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Community building as institutional entrepreneurship: exploring the emergence of a popular music community.


How institutions are created, maintained, shaped, and changed are the central interests of institutional entrepreneurship (Bruton, Ahlstrom, & Li, 2010). Current research on institutional entrepreneurship has investigated the questions of how institutional orders are changed by different types of social actors in industry fields, either in the center of the field or in the periphery (Greenwood & Suddaby, 2006; Greenwood, Suddaby, & Hinings, 2002; Maguire & Hardy, 2009; Maguire, Hardy, & Lawrence, 2004). Wherever the locations of institutional changes are, current research on institutional entrepreneurship has focused on the change of institutional order as the sole outcome of institutional change. In this conception, actors either achieve institutional change or fail to do so and the result of international entrepreneurship is dichotomous.

In reality, there could be a range of results that are associated with the institutional entrepreneurship, including partial change of institutional order (Glynn, 2000), or the creation of a community that cultivates a different set of orders, rules, and values within the community. Yet little is known about how institutional entrepreneurs construct an alternative social order when they build a community in parallel to mature institutions. Do they predominantly engage in changes to undermine the cognitive pillar of the institution, "theorization" to justify a new order (Greenwood, Suddaby et al. 2002), or policing or deterring to reinforce the new order (Lawrence and Suddaby 2006)? This lack of clarity is matched by the uncertainty about how the work of institutional entrepreneurs differs from "institutional followers" and how these behaviors are linked to "institutional work" (Lawrence and Suddaby 2006).

Before we move on, we explain the concept of community used in this paper. Sociologists have studied communities extensively since the early nineteenth century (Tonnies, [1887] 1957; Durkheim [1897] 1951; [1911] 1965). Since then, the idea of community has been accepted as a symbol of safety and familiarity (Brint, 2001). Communities are "aggregates of people who share common activities and/or beliefs and who are bound together principally by relations of affect, loyalty, common values, and/or personal concern (i.e., interest in the personalities and life events of one another)" (Brint, 2001: p8; emphasis in original). They are conceptually different from institutions, which are a pre-existing web of socially constructed, taken-for-granted prescriptions of appropriate behavior (Scott, 2001). Communities and institutions are both governed by cognitive-cultural, normative, and regulative forces but the forces prevailing in them are of a different nature (Marquis, Glynn, & Davis, 2007; Peredo & Chrisman, 2006). Importantly, communities are distinguished from institutions regarding the following two aspects: the extent of formality and the degree of regulation. Compared to institutions, communities are less formal; participants develop a sense of familiarity with one another through frequent social interactions rather than formal role specification. In contrast, institutions tend to orient towards formality and participants/actors tend to occupy specific roles in a pre-established structure. In terms of regulations, while in institutions, "... regulative processes involve the capacity to establish rules, inspect or review others' conformity to them, and, as necessary, manipulate sanctions--rewards or punishments--in an attempt to influence future behavior"(Scott, 2001, p35), the regulative forces in communities are based on interpersonal relationships and lack the coercive power of institutions.

Using qualitative procedures, we explore the creation and emergence of an elective community that is based on choice and activity (Brint, 2001). In contrast to geographic-based communities such as small scale communities of place or neighborhood groups, an elective community such as a fan community of a music group is based on relationship ties bound by choice and activity. Stated differently, the members of the fan community of a band may live in different cities, countries, or even continents; and their linkage to one another is through choosing and liking the band and through activities such as listening to the music and sharing the musical experience by engaging in discussions or attending concerts. The community that we explore is the fan community of the Grateful Dead. Known as "one of the most remarkable business stories in rock 'n' roll history" (Memmott, 1995), the Grateful Dead dramatically changed the American musical landscape beginning in the late 1960s. By leveraging their community of fans, more commonly known as Deadheads, the band was able to create a unique business model that was unlike the prevailing business models in the record industry (Hirsch, 2000), thereby providing a template for future musicians such as the bands Phish and String Cheese.

This case allows us to analyze what institutional entrepreneurs do to create a community that parallels the existing institutions of the record industry, the changes they focus on, and how they relate to the institutional "followers" who abide by the rules of industry. This study contributes to institutional entrepreneurship research and research on community by understanding what institutional entrepreneurs do to build a community. Our paper illustrates how entrepreneurs were able to create and foster a community through cognitive, normative, and regulative forces. Although considerable work in institutional entrepreneurship exists on how actors/entrepreneurs frame issues, make choices, and pursue behaviors to introduce new beliefs, norms, and practices into the social structures, they tend to focus on the success or failure of institutional change as the sole outcome for institutional entrepreneurs (Greenwood & Suddaby, 2006; Greenwood, Suddaby, & Hinnings, 2002; Garud, Jain, & Kumaraswamy, 2002). Relatively little research has been done on alternative outcomes of institutional entrepreneurship, such as the creation of a community where actors can develop, justify, foster, and share a different set of beliefs than those of prevailing institutions. An appreciation of how entrepreneurs can carve out enclaves of communities within institutions can add to our understanding of how people respond to multiplicity of institutional environments (Greenwood, Diaz, Li, & Lorente, 2010). When facing multiple, incongruous, or even conflicting institutional demands, entrepreneurs can actively create communities that harbor a different sets of values and beliefs.

We present our study in four sections. We first discuss theoretical orientation in the current literature on institutional entrepreneurship, establishing the central themes in the extant literature. Subsequently, we describe our qualitative research procedures. The third section presents the case study, discusses the processes of community emergence, and draws a framework of community emergence. And finally, we discuss the contribution and implications of our research.


In this paper, we follow Scott's (2006, p133) definition that "institutions consist of cognitive, normative, and regulative structures and activities that provide stability and meaning to social behavior". The cognitive structure of the institution depends heavily on the social interactions between its members. Berger and Luckmann (1967) and Scott (2006, p135) argue that "social life is only possible because and to the extent that individuals in interaction create common frameworks and understanding that support collective action". Without a cognitive base on which to conduct these interactions, actors would be working individually for personal goals and interests, preventing them from effectively moving toward the completion of a common goal. The cognitive structure of the institutional environment helps to create a common language and common processes that individuals follow and maintain.

The normative structure provides a moral framework for social life. Norms reflect common values, and participants derive these values and structures based on what is appropriate within the institutional context. Participants feel socially obligated to others, share common values, follow, permeate, and spread such norms in order to solidify the social structure and strengthen the bonds between actors.

The regulative structure refers to systems of rules as a governance system--the "rules of a game" (Scott, 2006, p133). There are not only a written set of rules that participants must follow, but also a set of informal regulatory structures that exist at the sector, industry, and societal levels. Members of the society are expected to adhere to these rules out of expediency. Usually enforced by coercion, individuals follow these regulations in order to avoid sanctions or to gain rewards. Behaviors that conform to the existing rules and laws are seen as legitimate.

Institutional theory, as initially formulated, suggests that social behaviors are patterned and reproduced because participants tend to view social structures as rationalized myths that are taken for granted, and followed as a prescribed guide for proper behaviors (Meyer & Rowan, 1977). Even though institutional theory has originally emphasized the conformity of participants to institutional orders, recent research on institutional theory and institutional entrepreneurship underscores the importance of human agency, i.e., the struggles and the behaviors of interested actors in maintaining and changing institutional orders (Greenwood & Suddaby, 2006; Greenwood, Suddaby, & Hinings, 2002; Garud, Jain, & Kumaraswamy, 2002; Mcguire, Hardy, Lawrence, 2004). Institutional entrepreneurs are actors who work towards changing or creating institutions by engaging in forward-looking agency (Dorado 2005).

Recent scholars have sought to explore in more detail the activities involved in institutional entrepreneurship (Lawrence and Suddaby 2006). Yet the broad literature remains divided as to exactly which areas of activities the entrepreneurs focus on to introduce a new social order. According to some authors, institutional entrepreneurs mainly focus on the regulative areas and establish rules and construct rewards and sanctions that enforce these rules (Elsbach and Sutton 1992; Fox-Wolfgramm, Boal et al. 1998; Russo 2001). A second stream of research highlights the normative structure of institutions and attends to the identities, roles, values and norms that underpin institutions (Townley 1997; Townley, Cooper et al. 2003; Zilber 2002). In this view, entrepreneurs affect institutional change by re-making the connections between sets of practices and the moral and cultural foundations of these practices, thereby reformulating the normative foundations of institutions. Participants may still carry out the same practices, but with a different set of meanings and motivations. Lastly, institutional entrepreneurs may work on cultural and cognitive areas of institutions by undermining the beliefs, assumptions, and frames that inform the existing institutional order (Hargadon and Douglas 2001; Lounsbury 2001; Orsato, den Hond et al. 2002). Through changing meanings, they introduce or create new institutions and invite other interested actors to engage in new practices and participate in the new institutions.

In addition, existing research has yet to show how institutional followers differ from institutional entrepreneurs when facing a similar institutional environment. Do institutional followers passively conform to institutional orders as "cultural dopes" (DiMaggio 1988; Hirsch and Loundsbury 1997), or do they actively support, repair, or recreate the social mechanisms that underlie prevailing institutions? Recent work on institutional entrepreneurship has drawn attention to the fact that few institutions possess powerful self-productive mechanisms. As a result, maintenance work is often needed for institutions to persist (Lawrence and Suddaby 2006). However, little attention has been devoted to how institutional followers and entrepreneurs differ, given similar environments. This paper focuses on how institutional entrepreneurs build an elective community, focusing on the fan community of the Grateful Dead.



This study began as an exploration into the relationship between institutions, entrepreneurs, and communities. The research design was based on inductive logic to obtain and gain insights, as a type of "naturalistic inquiry" (Greenwood & Suddaby, 2006; Miles & Huberman, 1994). The aim of naturalistic inquiry is to generalize from a case to a theory rather than from a sample to a population. This is accomplished through interpreting the data, and iterating between data and theoretical constructs until a stage of theoretical saturation is reached (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Qualitative procedures were used for four reasons. First, the changes observed over time in the Grateful Dead's business structure were not immediately apparent and obviously measurable; instead, they resulted from complex social interactions and subconscious and conscious decisions by the band's decision makers and the societal members of the community. Second, inductive techniques allowed us to clarify the sequence of events within and surrounding the community; we could detangle and clarify the causes of these events and offer a timeline in which to analyze historical events. Third, quantitative research would have failed to examine the societal structure under investigation in proper depth. Finally, qualitative methods enabled us to develop and substantiate a theory in this relatively new research area. Our study has drawn upon two sources of data: interviews and archival material.



Two categories of actors were interviewed. One group consisted of former members of the Grateful Dead's inner business structure (i.e., managers, crew, and staff). Among others, we interviewed sound engineer Dan Healy, who worked exclusively with the band from late 1960s until the death of Jerry Garcia, the lead guitarist, in 1995; Dennis McNally, the band's long-term publicist and author of a Grateful Dead biography (McNally, 2003); Billy "Kidd" Candelario, crewman and previous manager of Grateful Dead Merchandising; and David Gans, host of the nationally syndicated radio show--The Grateful Dead Hour and author of several books on the Grateful Dead (Gans, 1985). All interviews were conducted in semi-structured fashion. Some of the respondents attended business meetings and voted on issues that directly impacted the creation of community, and all of them were familiar with the business structures of the Grateful Dead.

The second group of interviews were conducted with fans and members of the community. Each member of this group had a different level of community involvement and interacted with the community during overlapping periods of time. Some of the community members interviewed were tapers, a specific subset of the community who would use a variety of recording setups in the audience to record and archive live shows. Primary among the fans we interviewed were Dan Hupert, a lawyer in the State of New York, and Barry Barnes, a professor of leadership. All of the respondents of this group were knowledgeable about the culture, norms, and regulations of the Grateful Dead community.

All interviews lasted around an hour to an hour and half in length, were recorded, and subsequently transcribed within 24 hours of interview conduction. All interviews were conducted according to an interview protocol that was developed by the researchers based on the roles of the interviewees in the community (band insiders or fans). The interview methodology has been described in the Appendix section. To minimize interviewer bias, a sample of the interviews was conducted by two researchers. Apart from primary interviews, we also consulted extensive text and video interviews conducted with the band members by the media dating from 1965 to the present (see archival data sources in Table 1). These second-hand interviews provided insight into the internal growth and regulation of the fan community and offered contextual information that showed the change in attitude and approach of the band over time. A summary of data sources and the number of interviews conducted are listed in Table 1 above.

Archival Data

Four categories of archival data were collected. The first category of archival data comprised of books, texts, and interviews that provided insight on the members of the band. Biographies, autobiographies, personal interviews and obituaries were researched in depth to gain a better understanding of the band members (Gans, 1985; Garcia, Reich, & Wenner, 2003; McNally, 2003). By better understanding the driving forces behind the band and the band members' ethics and behaviors, we were able to understand the entrepreneurs behind the creation of the community and the origins of community values. These articles also allowed us to validate and establish a main timeline of events surrounding the development of the band and the community.

Second, we referenced articles focusing on the popular media accounts of the band and the community. We searched every article published on Grateful Dead on the Lexus-Nexus database. These articles were a rich source of information and provided additional insight on the band and its relationship with the community (e.g., Bogaev, 2002; Pareles, 1995; Strauss, 1998). These articles gave direct insight into the community and interactions that occurred within and outside of the fan community. Spanning over forty years, beginning in the late 1960s until the present day, these articles also discussed the band's influence on other "jam bands" (i.e., bands such as Phish and String Cheese that relied heavily on improvisation in their shows) that have arrived on the scene since the Grateful Dead. This second category of data was vital in understanding the roles within the Grateful Dead community and the societal views of the community. These articles explained the dialect, language, values, and practices that arose within the community. There were diverse opinions of the band and the narratives changed over time, and these articles provided a general background on the evolution of the band and its community.

The third category of data comprised of trade magazine articles (e.g., Billboard, Rolling Stones, etc.), analysis, and other industry publications in the popular music industry that covered the years of 1965-1995. This category of data provided insights on the industry structures, culture, and institutional environment during the lifespan of the band (Passman, 2009). And finally, we also consulted academic articles in various disciplines such as business, sociology, and philosophy (Adams & Sardiello, 2000; Gimbel, 2007) including business cases regarding the Grateful Dead (Hamermesh, Marshall, & Pirmohamed, 2002).


Data collection and analysis occurred in five steps. As stated earlier, we used inductive methods to obtain insights into the community and community development (Miles & Huberman, 1994). All primary and secondary data was managed through the NVIVO software. To increase reliability and validity of information derived from a large number of primary and secondary sources, we created a document coding protocol that linked the original texts with theoretical constructs and construct relations. The data was organized in chronological order, and relevant data segment was coded according to content and its sources. This coding method provided researchers with a main summary of events.

After gathering the initial data, independent analysis of the data-set by both researchers was conducted. We based our assessment on two sets of research questions formulated at the beginning of the process: 1) What type of institutions in the music industry did the band face at their startup? How did the business model and strategy of Grateful Dead differ from that of the bands which followed the dominant institutions at the time? 2) How did the band create a community that supported their alternative business model? What were the roles of the fans in creating the community?

After independent analysis was completed, thematic trends were extracted from the data. For example, one key component of the regulative force of the Grateful Dead Community--self-regulation --emerged. In addition, critical instances of similarities and differences between the Grateful Dead model and the common practices of its contemporary bands (e.g., bands such as Rolling Stone) were addressed. Once the original set of themes was defined, the ideas were carefully cross-referenced with the original sources. Similar to Greenwood & Suddaby (2006), at this stage, the data was analyzed using latent analysis and subsequently interpreted based on the researchers' expertise on the subject and contextual knowledge of the band. The fifth and final step in the analysis involved the researchers conducting further interviews with several more fan members of the Grateful Dead community, in order to test the validity of the themes discovered. This last step, combined with the additional collection of data concentrating on specific periods during the community's lifespan, allowed for an additional verification of the themes that emerged in the earlier stages of data analysis. The verification of themes as a result of the additional data gathered, solidified our interpretation of the data.


Case Background

The Grateful Dead (also referred to as the Dead) was one of the highly influential bands from the 1960s, and one of the most successful touring bands in the US. Combining record deals, touring, and merchandising, it was also one of the highest grossing bands of all time. Throughout its career (1965-1995), the band recorded more than 20 albums and appeared in 2,317 concerts in 298 cities. In 1991-1995, the band played 85-110 shows annually and was each year among the highest grossing acts in the U.S. concert business (Economist, 1996). In 1991, at $32.7m, and in 1993, at $45.6m, the band grossed more than any singer or group. The Dead was the No. 6 touring act of 1994, grossing nearly $50 million and drawing 1.2 million concert goers to 77 sold-out dates. The band grossed more than some major league baseball teams in some years (Will, 1995).

The band started in 1965 in San Francisco as the Warlocks, with guitarist Jerry Garcia, guitarist/vocalist Bob Weir, keyboardist Ron "Pigpen" McKernan, bassist Phil Lesh, and drummer Bill Kreutzmann; percussionist Mickey Hart joined shortly thereafter. Within a year, the Warlocks were renamed the Grateful Dead. Over the years, besides the band, the Grateful Dead have spawned offshoot businesses such as the Grateful Dead Ticket Office, Ice Nine Publishing which licenses the compositions of the Grateful Dead, and the now defunct Grateful Dead Records (Derobertis, 1995).

Information derived from interviews, media accounts, and books led us to identify Grateful Dead as an institutional entrepreneur for several reasons. First, it was the first "jam band" and its business model served as a "template" for subsequent artists such as Phish, String Cheese, and Neil Young. The recordings/performances of jam bands often feature extended musical improvisation ("jams") over rhythmic grooves and chord patterns and long sets of music that cross genre boundaries. More than traditional musical artists, jam bands rely heavily on touring and cultivation of fan relationship to generate revenues. Second, although Grateful Dead was not the first Rock 'n' Roll band to recognize the importance of a fan community, it was one of the first bands that systematically incorporated the community's input in its business decisions. For instance, it was one of the first bands which included a community representative with voting rights in its board, which signified the importance of the Deadhead community in band decision. Finally, Grateful Dead, through its reliance on the community, was the driving force behind the movement for musicians to disconnect from the prevailing institutions of the record industry and rely on concerts ticket sales, merchandising, and other non-record revenues for income generation. Forty five years after the founding of the Dead, touring, sponsorship, and merchandising have overtaken record sales as the major revenue streams for musical artists (Heller 2010). Building the fan community played a key role in disconnecting, disassociating and undermining the then prevailing institutions in the record industry.

The Comparison of Extant Institutions in the Recording Industry and the Grateful Dead

The business approach of Grateful Dead is vastly different than the approaches of its contemporary bands such as the Rolling Stones (Mengel, 2008). The comparisons drawn in Table 2 illustrate the different career paths of the two bands, which operated in the music industry during the same time, but relied on opposing methods to garner and maintain success. While the Grateful Dead were touring extensively, racking up around 2,317 shows between the years of 1965 and 1995, the Rolling Stones preformed slightly over a third as many concerts, just over 700 concerts. Instead, the Rolling Stones relied on studio albums and radio airplay to achieve success in the 60s and 70s, the beginning of their career. By producing 22 studio records, 11 of which went multi-platinum (selling 2,000,000 or more copies per record), and 8 number-one singles, the Rolling Stones followed the institutional path to success (i.e., the record industry). In contrast, the Grateful Dead leveraged their community of fans for their path to stardom (Passman, 2009). With only one top-ten hit (Touch of Gray in 1987) almost 22 years after the band's inception, and only 4 multi-platinum records, the Dead could not and did not rely on the traditional institutional path to the top. Instead, community played a crucial role in their business success.

Both bands were ultimately honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards: the Rolling Stones received this honor in 1987 and the Grateful Dead, were honored in 2007, almost twelve years after the death of guitarist Jerry Garcia. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame choose the Rolling Stones for the forth class of inductees in 1989, while the Grateful Dead was not inducted until 1994. The grassroots, community-based approach used by the Grateful Dead may have taken longer to garner the same success that a band such as the Rolling Stones gained through institutional means, but the community that the Grateful Dead built and maintained, would not have existed if the band followed the institutional approach prescribed by the record industry. Table 2 summarizes the comparison between the two bands.

Below we describe how Grateful Dead created, developed, and maintained the community, paying special attention to how they differ from the prevailing model in the record industry.

Historically, the recording industry is dominated by the record companies such as Warner Brothers, Columbia, Decca, etc. (Peterson and Berger 1975). Prior to the emergence of digital music, it took large organizations to manufacture, warehouse, promote, ship, and distribute physical music media. Through vertical integration, record companies took control of the production flow from raw materials (i.e., musical talents in song writing, publishing, and performing); to sales and promotion (e.g., promoting songs on radio programs and/or in movies); and distribution (through wholesale dealerships and warehouses). In the 60s and 70s, within the institutions of the record industry, the prevailing way for artists to make money was through recording their music in the studio and putting it into the machine of the record companies to reach the consumer. Touring, seen as ancillary to records, was used as a way to promote records, and was usually done immediately following the introduction of a new record (Serwer 2002). It was the common belief among the artists that they had to struggle with their first few albums and tour relentlessly before breaking through to a mainstream audience (Strauss 1998). For instance, even though Bruce Springsteen was seen as the new Bob Dylan when he was signed to CBS Records (now Columbia) in 1973, it took him until his third album to be considered a commercial success.

Even though the prevailing institutions are championed by the record companies, and do not favor the musicians, the musicians follow the prescriptions of such institutions in hopes of getting their music heard. "In the early days you got paid absolutely nothing," recalls Mick Jagger of Rolling Stones in a recent interview, "the only people who earned money were the Beatles because they sold so many records" (Serwer, 2002). The situation was so bad that by the mid 60s the Stones had reportedly sold ten million singles and five million albums, but the band was still living hand to mouth. "I'll never forget the deals I did in the 60s, which were just terrible. You say, 'Oh, I'm a creative person, I won't worry about this'. But that just doesn't work. Because everyone would just steal every penny you've got", Jagger recalled.

The Grateful Dead also recognized the problems with the prevailing institutions upheld by the record companies. The difference between the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones is that none of the early studio records produced by the Dead was a commercial success. In the late 60s, the Grateful Dead was carrying a relatively large amount of debt ($100,000). As mentioned by Phil Lesh in his memoir, "at this time [in the 60s and 70s], and indeed up until we finally had a big record, in 1987, none of the band members made anything above a cost-of-living salary" (Lesh, 2005, p. 146). The roots of the band as a performing band let them explore concerts and tours as a direct way to reach and speak to the audience/consumers. It is through this exploration that a community was built.

Setting the Cognitive Forces of the Community

Previous research on communities has recognized that the process of isomorphism also functions at the level of communities (Marquis, Glynn, & Davis, 2007). Communities, like institutions, are subject to the isomorphic mechanisms of cognitive, normative, and regulative processes. While we believe that these forces are less formal and probably weaker at the community level than those at the institutional level, these three forces nevertheless provide the foundation of community emergence. We start with the cognitive processes. The cognitive force gave the community a basis on which the meaning of the community was constructed, facilitating the evolution from a set of disperse individuals to a community with shared meanings. Two elements were in place for such change: 1) reciprocity and 2) trust, and interpersonal relationships formed on the basis of this trust. Reciprocity, a dyadic exchange in which actors make simultaneous decisions together, laid the foundation for the community (Vaisey, 2007). Reciprocity referred to social exchange and mutual dependence of social actors to produce collective goods (Vaisey, 2007). It meant slightly more to the Grateful Dead community than just being neighborly; rather, it was a belief that the band held true to their fans. Being described as "the people's band", the band went to great lengths to provide the best experience to the concert-goers. The sound engineer we interviewed remarked "... we worked very hard to provide well; we were very picky about where we played. One of my functions when we weren't gigging was to travel around and search for venues. I did it myself and I had people that did it for me ... We would travel to every venue and inspect the venue, inspect the neighborhood, make sure that there's room for the audience, make sure that it wouldn't cause problems in the in the community and so on and so forth. We were for instance the first people to put wheelchair platforms in a concert. Ok now it's a law, at least in California ... But we were the first ones. The promoters used to come threatening us because they would accuse us of taking up seat space that they could be selling and making money on. So all of the amenities that happened in the audience [before our decisions] were really carved out of the stone mentality of the promoters" (interview with sound engineer). The community recognized this and rewarded the band. The community saw the band as the providers of the music, their ultimate reason for coming to the show. Appreciating the efforts that the band made, the fans avoided purchasing scalped tickets and only purchased from official sources, thus retaining most revenue to the band.

Reciprocity didn't stop at ticket purchases. Phil Lesh, the bassist remarked in an interview, "the relationship between the band and the Deadheads needs to be nurtured because they are us, and we are them" (Strauss, 1998). The effort initiated by the band was reciprocated by the fans. One fan we interviewed remarked that "in 1974 ... they [the Grateful Dead band] had a table [in a live concert] where you could sign up and I did. I started getting mailings from them after that and they would send out these little newsletters here is a forty five [record] of their new single of US Blues.... then they sent us some more newsletters and this little thirty three and a third sampler [record] from stuff that they're working on. It was just remarkable. I call that reaching out to your fans in a completely unusual and unique way ... Later they created hotlines and they had their message and their skull and roses album ... then the fans created the first online virtual community, the and a bunch of it was dedicated to and run by Dead fans. They facilitated this whole thing in a remarkable way". By responding to the efforts of the band and developing their own activities, the fans were continuing to foster the growth of the community.

Trust was the second element of the cognitive force. Trust in the band and in other members of the community facilitated the formation of bonds that were tighter than that of typical concert-goers. According to Mickey Hart, the drummer, "The idea behind the Grateful Dead has always been that the sum is greater than the parts" (Pareles, 1995). The band members trusted that when they came together, they could rely on each other to draw the best out of themselves and create better music. The trust within the band emanated to the community, creating the second foundational element for the cognitive force among the fans. Trust was exhibited throughout the parking lot, on stage, and even in the taping section where there was said to be "an ethic of tolerance there, it was a safe place where people watched out for each other. We would have people leave me thousands and thousands of dollars of taping equipment just because we happen to be sitting in the row next to them" (interview with a taper and fan).

The two elements 1) reciprocity and 2) trust, and interpersonal relationships formed on the basis of this trust made up the cognitive force of a community. The belief and understanding in the community is that the experience with touring is richer and more holistic than the passive listening experience that an audience/consumer usually attains by purchasing and listening to a record. The creation of this cognitive force was the first step in creating "strong relationships, which over time, allow trust, cooperation, and a sense of collective action to develop among members" (Peredo & Chrisman, 2006, p14). It was the first step of building a community. The resulting network of relationships between participants laid the foundation for a community where norms, values, and rules could develop.

Setting the Normative Force of the Community

In the record industry, once artists are signed by record companies, the expectations are for the artists to hone their song writing and performing skills, have their songs recorded and produced by the studios, and get the royalty fees once the records have been sold and royalties computed (Passman, 2009). While the norm prescribed by the record companies for the artists are tried-and-tested, institutional entrepreneurs searched for their norm through experimentation and improvisation.

The social norms were responsible for outlining a moral framework by which the community members guided their conduct. Just as the cognitive factors started with the band and spread throughout the community, so did the norms. Through experimentation, the band developed its identity. "When we started out, the idea was to play music and see where that took us, and it took us on the road," says Bob Weir, the guitarist and vocalist of the band, "We started out as a dance band, and as the years went on, people started facing the stage and listening, and we became a performing act." (Waddell, 2002). Experimentation leads to its musical improvisation, which would become synonymous with the Grateful Dead band and the shows. The band worked in the style of Jazz musicians, continually improvising during shows and changing their rendition of songs during each show. Unlike their contemporaries, the Grateful Dead went to shows with no set lists. When asked about the compelling elements of the show, a fan summarized, "it's the improvisation--the creative aspect there in the moment, something fresh and [a] new unexpected adventure. As a guy who doesn't care for repetition particularly, that's one thing you could certainly count on with the Grateful Dead: it was not going to be routine; it wasn't going to be the same thing you'd ever seen before no matter what" (interview with a fan). Experimentation was also present in the band's business decisions. The band manager remarked that "one thing about them is that you could take on a project you wanted anything that you wanted to do, they were totally willing to go ahead and put you in charge of it. But you better do a good job" (interview with band manager).

The norm of experimentation also set in the community, such that other community participants took initiative and developed the experience of music and concert going as they saw fit. For instance, Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant founded the Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (the in 1985 as an online meeting place for Grateful Dead fans. Community members also took initiative to create enclaves for their own enjoyment of music. For example, hearing impaired audience members created a "deaf zone", a barricaded area in front of the stage at the concerts. They set it up in 1995 in Washington with help from the Dead, creating the atmosphere of tolerance and generosity.

Thus, with experimentation and improvisation, the normative foundation of the community emerged and spread throughout the Grateful Dead Community, creating a fan base that expected rather than feared experiments, and looked to sharing with the band the experience of music in real time. The experimentation and improvisation gave the institutional entrepreneur an opportunity to engage in trial-and-error learning, and was suitable for development of the community when there were no guidelines to follow. The normative foundation of a community was thus embedded and routinized into participants' day to day routines and organizational practices.

Setting the Regulative Force of the Community

The norms of experimentation and improvisation served to guide the development of community up to a point. When the community became larger and larger, regulative forces started to set in the community. The third force in the emergence of the Grateful Dead community was the regulative force. The regulative force was defined by two elements: 1) setting the boundary of appropriateness and 2) self-regulation. Setting the boundary of appropriateness referred to the general, less personal regulation set by the band and members within the community. The community and its members agreed upon a general rule of behavior and conduct. One of such rules was that the Grateful Dead concert experience was fundamentally about the music. The band and the community recognized and created regulations together to maximize the experience of the music for each participant in the concert. "The Bill of Rights was you didn't try to interfere with anybody because people were there to dance and have a good time and listen to music" (interview with a fan).

While conserving such a bill of rights was relatively straightforward when the concerts were small, as the community started to expand and concerts grew, regulative measures evolved. The creation of "the taper section" in the early 1980s by the sound engineer and the band was a direct result of complaints that audience members were getting harassed and their listening experience was being impeded by those audience members who were trying to tape the show. "At the point that the tapers began interfering with the ability of the rest of the audience to enjoy the show, that's when something had to happened", the sound engineer recalled, "I thought about it for a long time, for about six months ... I flashed the idea of the taper section [at the board meeting]. I wanted to put them behind me [on the mixing board] because there were a lot of the seats. You couldn't see past my mixing board anyway, so I figured, a lot of seats were held out and let's put them here. Then the objective was if you were in the taper section, you actually had rights at a concert. Ordinarily [at that time] nobody had a right to take cameras or tape recorders into any concerts and some people will be brutalized for doing that ... All of a sudden I invented the concept of 'tapers' rights'. Then I could say that if I catch you outside the taper section, abusing regular ticket purchasers and concertgoers, I get to be as severe as I need to be to stop you from doing that. So that's basically [how] the taper section [was created]" (interview with the sound engineer). By designating a special area behind the sound booth, the Dead were able to allow taping, but also controlled the crowd slightly and helped improve the experience of other concert-goers.

Beyond the regulations implemented and enforced by the band themselves, the Grateful Dead community members were expected to be self-regulating. The community held "this sense that they were responsible to each other. They were responsible to the band, because the band had set an example. And it came down to something as simple as 'If you make a mess, if you destroy the [local] community, the band can't come back--they won't be welcome.' So it was our obligation not be too trashy, not be too rowdy, and to genuinely treat each other with some respect" (interview with fans). Along with the sense of freedom, there could be issues of enforcing the regulations. Again we see, "because violence is discouraged, there were only sort of two ways to treat them. One is verbally reproaching people and saying 'hey don't do that, that's just not right' and/or [the other is] shunning them ultimately. People who constantly behaved badly simply found themselves frozen out" (interview with fans). So the community was able to grow because community members took it upon themselves to police the crowd in a way that would be socially acceptable to other members of the community and, in a way that aligned with the societal norms.

Even though the regulatory forces in a community are not as formal or rigid as the ones guiding institutions, it seems that community also needs a certain level of regulation. More than any type of institution that relies on legal means to police and deter the use and misuse of musical rights, an institutional entrepreneur seems to offer guidelines and set the boundaries while relying on the participants of the community to regulate the interactions themselves. This is significantly different from institutions where participants may rely on coercion to enforce rules, regulations and laws.

Overall, the development of the community is not a mechanical process of following procedures and rules, but is an organic process. As one of our interviewee summarized, "what I've always said was that the process of becoming a deadhead was an organic experience ... it involved almost always a human relationship and it involved not only learning about the music, and learning the legend and the lore and the mythology which almost immediately sprang up around the band ... but [it] also [involved] learning a code of ethics and a code of behaviors." It is through the above discussed cognitive, normative and regulative processes that participants became a member of the community.


We began this article by highlighting the important role that institutional entrepreneurs play in the building of a community. We narrowed our focus to examine the emergence of a music community that functioned in parallel to the guiding institutions of the record industry. We have reported how a community was created through the combination of 1) cognitive, 2) normative and 3) regulative forces.

Central to our paper is the idea that institutional entrepreneurs engage in works in the cognitive, normative, and regulative areas to create a community that is distinct and different from the industry in which they operate. We advance the theory of institutional entrepreneurship that entrepreneurs can affect the institutional environment they are in, not by directly challenging the institutional order of the industry, but by working in parallel to the industry and creating their own community; in other words, an entrepreneur can continue to successfully operate within an industry without becoming heavily embedded in traditional industry processes and structures. During the process, the cognitive, normative, and regulative factors can serve to guide, control, and regulate the behaviors of social actors within that community. Previous authors see institutional entrepreneurs as political actors pursuing networking and resource mobilization activities (DiMaggio 1988), others have regarded them as "framers" engaged in the areas of cultural cognitive work (Rao 1998; Creed, Scully et al. 2002). By showing that institutional entrepreneurship as a multi-dimensional activity involving three areas of institutional orders of cognitive, normative and regulative, we provide empirical support for recent accounts pointing to the diversity of "institutional work" (Lawrence & Suddaby, 2006).

We begin by examining the cognitive force of community emergence. Through the mechanisms of reciprocity and trust, entrepreneurs created a one-to-one relationship between them and the community members, or between the community members themselves. Such one-to-one relationships ensure a high level of commitment for members for the community, hence setting a strong foundation for the start of the community and for its further growth.

We also examine the acceptance and spread of community norms. Setting the norm is the stage in the community-building process, when members of the community set up group policies, procedures and codes of behaviors. It is also the time in which expectations for the community are implemented and solidified. Through experimentation and improvisation, institutional entrepreneur create a set of different expectations for the participants, who then embed the expectations into their behaviors to further develop the community.

The regulative force is usually associated with coercive power in institutional theory; however, within a community, member participation is often voluntary and as such coercive means do not work: regulative forces other than coercion will be explored when participants try to regulate the community. Social capital and feeling of acceptance and belonging are of paramount importance for community members. As such, once the entrepreneur set the boundary of appropriateness, self-regulation is often used in community settings. By internalizing the boundaries of appropriate action, community members are able to regulate the members informally. Institutional entrepreneurship can therefore be conceptualized as a multidimensional process where the institutional entrepreneurs build three areas of an alternative social order over time. Table 3 summaries the type of activities that an institutional entrepreneur engages to build a community.


Researchers have long been interested in the issues of communities and institutions as distinct research streams. Research on communities have identified different types of communities (Brint, 2001) and emphasized that even in today's globalized world, communities continue to exert strong influence on the behaviors of individuals and organizations (Marquis, Glynn, & Davis, 2007; Peredo & Chrisman, 2006). Previous research on institutional entrepreneurship (Greenwood & Suddaby, 2006; Maguire, Hardy, & Lawrence, 2004) has focused on the issues of how institutions and institutional orders are maintained, reproduced, and sometimes changed. However, existing researches have focused on the change of institutional orders as the main outcome of institutional entrepreneurship. Thus entrepreneurs either succeed in changing existing institutional orders or fail to so, and no other possible outcome was investigated extensively.

This study helps us paint an initial picture of the emergence of a community as an institutional entrepreneurial effort. We found that this involved a multi-dimensional process with cognitive, normative and regulative works. Our research contributes to the institutional entrepreneurship research by drawing attention to community as an alternative outcome that can be achieved by institutional entrepreneurs in the process. In our conceptualization, institutional entrepreneurs can and indeed do change their institutional environment by creating a community that supports their alternative values. Such a community neither replaces nor substitutes the larger institutional environment. Instead, it creates a layer in-between entrepreneurs and their outer institutional environment, cushioning the entrepreneurs and other participants of the community from external institutional pressures.

Our paper has examined the emergence process of a self-regulated community within a highly institutionalized environment--the record industry. Juxtaposing the business decisions and choices of Grateful Dead and the bands that following existing institutional prescriptions, we examined how the former successfully started, developed, and maintained their fan community for nearly thirty years. Our contribution to the institutional entrepreneurship research, therefore, has been to understand how institutional entrepreneur differ from institutional followers and what types of activities they engage in to formulate a new set of social order.

Much work remains to be done. The popular music industry--especially the record industry--is not representative of all institutional fields. We consider our framework of community building most applicable to entrepreneurship in the cultural area such as motion picture industries, popular music industries and book publishing industries. In order to generalize our understanding, future research needs to investigate the process of community emergence in other types of institutional fields, especially those industries that produce tangible products rather than the intangible cultural products such as music. Only when different types of institutional environments have been taken into account, is it possible to create a general model. This paper's contribution lies in putting forward a framework that illustrates the how entrepreneurs were able to create a community within a mature institutional field.


After conducting an initial secondary research, the researchers identified a list of potential interviewees including both band insiders and fans. Secondary research demonstrated that this group of individuals had extended experience with the band and the community, and were knowledgeable about the contexts, history, and details of community development. They were contacted through email and asked whether they were willing to speak with the researchers regarding the community. Majority of the interviews were conducted through telephone while some of them were done face-to-face. At the end of each interview, the researchers would inquire whether the interviewee knew of anyone else who was knowledgeable about the community and was willing to speak to us. These additional contacts were followed up and interviews were conducted when possible.

A 17-question interview was administered to managers, crew, staff, and other band insiders. The interview narrative asked the band insiders to describe how the band evolved in the relationship with the community through its lifetime. They were inquired in respect to business strategy, business model, organizational structure, decision making mechanisms, community relationship, and other key decisions related to the community. All of the questions were open-ended and required recollection of past events. Respondents were asked to put themselves in the frame of reference of the particular historical time and to try not to use the benefits of the hindsight.

Similarly, a 10-question interview was administered to fans (including tapers) of the community. All questions were open-ended. The interview narrative asked the fans to describe how they knew of the band; whether they believed that they are part of the community; how the community developed during their time with it; and how the Grateful Dead fan community was different from the fan group of other bands and music groups. If they categorized themselves as members of the community, the researchers would probe and ask them to describe the culture, structure, and other characteristics of the community.


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John A. Guiney, San Diego State University

Congcong Zheng, San Diego State University
Table 1: Summary of Data Sources

Characteristics                                 Descriptions

Archival Data

Number of audio/video                                50

Internal sources: press release,                  50 pages
band websites

External Sources: media                          3000 pages
interviews, autobiographies,
biographies, obituaries, and fan

Number of interviews                                 19

Informants: band insiders (# of      manager (1); crewmen (2);
interviews)                          publicist (1); biographer (2);
                                     artists (3); and photographer (1)

Informants: fans (# of interviews)   fans starting to follow the band
                                     since 1960s (2); fans starting to
                                     follow the band since 1970s (3);
                                     fans starting to follow the band
                                     since 1980s (2); fans starting to
                                     follow the band since 1990s (2)

Table 2: Comparison of the Grateful Dead and Rolling Stones

Dimensions                   Grateful Dead           Rolling Stones

Year Started              1966 (The Warlocks)             1962
                           1967 (The Grateful

Country of Origin                 USA                    England

Induction into Rock               1994                    1989
and Roll Hall of Fame

Place on Rolling                   55                       4
Stone Magazine 100
Greatest Bands

# Studio Albums                    16                      22

Concerts                   2,317 (1965--1995)             700+

Members                       Jerry Garcia             Mick Jagger
                                Bob Wier             Keith Richards
                               Phil Lesh              Charlie Watts
                            Bill Kruetzmann            Ronnie Wood
                         Ron "Pigpen" McKernan         Bill Wyman
                               Micky Hart
                             Robert Hunter
                            Tom Constanten,
                            Keith Godchaux,
                            Donna Godchaux,
                             Brent Mydland,
                             Vince Welnick
                           John Perry Barlow

Business Model             Grassroots (none)       Traditional Record

Record Labels              Warner Bros(1967)        Decca (UK) (1965)
                          Greatful Dead (1973)     London Records (US
                             Self-Marketed,       Distribution) (1964)
                             Promoted, and
                             Arista (1977)           Rolling Stones
                                                     Records (1971)
                                                   Distributed through
                              Rhino (2006)           Virgin Records
                                                   (1994) Polydoor (UK
                                                      Group) (2008)

US Gold Records                    13                      16

US Platinum Records                2                       16

US Multi Plat Records              4                       11

#1 singles                 1 (Touch of Grey)                8

Grammy Awards                    0 (0)                    2 (9)

Table 3: Community Building as Institutional Entrepreneurship

Areas of social       Activities of       Community building outcomes
governance            institutional

Cognitive              Reciprocity           Building a new belief
                   Interpersonal trust      system through frequent
                                           interpersonal interaction

                     Experimentation         Actively infusing the
Normative             Improvisation         normative foundations of
                                               the community into
                                            participants' day to day

                  Setting the boundary       Creation of rules and
Regulative         of appropriateness     ensuring compliance through
                     Self-regulation            self regulation
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Author:Guiney, John A.; Zheng, Congcong
Publication:Entrepreneurial Executive
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Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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