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well apply to a gestalt. Furthermore, the taxonomic approach to deriving their model employed by Hanks et al. (1993) is a method one might use in identifying gestalts amongst business concerns. Commenting on the findings of their research, Hanks et al. (1993, p. 18) claim that:

While the cross-sectional nature of this study limits our ability to reach definitive conclusions as to the sequencing of stages, the derived taxonomy suggests a sequence of four developmental stages . . .

As pointed out earlier, a sequence of stages might be inferred from the enterprise size and age characteristics typical for concerns in each stage of the Hanks et al. (1993) study. However, later in their paper Hanks et al. (1993, p. 24) observe:

Although the cross-sectional approach taken in this study is suggestive of life-cycle stages, it is impossible to differentiate between configurations representative of life-cycle stages and those suggestive of firms simply choosing to do business in different ways.

This may be taken to suggest that what could be seen as life-cycle stages might alternatively be perceived as gestalts amongst the businesses studied.

The point is, then, that the Hanks et al. (1993) model described at some length in this paper is not inconsistent with an alternative gestalt perspective; although, on balance, it favours a stages-of-growth perspective. Note also that a gestalt may, in fact, be a growth stage. The upshot is that some reliance can be placed on the Hanks et al. (1993) model in the knowledge that, as well as overcoming concerns that stages-of-growth models are frequently not empirically based, it can also be claimed to at least partially answer the most prevalent objections to such models in the literature (in particular those detailed earlier from Penrose, 1952; Gibb & Dyson, 1984; Fombrun & Wally, 1989; Miller & Friesen, 1984a and Merz et al., 1994).

6. Summary and Conclusions

Given the emergent state of scholarship in the field, perforce, a degree of pragmatism about conceptualising SME growth needs to prevail if current research and policy-making embracing the business growth phenomenon are to have some prospect of meeting their objectives. A reasonable expectation would yet seem to be no more than a convenient explanation of SME growth that is sufficiently supported by informed thought, empirical observation and business experience. It must, of course, be acceptably robust and parsimonious as to be operational; and it should not be unduly threatening to the internal and external validity of research employing it.

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