Thomas C. Powell - Professor of Strategy at University of Oxford and Said Business School

Thomas C. Powell

 Professor of Strategy
 Said Business School
 University of Oxford

Said Business School and University of Oxford


Professor Powell conducts research on competitive advantage, behavioral strategy, and the philosophical foundations of strategy.

Competitive Advantage
Professor Powell’s research on competitive advantage employs a variety of methods – field research, statistical analysis, simulation and mathematical models – to examine competitive strategy and the performance of firms and industries. His research shows that most competitive advantages are fleeting and that the sustainability of advantages tends to derive not from large strategic assets but from the complex integration of strategies, people, systems, and the sound execution of strategy fundamentals like best practice and customer service. His statistical research on firm performance introduced new rank-ordering methods for describing performance shifts among competing firms.

Behavioral Strategy
Behavioral Strategy merges cognitive and social psychology with strategic management theory and practice, and is one of the hottest new areas in strategy research. Its aim is to improve the usefulness of strategy theory by grounding strategy in realistic assumptions about human cognition, emotion, and social interaction. Professor Powell’s work in Neurostrategy uses brain imaging and neurochemical analysis to study correlations between individual decisions and activity in the brain. His work in Behavioral Strategy has examined cognitive phenomena such as beliefs, overconfidence, and impatience, and their effects on the nature and quality of strategic decisions. Professor Powell published the first paper in Neurostrategy, co-authored an influential Strategic Management Journal  paper in Behavioral Strategy, and was the Founding Chair of the Behavioral Strategy Interest Group in the Strategic Management Society.

Philosophical foundations of strategy
Professor Powell’s philosophical work challenges conventional views of truth and falsification in theories of competitive advantage. Although good theories rely on sound logical deduction and empirical testing, most theories of competitive advantage rely on tautology and ex post justification, and could be made consistent with any actual state of affairs. Professor Powell argues that the epistemological value of theories of competitive advantage derives not from empirical tests, which are inconclusive, but from their capacity to inform the problems and preoccupations of those who operate in the domain of strategy, including academics, consultants, and strategy executives.

Selected Publications

Powell, T.C. (2019) Can Quantitative Research Solve Social Problems? Pragmatism and the Ethics of Social Research, Journal of Business Ethics, online 2019.

Powell, T.C. (2018) Romantics, Mercenaries, and Behavioral Rationality, Advances in
Strategic Management 39: 151-165.

Powell, T.C. (2018) Absence-Neglect and the Origins of Great Strategies, Strategy Science 3(1): 306-312.

Powell, T.C. (2017) Strategy as Diligence: Putting Behavioral Strategy into Practice, California Management Review 59(3): 162-190. (California Management Review Best Paper Prize 2018)

Sibony, O. Lovallo, D., and Powell, T.C. (2017) Behavioral Strategy and the Strategic Decision Architecture of the Firm, California Management Review 59(3): 5-21.

Artinger, S. and Powell, T.C. (2016) Entrepreneurial Failure: Statistical and Psychological Explanations, Strategic Management Journal 37(6), 1047-1064.

Felin, T. and Powell, T.C. (2016) Designing Organizations for Dynamic Capabilities, California Management Review 58(4): 78-96.

Denrell, J. and Powell, T.C. (2016) Dynamic Capabilities as a Theory of Competitive Advantage: Contributions and Scope Conditions, Oxford University Handbook of Dynamic Capabilities (D. Teece, ed.).

Powell, T.C. (2014) Strategic Management and the Person, Strategic Organization 12(3), 200-207.

Powell, T.C. (2014) The Influence of William James on Management Thought, in: Helin, Jenny, Hernes, Tor, Hjorth, Daniel and Holt, Robin (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Process Philosophy and Organization Studies. Oxford University Press.

Powell, T.C. (2013) Neurostrategy, in: Augier, Mie and Teece, David, (eds.) Palgrave Encyclopedia of Strategic Management. Palgrave Macmillan.

Powell, T.C. and Puccinelli, N.M. (2012) The Brain as Substitute for Strategic Organization, Strategic Organization 10(3), 207-214.

Powell, T.C., Lovallo, D. and Fox, C. (2011) Behavioral Strategy, Strategic Management Journal 32(13), 1369-1386.

Powell, T.C. (2011) Neurostrategy, Strategic Management Journal 32(13), 1484-1499.

Powell, T.C. and Reinhardt, I. (2010) Rank Friction: An Ordinal Approach to Persistent Profitability, Strategic Management Journal 31, 1244-1255.

Powell, T.C., Rahman, N. and Starbuck, W.H. (2010) European and American Origins of Competitive Advantage, Advances in Strategic Management 27, 313-351.

Powell, T.C. and Arregle, J-L. (2009) Pour Une Approche plus Équilibrée de la Performance des Firmes, Review Française de Gestion 35, 147-165.

Powell, T.C. and Arregle, J-L. (2007) Firm Performance and the Axis of Errors, Journal of Management Research 7(2), 59-77.

Powell, T.C., Lovallo, D. and Caringal, C. (2006) Causal Ambiguity and Management Perception, Academy of Management Review 31(1), 175-196.

Powell, T.C. and Lloyd, C. (2005) Toward a General Theory of Competitive Dominance, Strategic Management Journal 26(4), 385-394.

Powell, T.C. (2004) Strategy, Execution and Idle Rationality, Journal of Management Research 4(2), 77-98.

Powell, T.C. (2003) Strategy without Ontology, Strategic Management Journal 24(3), 285- 291.

Powell, T.C. (2003) Varieties of Competitive Parity, Strategic Management Journal 24(1), 61-86.

Powell, T.C. (2002) The Philosophy of Strategy, Strategic Management Journal 23(9), 873- 880.

Powell, T.C. (2001) Competitive Advantage: Logical and Philosophical Considerations,
Strategic Management Journal 22(9), 875-888.

Powell, T.C. (2001) Fallibilism and Organizational Research: The Third Epistemology, Journal of Management Research 4, 201-219.

Powell, T.C. and A. Dent-Micallef (1998) Technologies De L'Information: Necessites Strategique ou Sources D'Avantage Concurrentiel? Un Test Empirique Dans L'Industrie De La Distribution Americaine, Canadian Journal of Administrative Science 15(2), 207-228.

Powell, T.C. and A. Dent-Micallef (1997) Information Technology as Competitive Advantage: The Role of Human, Business and Technology Resources, Strategic Management Journal 18(5), 375-405.

Powell, T.C. (1996) How Much Does Industry Matter?: An Alternative Empirical Test, Strategic Management Journal 17(4), 323-334.

Powell, T.C. (1995) Total Quality Management as Competitive Advantage, Strategic Management Journal 16(1), 15-37.

Powell, T.C. (1995) When Lemmings Learn to Sail: Turning Total Quality Management to Competitive Advantage, Handbook of Business Strategy (B. Voss and D. Willey, eds.), Faulkner & Gray, 42-54.

Powell, T.C. (1994) High-Performance Strategic Planning for Competitive Advantage, Handbook of Business Strategy (H. Glass and B. Cavan, eds.), New York, Faulkner & Gray, 383-398.

Powell, T.C. (1994) Untangling the Relationship between Formal Strategic Planning and Financial Performance: The Role of Contingency Factors, Canadian Journal of Administrative Science 11(2), 124-138.

Powell, T.C. (1993) Firm-Specific Competitive Advantage in High-Technology Firms, Journal of High Technology Management Research 4(2), 197-209.

Powell, T.C. (1993) Administrative Skill as Competitive Advantage: Extending Porter's Analytical Framework, Canadian Journal of Administrative Science 10(2), 141-153.

Powell, T.C. (1993) The Role of Ethics in Individual Decision Making, Canadian Journal of Administrative Science 10(3), 269-279.

Powell, T.C. (1992) Strategic Planning as Competitive Advantage, Strategic Management Journal 13(7), 551-558.

Powell, T.C. (1992) Organizational Alignment as Competitive Advantage, Strategic Management Journal 13(2), 119-134.

Powell, T.C. (1991) Shaken, but Alive: Organizational Behavior in the Wake of Catastrophic Events, Industrial Crisis Quarterly 5, 271-291.