Research Theme

My research interests lie at the intersection of strategy, organization theory and entrepreneurship, with a particular focus on “strategic paradoxes” and with a strong international flavor. Organizations around the world frequently confront strategic paradoxes when they face difficult challenges, competing demands from multiple stakeholders, and important tradeoffs. In particular, I study various types of strategic paradoxes in the context of social enterprises, technological advances, and cultural innovations. A better understanding of strategic paradoxes has both scholarly and practical implications, offering opportunities for knowledge advancement in various contemporary strategy and organization theory topics and actionable suggestions for practitioners who strive to solve chronic societal problems. My goal is to help both scholars and practitioners better understand how organizations wrestle with different kinds of strategic tensions and succeed in converting potential tradeoffs into synergies.

Selected Publications


Zhao, Eric Yanfei (2021). Optimal Distinctiveness: A New Approach to the Competitive Positioning of Organizations and Markets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Journal Articles:

Zhao, Eric Yanfei, and Ling Yang (2021) "Women hold up half the sky? Informal institutions, entrepreneurial decisions, and gender gap in venture performance." Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, forthcoming. [PDF]

Williams, Trent, Eric Yanfei Zhao, Scott Sonenshein, Deniz Ucbasaran, and Gerard George (2021) "Breaking boundaries to creatively generate value: The role of resourcefulness in entrepreneurship." Journal of Business Venturing, 36: 1-17. [PDF

Zhao, Eric Yanfei, and Mary Ann Glynn (2020) "Optimal Distinctiveness: On being the same and different." Organization Theory, in preparation. [PDF]

Grimes, Matthew, Trent Williams, and Eric Yanfei Zhao (2020) "Beyond hybridity: Accounting for the values complexity of all organizations in the study of mission and mission drift." Academy of Management Review, 45(1): 234-239. [PDF]


Zhao, Eric Yanfei, Masakazu Ishihara, and P. Devereaux Jennings (2020) "Strategic entrepreneurship's dynamic tensions: Converging (diverging) effects of experience and networks on market entry timing and entrant performance." Journal of Business Venturing, 35(2): 1-23. [PDF]


Guo, Hai, Yonghui Li, and Eric Yanfei Zhao (2020) "To be different, or to be the same: Literature review and prospect." Nankai Business Review (南开管理评论), 23(6): 214-224. [PDF]. —A leading Chinese management journal


Grimes, Matthew, Trent Williams, and Eric Yanfei Zhao (2019) "Anchors aweigh: The sources, variety, and challenges of mission drift." Academy of Management Review, 44(4): 819-845. [PDF]

Shepherd, Dean, Trent Williams, and Eric Yanfei Zhao (2019) "A framework for exploring the degree of hybridity in entrepreneurship." Academy of Management Perspectives, 33(4): 491-512. [PDF]


Zhao, Eric Yanfei, and Yong Li (2019) "Institutions and entrepreneurship: Broadening and contextualizing institutional theory in entrepreneurship research." Quarterly Journal of Management(管理学季刊), 4(2): 15-25. [PDF-Chinese version] [PDF-English version—A leading Chinese management journal.


Zhao, Eric Yanfei, Masakazu Ishihara, P. Devereaux Jennings and Michael Lounsbury (2018) "Optimal Distinctiveness in the console video game industry: An exemplar-based model of proto-category evolution." Organization Science, 29(4): 588-611. [PDF]

Wry, Tyler, and Eric Yanfei Zhao* (2018) "Taking tradeoffs seriously: Examining the contextually contingent relationship between social outreach intensity and financial sustainability in global microfinance." Organization Science, 29(3): 507-528. [PDF]


Zhao, Eric Yanfei, Greg Fisher, Michael Lounsbury and Danny Miller (2017) "Optimal distinctiveness: Broadening the interface between institutional theory and strategic management." Strategic Management Journal, 38(1): 93-113. [PDF]

Williams, Trent, Daniel Gruber, Kathleen Sutcliffe, Dean Shepherd, and Eric Yanfei Zhao (2017) "Organizational response to adversity: Fusing crisis management and resilience research streams." Academy of Management Annals, 11(2): 733-769. [PDF]

Zhao, Eric Yanfei, and Michael Lounsbury (2016) "An institutional logics approach to social entrepreneurship: Market logic, religious diversity, and resource acquistion by microfinance organizations." Journal of Business Venturing, 31(6): 643-662. [PDF]

Zhao, Eric Yanfei, and Tyler Wry (2016) "Not all inequality is equal: Deconstructing the societal logic of patriarchy to understand microfinance lending to women." Academy of Management Journal, 59(6): 1994-2020. [PDF]

Cobb, Adam, Tyler Wry, and Eric Yanfei Zhao* (2016) "Funding financial inclusion: Institutional logics and the contextual contingency of funding for microfinance organizations." Academy of Management Journal, 59(6): 2103-2131. [PDF]

Zhao, Eric Yanfei, Masakazu Ishihara, and Michael Lounsbury (2013) "Overcoming the illegitimacy discount: Cultural entrepreneurship in the US feature film industry." Organization Studies, 34(12): 1747-1776. [PDF]

Book Chapters:

Zhu, David Hongquan, and Eric Yanfei Zhao (2018) "Empirical design and analysis using panel data." (纵向研究设计和分析) In Empirical Methods in Organization and Management Research (组织与管理研究的实证方法). Ed. Xiaoping Chen and Wei Shen. Beijing, China: Peking University Press. [PDF] [STATA Data File, STATA Do File]

Zhao, Eric Yanfei (2014) "Mission drift in microfinance: An exploratory empirical approach based on ideal types." Research Methodology in Strategy and Management, 9: 77-109. [PDF]

Lounsbury, Michael, and Eric Yanfei Zhao (2013) "Neo-institutional Theory." In Oxford Bibliographies in Management. Ed. Ricky Grin. New York: Oxford University Press. [PDF]

* denotes contribution as equal first author.

Other Useful Resources

(1) ​AOM 2019 PDW on "Optimal Distinctiveness"  was again a great success! 

(2) AOM 2018 PDW on "Optimal Distinctiveness"  was a great success!

Program link: [click here]

Format & Structure: [click here]

(3) AOM 2017 PDW on "Optimal Distinctiveness"

For those who we missed at our 2017 PDW, here are the readings, presentation ppts, and testimonials: