At least a partial rejoinder to many criticisms of stages-of-growth models included in the previous section of the paper may be provided by Miller’s (1981, 1987) suggestion that, rather than moving predictably through a sequence of developmental stages, businesses might instead ‘attain gestalts or patterns of strategy, structure, and environment that may emerge for any number of reasons’ (Kazanjian, 1988, p. 258). According to Miller & Friesen (1984b, p. 1):
Organisational structures, production systems, information processing procedures, strategies and environments all tend to influence each other. Our thesis is that they do so in such a manner that gives rise to a small number of extremely common configurations. . . . Configurations may represent common organizational structures, common scenarios of strategy making in context, and even common developmental or transitional sequences.
Kazanjian & Drazin (1989) point out that organisational gestalts are appropriate responses to imperatives facing businesses, and that movement from one gestalt to another would not necessarily follow any developmental pattern.
The most significant empirical research found which explicitly tests, for SMEs, the validity of the alternative stages-of-growth and gestalt perspectives identified in the previous paragraph is a longitudinal study of technology-based new ventures (TBNVs) in the United States reported by Kazanjian & Drazin (1989). The research question addressed by Kazanjian & Drazin (1989, pp. 1492-1493) is:
. . . whether, over time, TBNVs progress according to a stage of growth model or if transitions in organizational form represent shifts in gestalts or configurations.
The authors cite only Miller & Friesen (1984a) as previous empirical research shedding some light on this question. Although the sample size is small, a stage-wise progression is claimed to be roughly present in Miller & Friesen’s (1984a) data. On the outcome of their research, Kazanjian & Drazin (1989, pp. 1499) comment as follows:
To the best of our knowledge this paper provides the first statistical test of whether firms actually advance through stages over time. The modest support shown in the results confirms that some TBNVs do tend . . . to progress according to the predicted pattern.
Subsequently, Kazanjian & Drazin (1989, p. 1499) claim that the findings of their study provide ‘only partial support for the stage of growth model, but point the way toward an interesting possible synthesis of the stage of growth and gestalt perspectives’.
Recall that Hanks et al. (1993, p. 7) define a life-cycle stage as ‘a unique configuration of variables related to organization context or structure’. This definition, it could be argued, might equally