the other people and objects within the cave directly on to the wall in front of the prisoners. In front of the fire is a puppet show and it is the movement and shapes of these puppets that the prisoners see projected on the wall.

Because they are chained, and have not experienced anything else, for the inhabitants of the cave these shadows are reality, and the inhabitants give these shadows names and discuss the shadows amongst one another, sometimes even believing that the sounds outside the cave are associated with the moving shadows of the puppets projected on the wall. Their reality, and their truths and knowledge are shadows and illusions, but they have no way of seeing otherwise.

the parable of plato s cave 2
The Parable of Plato’s Cave - 2

Plato goes on to suggest we imagine one of the inhabitants somehow escapes from their chains and leaves the cave. They would realize that the shadows on the wall were just that; simply reflections of a more complex reality. They would see their reality/knowledge/truth to date was an illusion. They could not ever accept the confinement of the cave or see things the same again. Even if they did return the remaining prisoners could ridicule their new knowledge as fantasy, or even view them as a dangerous lunatic. For Plato, the cave is our world of appearances and the journey outside represents ascent to knowledge.

We don’t have to agree with Plato to use the parable of course. From a business perspective, it demonstrates the dangers of complacence and the importance of recognizing other ways of seeing. Some organizations are trapped in belief systems (cultures or worldviews) that drag them deeper and deeper into the cave. From a personal perspective, it shows how we may stop learning new things. The cave parable can help us reflect on our reactions and what they tell us about ourselves - our fears, doubts, insecurities - before we reject the opportunity to learn.


“The sphere with his section at full size”

The plane of flatland, and the square’s eye-line

“The sphere rising”

“The sphere on the point of vanishing”

  • Limit your thinking and you will limit your range of action Gareth Morgan
  • To a man with a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail Abraham Maslow
  • Unless a [social] problem is treated as a multivariate problem, it is treated superficiallyHair et al
what does multivariate mean
What Does ‘Multivariate’ Mean?

In multivariate analysis we use two or more variables to build a sound model that tells us something useful

Two common uses are

1: To predict (technically - dependence)

2: To identify patterns (technically - interdependence)




the importance of theory
The Importance of Theory
  • These data were generated randomly, as we played
  • If you look hard enough, you can find patterns in any data
  • So, in general, we should be sceptical of theories derived from statistical data
  • Instead, theories should be specified before the data, not after
  • Also, formulating the research question prior to analysis is important
types of data
Types of Data

Nominal / Categorical – data grouped by ‘name-like’ variables, e.g. Sex, Religion, Political party

Ordinal – data grouped in categories which fall in some ‘order’, e.g. “…never, sometimes, always...”

Interval – data measured on a scale, with an arbitrary zero point and equal intervals, e.g. temperature

Ratio – data measured on a scale with an absolute zero point, e.g. salary, age, weight



multivariate questions
Multivariate Questions
  • Why do they get paid so much?
  • Can I lend you money?
  • How many kinds of consumer are there?
why do they get paid so much
Why Do They Get Paid So Much?

Potential Variables

  • Age (tenure)
  • Qualifications
  • Ability (motivation, hours worked etc.)
  • Personal Characteristics (image management, charisma)
  • Political / nepotism factors
  • Other biases (sex, race, religion, height, hair colour)
  • Intra-firm (departmental culture / boss as advocate)
  • Inter-firm (equal opps policy, industry characteristics)
relevant technique
Relevant Technique
  • Depends on the research question, which concerns prediction / explanation, i.e. dependence
  • Depends on the nature of data (metric)
  • Here potentially, linear regression, which concerns:

“Predicting the outcome of a metric dependent variable using one or more metric independent variables”

can i lend you money
Can I Lend You Money?

Potential Variables

  • Homeowner
  • Bank Account
  • Purpose of Loan
  • Current Level of Debt
  • Current Assets
  • Level of Current Income
  • Predicted Future Income
  • Spousal Income
  • History (Refused elsewhere, CCJ’s etc.)
relevant technique29
Relevant Technique
  • Depends on the research question, which concerns prediction, i.e. dependence
  • Depends on the nature of data (metric / non-metric)
  • Here potentially, logistic regression, or discriminant analysis which concerns:

“Predicting the outcome of a non-metric dependent variable using one or more metric independent variables. Both techniques can also incorporate non-metric variables (e.g. are you a homeowner?)”

how many kinds of consumer
How Many Kinds of Consumer?

Potential Variables

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Time of day
  • Amount spent
  • Products bought (categories)
  • Time in store
  • Level / type of interaction (browsing / impulse etc.)
  • Number in group
relevant technique31
Relevant Technique
  • Depends on the research question, which concerns interdependence
  • Here typically one would use cluster analysis; there are many ways of doing it, but broadly a cluster analysis will:

“Attempt to identify relatively homogeneous (i.e. similar) groups of cases (or variables) based on selected characteristics”



plato s cave and the resource based view workshop for dr kevin morrell www kevinmorrell org uk
Plato’s Cave and The Resource Based View

Workshop for ******

Dr Kevin Morrell