The Möbius Organizational Form: Make, Buy, Cooperate, or Co-opt?

Watkins, Elizabeth; Stark, David C.

This paper examines the emerging contours of a new organizational form, in which firms move beyond the cooperative pacts of alliances to a radicalized, aggressive co-optation of external assets. Taking our point of departure from the literature on the “networked” firm, we point to an alternative to the make, buy, or cooperate decision: in the Möbius form, firms co-opt resources, unsecured by any alliances, formal or informal. Some companies are brazen in their co-optation, leveraging external assets so thoroughly that they might well be considered a core part of the firm. Enabled by developments in computing technologies, such co-optation challenges traditional models of organizational identity. These fluid boundaries recall the Möbius topological model, which we take as the metaphor for this nascent organizational form. We chart this new behavior by discussing a range of firm activities, including the functions of marketing, research and development, and managerial decision-making, as they are replaced with assets co-opted from other firms in the private sector, government agencies, and lastly the firm’s own users.


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March 1, 2019



organizational form; co-optation; firm boundaries; organizational innovation; economic sociology; crowd work; digital labor; platform; cultural and digital economy