During the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries asked their domestic firms to produce various medical equipment. Many firms promised to do so, including redesigns of existing ventilators or designing new ones. Despite these firms' enthusiasm, however, many of their attempts at being resourceful- through deploying their resources in activities beyond their current use- were unsuccessful. Our study attempts to explain why the success of these efforts varied. We integrate concepts of resourcefulness, managerial cognition, and product architecture to develop a typology of resourcing approaches, using a firm's characteristics and resources, its interpretative frames, and the technical and regulatory characteristics of the product being resourced for as boundary conditions. We illustrate our theorizing through case studies on the manufacturing of face shields, hand sanitiser, face masks, and medical ventilators. Our study provides important implications for firms attempting to deploy their resources in new contexts.
"Eric Humphreys began building a DIY breathing machine. “I literally used Christmas parts,” he says. But he and his boss, Manu Sawkar, the founder of Standard Transmission, also realised that this “DIY MacGyver creation,” as Sawkar puts it, wasn’t even vaguely ready for prime time. Real ventilators require considerable testing for reliability. They have to monitor patients and set off alarms if too much or too little air is going to the lungs. They have sophisticated algorithms to regulate flow depending on how well the patient is inhaling. Even if Standard Transmission did create something usable, Sawkar says, it would never be able to manufacture enough units to interest the city. So Humphreys’s creation will go no farther than a well-meaning gesture." (Levy, 2020)
As COVID-19 became increasingly widespread, governments worldwide realised their healthcare systems risked being overwhelmed. Most countries lacked adequate hospital capacity, ICU units, ventilators, and personal protective equipment (PPE). In the UK, for example, early estimates suggested that the NHS would be short of 20,000 ventilators (Davies & Rankin, 2020). In response, several governments called on private-sector firms to help produce PPE and ventilators.1 Many organisations, including LVMH, Airbus, Dyson, GM, and Ford, offered to deploy their resources, some individually and others jointly, to produce the needed items, including hand sanitiser, face shields or simple fabric face masks, medical-grade face masks,2 and ventilators. These efforts were supported by individuals and organisations sharing relevant information, designs, and design blueprints (Chesbrough, 2020; Crick & Crick, 2020) and by relaxing some requirements and rules about producing these goods. Many attempts at being resourceful- through deploying resources in activities beyond their current use- were, however, unsuccessful or deficient: some products were of unacceptable quality, could not be produced at scale, had limited clinical effectiveness (e.g., only short emergency use), or failed to secure regulatory clearance.3 It is crucial that we understand why some initiatives succeeded while others failed.