Archive for the ‘brayden’ Category

social movements, organizational theory, and Mayer Zald

Mobilizing Ideas provides a fantastic forum to talk about the latest trends in the world of activism and social movement scholarship.   This month’s essay dialogue is extra special to me though since the topic is Mayer Zald’s contribution to the study of social movements and organizational theory. Contributors to the dialogue are Lis Clemens, Jerry Davis, Jackie Smith, Sarah Soule, and myself. The essays touch on Mayer’s direct influence on the field as well as future directions for research about movements and organizations.

Feel free to stop by and contribute to the conversation!

Written by brayden king

October 1, 2012 at 5:52 pm

are the grad skool rulz too pessimistic?

In a recent tweet, Brayden wondered if he would have gone to graduate school had he read my advice book, Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure ($2 – cheap!). That got me thinking. Brayden is a cool dude and an amazingly successful scholar. Is my book, whose first chapter is called “Don’t Go to Graduate School,” too harsh if it would have discouraged someone like Brayden?

I don’t think I’m unduly harsh. I’m being scary in the book so that people will understand how tough academia can be. People won’t get the picture unless you yell a little bit. Consider the following. Roughly speaking, only 50% of doctoral students complete the PhD within ten years. Many take 7, 8 and 9 years to complete. The job market is atrocious. Only about half of PhD’s will ever get tenure track positions, some only after years of low paying post-docs. Of course, a significant number will not be promoted with tenure even if they do get a tenure track job.  I would have told the younger Brayden is that these are the odds and that he should go forward if he is willing to take the risk and put in a lot of hard work.

Idealistic students will only confront these questions if you are blunt. Really blunt. That’s not pessimism. It’s honesty. It just means that graduate school is real life. You can’t pull an all nighter and get a nice piece of paper at the end. Graduate education takes effort, planning, and a lot of luck. And even then, it doesn’t always work. Grownups take this sort of calculus into account when choosing a career.

Finally, let me gently chide my friend Brayden for not reading the whole book. Near the end, I actually view the Rulz as a positive, affirming text:

I also wrote the Grad Skool Rulz out of a sense of optimism. For all its imperfections, and there are many, the academic system is a truly amazing human invention. Evolving over a period of nearly a thousand years, universities embody the knowledge that humanity has created. I am very lucky to be part of this exciting enterprise. The Grad Skool Rulz are designed to help people get past the bureaucracy of higher education so they can actually enjoy a career of research and teaching.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

September 23, 2012 at 12:01 am

Facebook field experiment shows strong ties affect voter turnout

The most recent Nature features an article by a team of political scientists and network scholars who did an experiment using Facebook to show that strong ties influenced voting behavior in the last election. You may say, so what? We’ve known for a long time that social influence operates through strong ties in interpersonal networks. That’s not a new insight.  But I think the study is innovative for a couple of reasons. The first is that the impact of of using direct messaging through Facebook was substantively significant  – that is, just messaging people reminders to go out and vote increased the likelihood that the person would vote – but that the larger effect was transmitted indirectly via social contagion. Consider the setup of the experiment.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

September 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm

problems vs. theory

What makes a study interesting?  Is it the empirical phenomena that we study or is it the theoretical contribution? For those of who are really paying attention (and I applaud you if you are), you’ll notice that I’ve asked this question before. It’s become a sort of obsession of mine.  For the field of organizational theory, it’s an important discussion to have, although it’s not one that will likely yield any consensus. Scholars tend to have very strong opinions about this. Some people feel that as a field we’ve fetishized theory to the point of making our research inapplicable to the bigger world we live in. Others claim that by making “theoretical contribution” such a key component of any paper’s value, we ignore really important empirical problems.  But in contrast, some scholars maintain that what makes our field lively and essential is that we are linked to one another (and across generations) via a stream of ideas that constitute theory. What makes an empirical problem worthy of study is that it can be boiled down to a crucial theoretical problem that makes it generalizable to a class of phenomena and puzzles.

At this year’s Academy of Management meetings, I was involved in a couple of panels where this issue came up. It was posed as a question, should we be interested in problems or theory?  If we are interested in studying problems, we shouldn’t let theoretical trends bog us down. We should just study whatever real world problems are most compelling to us. If we’re interested primarily in theory, we need to let theory deductively guide us to those problems that help us solve a particular theoretical puzzle. Some very senior scholars in the field threw their weight behind the former view. I don’t want to name any names here, but one of the scholars who suggested we should be more interested in real-world problems is now the editor of a major journal of our field. He offered several examples of papers recently published in that journal that were primarily driven by interesting observations about empirical phenomena.

One of the new assistant professors in the crowd threw a pointed objection to the editor. And I paraphrase, “This all sounds great. I’d love to study empirical problems, but reviewers won’t let me! They keep asking me to identify the theoretical gap I’m addressing. They demand that I make a theoretical contribution.” Good point young scholar. Reviewers do that a lot. We’ve had it drilled into us from our grad school days that this is what makes a study interesting. If the paper lacks a theoretical contribution, reject it (no matter how interesting the empirical contribution may be)!  This is a major obstacle, and I don’t think the esteemed editor could offer a strong counter-argument to the objection.  Editors, after all, are somewhat constrained by the reviews they get.  I think what we need is a new way to think about what makes a study valuable. We need new language to talk about research quality.

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Written by brayden king

September 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm

corporate social responsibility, reputation, and activist targeting

My paper with Mae McDonnell about the relationship between CSR, reputation, and activist targeting has been spotlighted on the Harvard Law School Forum. The paper shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, firms that have positive reputations and that do a lot of socially responsible actions are not less likely to become targets of anti-corporate activists. Just the opposite is true. Companies that have built positive reputations and that engage in a lot of CSR activities are actually more likely to become the focus of activist campaigns.  Why is that? Well, because social movement activists thrive on media attention – that’s how they shape the public agenda and put pressure on companies to change their behaviors – and high reputation companies that are known for doing good are more likely to attract media attention when activists expose their less-than-virtuous practices. Thus, developing a positive reputation has a big downside.

Reputation, in this sense, has become an important liability for firms. Once a firm develops a positive reputation, they are obligated to maintain it. From the activist perspective, there is much to gain by forcing firms to defend their reputations. Not only do they generate more attention to their cause by targeting high reputation firms (King 2011), but the net social impact is also positive. As these firms do more prosocial activities to renovate their image after the boycott, they subsequently dedicate more resources and strategic focus on CSR. A virtuous circle, at least from the perspective of the activist, follows. More CSR practices leads to an improved (or at least maintained) reputation, which causes the firm to continue to be a target of activism, the consequence of which is more commitment to CSR. From the point of view of the company, however, having a good reputation can be a “double edged sword” or at least a potential liability when facing activists who seek the public limelight (Rhee and Haunschild 2006).

You can download the complete paper now on SSRN.


Written by brayden king

September 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm

forget the environment, everything is endogenous

Teppo is too humble to let us know that he’s the guest editor of a new special issue of Managerial and Decision Economics.  The issue’s theme is the “emergent nature of organization, market, and wisdom of crowds.” The special issue has an impressive lineup of authors, including Nicolai Foss, Robb Willer, Bruno Frey, Peter Leeson, and Scott Page.  Teppo’s introduction, as you might expect, is provocative, challenging learning theory and behavioral theories of the firm. Here’s a little teaser:

My basic thesis is that capabilities develop from within—they are endogenous and internal. In order to develop a capability, it must  logically be there in latent or dormant form. Capabilities grow endogenously from latent possibility. In some respects, capabilities should be thought about as organs rather than as behavioral and environmental inputs. Experience, external inputs and environments are, in important respects, internal to organisms, individuals and organizations. Although environmental inputs play a triggering and enabling role in the development of capability, the environment is not the cause of capability. Furthermore, the latency of capabilities places a constraint on the set of possible capabilities that are realizable. But these constraintsare scarcely deterministic; rather, they also provide the means and foundation for generating noveltyand heterogeneity (285).

Teppo offers a real challenge to the typical “blank slate” approaches that dominate organizational theory and sociology. Social construction has  limits if you assume that some capabilities are simply latent and waiting to be triggered into action. This reminds me of what my graduate school contemporary theory instructor, Al Bergesen, used to say about the deficiency of  most sociological theory. (In fact, he repeated the whole bit to me again when I ran into him in Denver’s airport Monday evening.) Sociology, he’d say, has never fully come to grips with the cognitive revolution of psychology or linguistics. We still assume that individuals are completely shaped by their social world and ignore cognitive structure  and the limits this imposes on how we communicate and who we can become.  Teppo and Al would have a lot to talk about.

Written by brayden king

August 23, 2012 at 1:46 am

dystopic visions

Breaking news: The ASA has decided to change next year’s theme to Unreal Dystopias.  The meetings will begin with a randomly chosen member of each section being locked in the grand ballroom, leading to a conference-long struggle for survival and paradigm supremacy. Start stockpiling your survival gear now.

Written by brayden king

August 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm

ASA highlights

The annual American Sociological Association conference is nearly upon us!  I imagine some of you are going to Denver today.  If you’re going to be in Denver stop by the blog party, which is covered in awesomesauce, on Saturday from 8-10 at Harry’s Bar in the lobby of the Magnolia Hotel. In addition to being a get-together of the socio-blogosphere, we will also be celebrating the release of two books, Jenn Lena’s Banding Together and Gina Neff’s Venture Labor. Orgheads will remember that we did a book forum on Banding Together earlier this year.

Feel free to highlight any sessions, events, or parties in the comments section!

Written by brayden king

August 15, 2012 at 3:39 pm

walker on corporate grass-roots lobbying

Ed Walker, UCLA sociologist and former ogtheory guest blogger, has written an op-ed for the New York Times about corporate grass-roots lobbying. Those of you who follow Ed’s work will know that he has identified a trend among corporations that sponsor grass-roots mobilization to persuade the public and government regulators to promote corporate-friendly policies. His op-ed likens this active lobbying effort to more tacit forms of citizen support for corporations, such as the recent “buycott” of Chick-Fil-A by consumers who approved of the company’s president’s stance on same-sex marriage.

Ed notes that political outspokenness by corporations is more common (and are more successful) than we might suspect:

I estimate that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies use grass-roots-mobilization consultants. Many are independent agencies founded by former political campaign professionals searching for revenue during electoral off years, deploying their voter outreach skills to help companies win. Others are branches of large public-relations conglomerates. Businesses hire these consultants most often when facing protest or controversy, and highly regulated industries appear to be some of the heaviest users of their services.

Today, for instance, anyone turning on a TV or radio might easily face ads from the American Petroleum Institute’s Vote4Energy campaign or the natural gas industry’s mobilization to defend the controversial drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing. The Durbin Amendment’s cap on debit card fees prompted Visa and Bank of America to support a grass-roots campaign through the Electronic Payments Coalition. Tobacco firms are behind Citizens for Tobacco Rights, just as they supported the National Smokers’ Alliance two decades ago. Pro-tobacco campaigns often fail, but not always: in California, tobacco-related groups spent almost $47 million to defeat a June ballot measure that would have imposed new cigarette taxes to pay for cancer research.

For those of you interested in the research from which these findings come, here is a link to Ed’s 2009 ASR paperHere are the posts that Ed wrote as a guest blogger on orgtheory before he became famous in the pages of the NY Times.

Written by brayden king

August 12, 2012 at 1:42 am

farewell Mayer

The sociology and organizational theory world is mourning the loss of a great friend and leader of the field. Mayer Zald passed away this week. Mayer is a seminal and uniquely influential scholar. His influence has extended to multiple disciplines, including sociology, organizational theory, and political science. He wrote prolifically and was active through the last year of his life. To just give you an example of his ongoing engagement with scholarship, Mayer was to be a discussant at the session I’m involved with at ASA, a role he’d served so well many times. Earlier this year he’d emailed me about a book idea. I told him I was writing a paper about organizational character, and he sent me a list of papers that I shouldn’t forget to read. He was always doing that sort of thing, encouraging scholars to try be innovative while not forgetting our past, seeding new ideas and pushing the field in innovative directions in his charming, friendly, and persistent way.

In addition to his deep legacy of scholarship, Mayer will be remembered as a friend to many, for his mentoring of younger scholars, and for his devotion to ideas. He was a people person, and he cared deeply about fostering those one-on-one relationships. I remember meeting Mayer for the first time as a new assistant professor. We were at a conference with a bunch of big name scholars among whom Mayer was one of the most prominent. I managed to wind my way through the crowd surrounding Mayer to introduce myself. I was surprised to hear that he knew who I was. I guess he’d read my first Social Forces paper and he had a number of opinions about it, which I was I excited to hear!  We ended up spending the next three hours together, which meant that I spent the next three hours asking him questions and basking in his great wisdom and wit. That was Mayer. He didn’t care about status differences. He just wanted to help a young scholar and he was willing to put in the time to develop that relationship and share his knowledge.  I know I’m not alone in having that sort of experience with Mayer. I will always be grateful for his great example of generosity and intellectual engagement.

Mayer is my hero. I’m grateful he was my friend. I will miss him.

Written by brayden king

August 8, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Posted in brayden

academy of management meeting highlights

Many of us orgheads will be attending the Academy of Management meetings this weekend.  AOM is a great place to dive into org. theory and get a taste of the trends in organizational research (see my past post on why I like AOM).  One negative thing about AOM though is that it is really big and it can be easy to get lost in the vast tunnels of organizations-related research and social events. Like any conference, AOM sessions vary in their quality. I’d love to get tips about what we should be attending. Feel free to post your favorite sessions or social events in the comments.

I’ll start off by offering a few suggestions, some of which I’m participating in:

  • Cultural (Ac)counting: The rise of formal organization in cultural and social domains. Tuesday, August 7, 1:15-2:45. Organized by Amanda Sharkey and Tricia Bromley. The session is about “a dramatic, but poorly understood, shift in the purposes and standing of formal organization in society, from technical structures for facilitating mainly economic transactions to corporate citizens endowed with a broadened scope of actorhood.” Some of the authors include our friend Beth Duckles, Frank Dobbin and Sandra Kalev, and Woody Powell. I’m the discussant.
  • From confrontation to influence: How social movements drive the corporate sustainability agenda. Tuesday, August 7, 3-4:30. Organized by Daniel Beunza, Fabrizio Ferraro, and me. The papers in this session look at how social movements have begun adopting nonconfrontational, more collaborative tactics as means of influence over their corporate targets, leading to sometimes unexpected results. Presenters include Shon Hiatt, Ioannis Ioannou, Fabrizio and Daniel, and Mae McDonnell. Huggy Rao is the discussant.
  • Occupy, economic inequality, and business: Setting the agenda. Saturday, August 4, 2:30-4:30. Come talk about the Occupy movement and the effects of economic inequality on management! Participants on the panel include Jerry Davis, Adam Cobb, and AnaMaria Peredo.

The big social events are the department receptions. Teppo’s post links to a list of those receptions (brave the Harvard reception chaos if you dare!).  I’d like to encourage everyone to attend the OMT events. This is where all the cool orgheads are. In particular,

  • OMT Social Hour, Monday, Aug 6 2012 7:30PM – 9:00PM, at Sheraton Boston Hotel in Back Bay Ballroom D
  • OMT After Party,  Monday, Aug 6 2012 9:00PM – 1:00AM, at Back Bay Social Club in the downstairs bar, 867 Boylston St.

I’ll be at the OMT parties if you want to hang out. If we’ve never met, please introduce yourself.

Written by brayden king

July 29, 2012 at 11:31 pm

the ncaa and penn state’s history

Ever since the NCAA announced they would sanction Penn State for its cover-up of the Sandusky sex abuse scandal, I’ve been thinking about writing a post related to institutional jurisdictions, authority, and reputation.  I completely understand the NCAA’s response to the scandal, especially in light of the findings of the Freeh report, and I think this was a very predictable response. Was the punishment harsh? Yes. Was it excessively harsh as a condemnation of the crimes of Sandusky? No.  Was the NCAA operating within its jurisdiction and exercising proper use of authority by making these sanctions? That’s debatable (and I’m sure it will be in the months to come).

My colleague Gary Alan Fine, who has thought a lot about scandal and collective memory (e.g., Fine 1997), has offered his thoughts on the sanctions in a New York Times op-ed. Gary questions “history clerks” who attempt to rewrite history as a response to a contemporary event/scandal.

The more significant question is whether rewriting history is the proper answer. And while this is not the first time that game outcomes have been vacated, changing 14 seasons of football history is a unique and  disquieting response. We learn bad things about people all the time, but should we change our history? Should we, like Orwell’s totalitarian Oceania, have a Ministry of Truth that has the authority to scrub the past?  Should our newspapers have to change their back files? And how far should we go?

This is a tricky issue. Everyone can agree that what happened at Penn State was deplorable. However, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to question whether the NCAA made these moves more as an effort to protect its own reputation and to safeguard the purity of college football, rather than as a reasoned response to the institutional crimes committed by Penn State’s decision-making authorities.  This scandal isn’t disappearing anytime soon, and so I expect we’ll hear a lot more about this in the months and years to come.

Written by brayden king

July 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm

censorship and repressing social movements

Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts have an interesting working paper about the kinds of online content censored by the Chinese government. The big insight is that it’s not dissent that gets you censored in China, it’s efforts to mobilize collective action. From the abstract:

Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content.

I think this is an illustration of how governments repress social movements in the age of online media. The tactic may be new, but government repression is most certainly not.  Repression has long been considered one of the main components of the political opportunity structure. Challengers who face more repression are less likely to mobilize and form a real movement. I think censorship represses in at least two ways. First, it increases the costs of mobilizing, simply by making it more difficult to transmit information, create free spaces, etc. But second, and perhaps just as important, it sends a clear signal to would-be activists that the government will take action against mobilization efforts. This signal aspect of the opportunity structure creates fear among challengers and hurts their morale. (For further reading about signals as a mechanism of the political opportunity structure, I recommend Meyer and Minkoff [2004] and Cornwall et al. [2007]).

Along these same lines, I encourage you to read this online excerpt from William Dobson’s book, The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.  Dobson writes about the Chinese government’s attempt to stifle even the most subtle and symbolic efforts by challengers to instigate collective action in remembrance of the Tianenmen Square massacre.  Since I’m handing out reading assignments, let me also recommend Eugene Morozov’s The Net Delusion,  a critique of the idealists who see online activism as the new democratizing force of society. Although Morozov’s arguments have been somewhat muted by the success of the Arab Spring, he makes an excellent point that dictators and authoritarian governments can also use the Internet against activists, potentially invading their privacy and initiating repressive counter-tactics. It’s a provocative read.

Written by brayden king

June 14, 2012 at 5:35 pm

the future of membership-based organizations

Many of the new generation of activists would tell you that membership-based social movement organizations – i.e., traditional voluntary associations that depend on member contributions to survive – are dead. Those old stodgy structures are being replaced, they claim, by activist networks that rely on social media and other connective technologies to coordinate collective action. I attended a conference recently at USC where many of the presenters bought into this idea.

I’m skeptical. First, we don’t have a lot of empirical data to support the notion that membership-based organizations are dying off or that they are losing their functionality. Most of the studies I see that examine recent protests find that SMOs are still alive and quite active.  They often form coalitions with other SMOs, using new technologies to coordinate themselves, but they haven’t disappeared from what I can tell. Second, I think they are likely to change and alter in form significantly over the coming years.  We are likely to see more online activity replace traditional meetings, for example. I expect that they will transform structurally, learning how to position themselves as key nodes in activist networks, before they die.

Here is an interesting conversation about this topic with Craig Calhoun and Jeremy Heimans. Jeremy touts the new activist trope that membership organizations are becoming extinct, while Craig has a more nuanced, historically embedded take. I agree with Craig.

Written by brayden king

June 5, 2012 at 12:30 pm

where is the org. theory in the most cited works in sociology?

Neal Caren has compiled a list of the 102 most cited works in sociology journals over the last five years. There are a lot of familiar faces at the top of the list. Bourdieu’s Distinction, Raudenbush’s and Bryk’s Hierarchical Linear Models, Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged, and Grannovetter’s “Strength of Weak Ties” make up the top 5.  It’s notable that Grannovetter’s 1973 piece is the only article in the top 5. The rest are books. I was also interested to see that people are still citing Coleman.  He has three works on the list, including his 1990 book at the number 6 spot.  Sadly, Selznick is nowhere to be found on the list (but then neither is Stinchcombe).  Much of the work is highly theoretical and abstract. There is a smaller, but still prominent, set of work dedicated to methods (e.g., Raudenbush and Bryk). I’m glad to see there is still a place for big theory.

It’s striking, however, how little organizational theory there is on the list.  Not counting Granovetter, whose work is really about networks and the economy broadly, no organizational theory appears on the list until 15 and 16, where Hochschild’s The Managed Heart (which might be there due to the number of citations it gets from gender scholars) and Dimaggio’s and Powell’s 1983 paper show up.  There are several highly influential papers in organizational theory that I was surprised were not on the list. One could deduce from the list that sociology and organizational theory have parted ways.

I don’t think this is really true, but I think it speaks to some trends in sociology. The first is that most organizational sociology, excluding research on work and occupations, no longer appears in generalist sociology journals outside of the American Sociological Review and the American Journal of Sociology. Journals like Social Forces or Social Problems just don’t publish a lot of organizational theory.  Now, there are a lot of great organizational papers that get published in ASR and AJS, but that is a very small subset of the entire population of sociology articles. The second is that Administrative Science Quarterly no longer seems to count in most sociologists’ minds as a sociology journal anymore.  Perhaps its omission  leads to some significant pieces of organizational sociology being underrepresented (or perhaps not since ASQ publishes fewer articles than many of the sociology journals). To be fair to Neal, I don’t think he’s unique among sociologists as failing to recognize ASQ as an important source of sociology.* One reason for this, I’m guessing, is because a lot of non-sociologists publish in it. But a lot of non-sociologists publish in other journals that are on the list as well, including Social Psychological Quarterly, Mobilization, and Social Science Research. Another reason may just be that it’s because a lot of organizational sociology is no longer taking place in sociology departments, making the subfield invisible to our peer sociologists.  Although I have no data to support this, my intuition is that fewer organizational theory classes are taught in sociology Phd programs today than were taught twenty years ago. Because of this, younger sociologists are not coming into contact with organizational theory, and so they are not citing it.  Again, I have no evidence that this is the case.

I don’t think organizational research is waning in quality.  A lot of organizational research still gets published in ASR and AJS. But a lot of it is probably not read or consumed by most sociologists.

UPDATE: Neal has updated the analysis to include ASQ. The major effect has been to boost DiMaggio and Powell to number 10.

*And yes, I’m lobbying Neal to include ASQ in future citation analyses.

Written by brayden king

June 3, 2012 at 11:49 pm

activism, corporate targets, and risk

Bogdan Vasi and I have a paper, forthcoming in the American Sociological Review, that examines the relationship between different kinds of corporate-targeted activism and perceptions of risk. We show that firms facing more environmental activism from shareholders are seen as having greater environmental risk. We define environmental risk as “audiences’ perceptions that a firm’s practices or policies will lead to greater potential for an environmental failure or crisis that could expose it to financial decline.” Interestingly, the effect of activism on risk is independent of observable differences in actual environmental performance.   Not all firms that have bad environmental policies or practices are seen as having the same risk exposure. Activists draw attention to bad policies and make analysts aware of the risks that those firms are taking on.  Here’s the abstract:

Although risk assessments are critical inputs to economic and organizational decisionmaking, we lack a good understanding of the social  and political causes of shifts in risk perceptions and the consequences of those changes. This article uses social movement theory to explain the effect of environmental activism on corporations’ perceived environmental risk and actual financial performance. We  define environmental risk as audiences’ perceptions that a firm’s practices or policies will lead to greater potential for an environmental  failure or crisis that would expose it to financial decline. Using data on environmental activism targeting U.S. firms between 2004 and  2008, we examine variation in the effectiveness of secondary and primary stakeholder activism in shaping perceptions about  environmental risk. Our empirical analysis demonstrates that primary stakeholder activism against a firm affects its perceived environmental risk, which subsequently has a negative effect on the firm’s financial performance.

If you’re interested in reading more, here is the paper.

Written by brayden king

May 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm

what’s the right price for a hostage?

On the Atlantic blog, former orgtheory guest blogger, Gabriel Rossman, runs through the complications in deriving the price pirates should ask for a hostage.

[M]uch like how most people who haven’t studied statistics balk at the idea that the ratio of sample size to population size is irrelevant to statistical inference, people seem to have a strong intuition that the “market price” is relevant to a bilateral monopoly even though the whole idea of a bilateral monopoly is that there is not really a market but only a series of discrete one-off transactions. In the absence of substitutability, “comparable” transactions are irrelevant as they don’t imply opportunity cost. This is the main thing I found so fascinating about the Planet Money episode, over and over again the hostage’s party balked at the pirates demands as unreasonable in being out of line with the “market price.” We only get the pirates’ story second hand, but apparently at no point did they explain to the hostage’s party that “market price” doesn’t really exist in a bilateral monopoly. (Maybe Mogadishu University needs a better econ department).

There are two ways, which are only partially incompatible, to look at why people insist that there is a market price. The simple model is to see us as making Bayesian inferences about the price the other party is willing to accept. If a pirate asks me for $10 million when I know that previous ransoms for similar hostages from similar pirates were about $1 million, I face two possibilities. It may be that I’m facing an usually greedy or unreasonable pirate and $10 million really is the price from which he will not budge. However it seems more likely that I’m dealing with a regular pirate, who like most pirates in the past will ultimately settle for about $1 million but who is just floating a high initial figure in case I’m especially bad at this. In this sense the distribution of prices for similar transactions may not be directly relevant in the sense of providing opportunities for substitution (or the credible threat to avail myself of them) but it is still relevant as information about the zone of possible agreement. This is consistent with the Planet Money story in that Filipinos are cheaper to ransom than Europeans by an order of magnitude.

I’m amazed that pirates negotiate at all. Doesn’t this diminish their control? Do kidnappers do the same thing? Given that all of my knowledge of kidnapping scenarios is based on movies, my sense is that kidnappers try to avoid negotiation as this just seems to be a tactic used by law enforcement to ferret out their position. Why wouldn’t pirates operate by the same code?

Written by brayden king

May 8, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Posted in brayden, economics

are we in a post-authentic music world?

One of the themes of Jenn Lena’s Banding Together is that genres organize the entire music industry, from the way that musicians create their art to the way that producers find and market it to the way that consumers form their own identities around music choices. Chapter 5 in Banding Together discusses the consequences of genres more in depth.

The keynote speaker at this spring’s South-by-Southwest festival, the Boss himself Bruce Springsteen, challenged the idea that genres should be an essential element to the way musicians create music. In his incredibly thoughtful remarks, Springsteen suggested that we live in an era in which musicians can be free to be themselves simply by creating the music that is inside them without feeling constrained by the conventions of genre.

I’d like to talk about the one thing that’s been consistent over the years, the genesis and power of creativity, the power of the songwriter, or let’s say, composer, or just creator. So whether you’re making dance music, Americana, rap music, electronica, it’s all about how you are putting what you do together. The elements you’re using don’t matter. Purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, to tubes, to turntables, to microchips. There is no right way, no pure way, of doing it. There’s just doing it.

We live in a post–authentic world. And today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history; and at the end of the day, it’s the power and purpose of your music that still matters (emphasis added).

It’s not as if Springsteen isn’t aware of the genres that form the backbone of the music industry. A few minutes earlier in his talk, Springsteen jokingly went through a short list of the various genres that categorized the bands wandering the streets of Austin that week, stopping to note that he had no idea what “Nintendo core” is. He added, “Just add neo– and post– to everything I said, and mention them all again.”

I think Springsteen’s main point is that it’s no longer necessary for artists to play by the rules of a specific genre to make music that resonates with a crowd.  You don’t need to strive for authenticity in the same way that artists of a previous generation did because the rules for what it means to be authentic don’t apply anymore. The proliferation of new genres has, in a sense, freed musicians to do whatever the hell they want. An artist doing his version of classic blues on a synthesizer is just as authentic as is a folk artist doing an an acoustic cover of “Robot Rock.”  What counts more than one’s inclusion in a genre subcategory is an artist’s workmanship and basic creative impulse.

Of course Springsteen can say this because he is The Boss. He sells out stadiums night after night. He no longer plays by the rules or conventions because of his success and popularity. But is there an element of truth to it? Do genres matter as much as they once did? I see a couple of reasons to give his argument merit. The first is that the Internet really does seem to have freed artists to “remix” and hybridize musical genres more than was done in the past. The Internet has become its own scene, reducing the importance of old geographic-based scenes, which in turn makes it more likely that people working in different genres or subgenres will be aware of and influence each other.  And I also think there is some truth to the idea that precisely subdividing subgenres has the ironic effect of making those subgenres less meaningful and less constraining.  Sub-subgenres are usually just hybrids of two or more genres anyway, and so what difference does it make to layer on a third or fourth genre? Melding together 4-5 new genres subsequently decreases the social distance between you and every other artist working in the space of popular music and simultaneously opens the possibility of bringing in old genres in your next creative moment. Suddenly the idea that Texas polka has real combinatorial potential for rap seems possible. I think this is what it means to say we live in a post-authentic world.

Written by brayden king

April 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Posted in books, brayden, culture

occupy data

For those readers who can’t get enough of the Occupy movement, you should check out the incredibly detailed and multifaceted data available at   Highlights include preliminary findings from a survey of Occupy participants about their involvement in the movement (with maps breaking down responses geographically), visualizations of tweets about police misconduct,  a collection of images of the Occupiers, and an analysis of the organizational network composing the Occupy movement.  I’m just barely scratching the surface. The people behind, which includes scholars from MIT’s Media Lab, have done an incredible job of pooling available data and then using an open source approach to data analysis. One of the coolest ideas on the website is to draw on the ethic of the Occupy movement to engage people in data collection and analysis. The working group sponsors “hackathons,” where anyone who has questions about the Occupy movement can come together and use the site’s tools and do interesting, innovative analysis and data visualization.

This is also a great tool for social movement undergraduate classes. The interface is easy enough to navigate that any undergraduate should be able to do some basic analysis, test hypotheses, etc.

Written by brayden king

April 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm

writing the introduction

Adam Grant and Tim Pollock, two very prolific senior editors at the Academy of Management Journal, tell us how to write a compelling introduction to a scholarly article.

We only get one chance to make a first impression, and in academic publishing the introduction to your submission or your article is that chance. A good introduction hooks the reader by elucidating the topic’s impact; what scholars now know, what we do not know, and why that matters; and how the research contributes to an ongoing research conversation or starts a new conversation.

They interviewed 16 past winners of AMJ’s best article award about the process of writing introductions. Here are some of the key findings from their interviews:

At what point in the drafting process did they write their introductions? Nine percent wrote it when they first developed the idea; 23 percent wrote it at the very beginning of the drafting process; 9 percent wrote it at the very end of the process; and 59 percent wrote it somewhere in the middle of the process, often times jotting notes when they first developed the idea and/or before data collection and analysis were finished….The average award winner estimated spending 24 percent of the total writing time on the introduction.

As noted earlier, the average winner reported rewriting the introduction ten times. The minimum was three, and 45 percent reported rewriting it ten or more times.

For further insights, we asked the Best Article Award winners for their advice on how to write a great introduction. A content analysis revealed three primary categories: focusing (45%), engaging the reader (32%), and problematizing the literature (23%).

I usually give my PhD students the advice that they should write the introduction as if they are laying out a puzzle that needs to be solved (see also Ezra Zuckerman’s helpful advice about this point).  Dave Whetten once told me that I ought to write the introduction as if I were speaking to just two or three people whom I’d like to convince of something. Picking those two or three people helps focus your argument.  Lately I’ve found it useful when starting a new paper to write the first draft in a loose, conversational manner, ignoring academic conventions and just getting the core of the argument out there.  I’ve found this helps me overcome the initial writer’s block I always face whenever starting a new project. I think it also clarifies my thinking. Rather than getting bogged down in a lengthy (and boring) literature review, writing in a more conversational tone focuses my writing on what I really want to say in the paper.

Written by brayden king

April 11, 2012 at 9:58 am

Posted in brayden, research

genre as a social form

I picked up Jenn Lena’s book, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music, with unabashed enthusiasm. The book combines two of my passions: sociology and music. Like the music nerd that I am, I’ve read a lot of books written by journalists and insiders of the music industry.  I’ve subscribed to Rolling Stone since I was an undergrad, and I’m a regular reader of Pitchfork.  I watch Austin City Limits. I collect mp3s of obscure bands like my 12 year old son collects baseball cards.   So you can imagine how thrilled I was to finally get my hands on this book – a sociological examination of music genres.

I haven’t been disappointed. The book, front to back, is full of interesting details about diverse music genres. Not surprisingly, Lena walks us through the evolution of a conventionally fascinating genre like funk, but we also get to learn about the equally interesting (but lesser known) genre of the Texas polka. She moves between genres easily, in part, because her theoretical framework gives her a lens through which you can analyze genres with very different musical sensibilities and technical distinctions.  And of course, it is this lens that makes this book different from a musicological treatment of music genres. The book is less interested in the content of genres than it is in the structure of genre forms. That’s not to say that she ignores content, but the important insight she brings is that all music genres, regardless of their musical qualities, appear to have stable characteristics associated with different forms of development.  If you want to understand how a music genre comes to be and how it becomes popularized as part of a canon, you need to understand the social elements that make up these genre forms.

That is how Lena’s view of genre classification differs from students of music.   But what intrigued me most about her book is how Lena’s view of music genres differs from other sociological accounts of genre and form. You see, the study of classification systems, including genres, has suddenly become a huge thing in the world of sociology and organizational theory. Organizational ecologists, cultural scholars, and social psychologists have all begun to focus on how classification systems organize human experience, shape evaluation, and influence organizational outcomes. Naturally, her perspective will be compared to these related research streams. But Lena is doing something very different here, which I think sets her apart from the majority of  scholars studying classification systems.

Through the first part of the book, I experienced this little mental itch that kept bugging me (not in a bad way, of course). I knew that there was something really unconventional about Lena’s take on genre but I couldn’t put it in words. Somewhere in the middle of chapter 3, I started to get a handle on it.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by brayden king

March 28, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Posted in books, brayden, culture

fact vs. fiction

Over the weekend, the public radio show This American Life created quite a stir when they retracted a story that appeared on their show earlier this year. The retracted story was a segment from Mike Daisey’s one-man play, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.  (I blogged about Daisey’s story when it originally came out, saying “the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies and souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.”)  It appears that Daisey fabricated parts of the story,  like claiming that he met underage employees outside of a Foxconn plant where parts for Apple’s iPad were made.  Many of the most moving parts of the story never actually happened. The story began to unravel when a reporter for another NPR show, Marketplace, realized that some parts of Daisey’s account didn’t sound accurate and began to do some fact-checking and discovered that Daisey’s accomplice in all of this – a translator named Cathy – disagreed about the basic facts. Anyway, it’s a big mess because NPR holds itself to high journalistic standards and they needed to cleanse themselves of Daisey’s fabrications before it all went public in some other forum.  Here’s a full transcript of the retraction episode.

Needless to say, the media is having a field day with Daisey’s debacle, in which he first appeared to contritely apologize and then later defended himself as presenting a truthful representation of factory workers’ experience. For more in-depth coverage, check out these articles posted on the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate. Daisey has responded by claiming that his show is a work of art, not journalism, and that the central message he hoped to convey is true – that workers in factories where our precious technologies are employed in inhumane conditions and that this should affect how we feel about consuming these products. From Daisey’s own blog:

I apologized in this week’s episode to anyone who felt betrayed. I stand by that apology. But understand that if you felt something that connected you with where your devices come from—that is not a lie. That is art. That is human empathy, and it is real, and even if you curse my name I hope you’ll recognize that and continue reading, caring, and thinking.

I feel bad for Daisey because I do think that his message is an important one, and I’m glad that he got the message out there. The show was incredibly popular. The radio segment was the most downloaded show ever on This American Life. But I think Daisey created a major mess for himself. His sin is not fabricating a story, but rather it’s presenting that fabrication in the media as if it were journalism. If Daisey had never set foot on the set of public radio this would have never become a problem. Daisey’s theater performance is not the first, nor the last, piece of muckraking to dramatize truth. People have compared his work to that of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which fictionalized turn-of-the-century factory conditions in Chicago.  I think another apt comparison is the movie, The Social Network. Like Daisey’s play, The Social Network draws on archival material to create a semi-fictionalized account of Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The movie is so compelling because of the emotional moments in the plot, which portrays Zuckerberg as coolly calculating, insensitive, and desperate for recognition. This version of Zuckerberg is the one that the public has come to know. We believe this is the real Zuckerberg. But like Daisey’s play, many (or most) of the scenes in the film are fabricated.  The screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, gets away with it because everyone knows he’s writing a movie and not a biography. So we let him play fast and loose with the empirical details and we love him anyway. Daisey is doing the same thing in his play. Unfortunately, what he was doing changed when he moved from the theater to the radio studio and began presenting his work as factually true (which he undoubtedly did).  It’s hard to look past this error on his part.

Daisey isn’t the only person to tread the thin line between factual reporting and fiction. Recently John D’Agata and Jim Fingal wrote a book about this issue called, The Lifespan of a Fact, which relays exchanges between a writer and his fact-checker (here is a review of the book by Jennifer McDonald at the New York Times). The writer, D’Agata, wrote an essay about a 16-year old boy who committed suicide by jumping from Las Vegas’s Stratosphere casino. In fact-checking the essay Fingal found over a hundred inaccuracies. D’Agata defended the inaccuracies, claiming that they helped him to artistically convey the truth of the story he was trying to tell.  The fabrications, he argued, helped to uncover the basic truths the piece was about. Is this what Daisey believes he was doing? If so, why not allow people to decide for themselves by revealing the inaccuracies up front? Of course, regular listeners of This American Life know that not every story appearing on the program is factually true. They regularly present short stories or memoir-like accounts told at The Moth, none of which I assume are fact-checked. Listeners would not be dismayed to learn that a humorous anecdote from one of these storytellers was not completely factually correct. People writing memoirs, after all, remember a distorted version of the past. Psychologists tell us that memories are malleable. Novelists are professional liars.  We praise them for their ability to make their fabrications believable. Occasionally, they reveal truths in the process of fabricating. We live in a subjective world, and so we’re comfortable intermingling fact and fiction. We just need better labels to tell us how to process it.

Written by brayden king

March 19, 2012 at 6:01 pm

contested reputations

Via Marginal Revolutionwhy the Internet lacks reliable reviews of doctors.

[G]etting in the faces of the previously untouchable professional class has inevitably led to legal threats. He says he gets about one each week over negative reviews and receives subpoenas every month or two for information that can help identify reviewers, who believe they are posting anonymously.

Over at Angie’s List, service providers have sued reviewers, whose names are known to the company, “a handful” of times, according to the company. Angie’s List has paid their legal fees in the past, but a co-founder of the site, Angie Hicks, said she could not commit to doing that in every case in the future.

None of the litigants at Angie’s List have been doctors so far, but that doesn’t mean they are thrilled with her health reviews. “They told me that ‘patients aren’t smart enough to figure out whether I’m a good doctor,’ ” she said. “But I told them that these conversations have been happening all along.” The only difference with the site, she pointed out, is that the doctors get to listen in.

Some doctors have silenced patients anyway. Several years ago, a physician reputation management service called Medical Justice developed a sort of liability vaccine. Doctors would ask patients to sign an agreement promising not to post about the doctor online; in exchange, patients would get additional privacy protections.

This struck me as the height of audacity, and when I shared my feelings with the company, I was informed that the agreements had outlived their usefulness. What neither its vice president of marketing, Shane Stadler, nor its founder and chief executive, Jeffrey Segal, told me, however, was that the company had retired the agreements in the wake of a lawsuit related to them and a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

Medical Justice has now turned 180 degrees and embraced the review sites. It helpfully supplies its client doctors with iPads that they can give to patients as they are leaving. Patients write a review, and Medical Justice makes sure that the comments are posted on a review site.

Health services industries need to be reviewed. Patients would benefit tremendously by getting more high quality information about how doctor’s offices work (e.g., how long is the wait? do you see a different doctor every time?).  I remember when my family moved to Evanston finding it really difficult to locate a good doctor’s office that met all of our family’s needs. I’m still not completely happy with our doctor, but the switching costs are sufficiently high that behavioral inertia has taken over.

Accountability in the medical field is a problem, especially now that doctors offices have begun to fully embrace the market logic, which means that from the patient’s perspective you’re treated more as a customer and less as an individual. But doctor’s resistance to monitoring, as could be had with anonymous review sites, is completely understandable from their perspective. They want the profits that the market logic/business model brings, but they also want to maintain their professional autonomy and discretion. Once you introduce patient feedback into that process, the profession begins to lose some of its autonomy.

Written by brayden king

March 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm

james q. wilson, rip

The political scientist James Q. Wilson passed away this morning.  Wilson was an important public intellectual, but he will be remembered within academia as a social scientist whose interests spanned multiple disciplines. In the very first organizational theory class I ever took we read his book, Bureacracy: What Government Agencies Do and Why They Do It.  The book is an evenhanded examination of government organizations, highlighting what they do really well and not so well and offering solutions for how to improve their effectiveness. I remember the book as bringing Weber to life and making bureaucratic theory relevant. Wilson was a political scientist by training but his greatest contributions may have been in criminology. He had a way of writing that grabbed attention and made you want to read more. Take for instance the first paragraph of his 1964 AJS paper:

The Irish cop, like the Irish politician, has long been a legendary figure. And like many legends, this one has been in great part the popular expression of a sound sociological insight-that the big-city police department, like the big-city political machine, has been an important avenue of upward mobility for a sizable American ethnic group. The difficulty with the insight is that it has not kept up with the legend: The police forces of many large cities have continued to be heavily Irish Catholic long after the great wave of Irish  immigration subsided and long after the spread of mass education, the collapse of anti-Irish discriminatory practices, and the growth of the urban middle class should have made police work a career of diminishing value to a group so long in this country.

The paper goes on to propose that an ethnic conception of “Irishness” had become tightly linked with “copness.”  The meaning around ethnicity had become tied to a particular career pathway. Although certainly not groundbreaking, the article highlights Wilson’s versatility as a social scientist. Certainly as his career progressed, Wilson became known for his conservative views, but categorizing Wilson as just another neo-conservative does not do his work justice.

Written by brayden king

March 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm

organizational musings

Henrich Greve has a blog!!  We’re happy to welcome Henrich, an ASQ editor and prolific organizational scholar, to the blogosphere. Henrich’s posts discuss the practical implications of papers recently published in organization theory journals. In this post he discusses an ASQ paper by Matthew Bidwell about the performance and pay of external hires versus internal hires. Here he draws on a paper by Elizabeth Boyle and Zur Shapira to assess how organizations manage risks through incentives and monitoring. And in this post he talks about the implications of his own research on corporate deviance and legitimacy loss to assess how Carnival’s CEO handled the recent shipwreck of the Costa Concordia.

If you’re an organizational scholar this is a must-read blog.

Written by brayden king

March 1, 2012 at 4:20 am

Posted in blogs, brayden

the abundance of living alone

Eric Klinenberg is a sociologist who also happens to be a very good writer. Who needs a Malcolm Gladwell to popularize sociology when we already have good writers, like Klinenberg, in the discipline? His book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago is an example of his ability to present empirical sociology in an engaging and lucid form.

Eric’s latest book, Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, expands on a theme of Heat Wave: that living alone is a growing trend, especially in urban areas, that has changed the nature of community and relationships.  In his former book Eric showed that the people most susceptible to the negative consequences of a major environmental disaster, like a heat wave, were those who lived alone and lacked a social safety net to assist them during the crisis. Although in Heat Wave he focused on the deleterious effects of “living and dying alone,” this book takes a broader perspective by first trying to understand why more people are making this life choice and then by examining its consequences on life quality.

One of the interesting insights of Going Solo is that living alone has become easier for people to do because there are so many ways in which people can create and flourish abundant social lives outside the home. Facebook, email, texting, and other social media provide numerous points of contact that shorten the social distance between friends and family. Someone who lived alone 30 years ago might have felt isolated because it was much more costly and difficult to maintain close contact with friends, but now personal communication with friends and family has become so easy to do that it can almost be overwhelming.

One woman we interviewed, an attorney in her early thirties who works in politics, tells me: ‘Of my nine-hour day, I’m spending seven hours responding to emails’ – mostly job related, but many from friends and family too. ‘I also have, like, three hundred fifty people in my cell phone,’ she explains. It buzzes often, she checks it constantly, and she always tries to respond quickly, even if she’s out with friends and the call or message is from work.

This behavior is not unusual. Although we often associate living alone with social isolation, for most adults the reverse is true. In many cases, those who live alone are socially overextended, and hyperactive use of digital media keeps them even busier. The young urban professionals we interviewed reported that they struggle more with avoiding the distraction of always available social activity, from evenings with friends to online chatter, than with being disconnected. ‘Singles in the U.S.: The New Nuclear Family’ confirms this. The large-scale study by the market research firm Packaged Facts reports that those who live alone are more likely than others to say that the Internet has changed the way they spend their free time, more likely to be online late at night, and more likely to say that using the Net has cut into their sleep. Not that they are homebodies. According to a Pew Foundation study of social isolation and technology, heavy users of the Internet and social media are actually more likely than others to have large and diverse social networks, visit public places where strangers may interact, and participate in volunteer organizations (pg. 64).

If people used to seek domestic life in order to avoid social isolation, social technology seems to have weakened some of that need. People, especially those who can afford to stay connected and have a busy social life, may find pairing up and having kids less appealing than ever.

This book is full of fascinating facts and anecdotes about why and how people manage to live alone. This would be a great book for undergraduate courses in urban/community sociology, social networks, social problems, or even an introductory course in sociology.

Written by brayden king

February 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm

was the financial crisis caused by corporate psychopaths?

Was the financial crisis caused by corporate psychopaths? Clive Boddy, writing in the Journal of Business Ethics, seems to think so.

These corporate collapses have gathered pace in recent years, especially in the western world, and have culminated in the Global Financial Crisis that we are now in. In watching these events unfold it often appears that the senior directors involved walk away with a clean conscience and huge amounts of money. Further, they seem to be unaffected by the corporate collapses they have created. They present themselves as glibly unbothered by the chaos around them, unconcerned about those who have lost their jobs, savings, and investments, and as lacking any regrets about what they have done. They cheerfully lie about their involvement in events are very persuasive in blaming others for what has happened and have no doubts about their own continued worth and value. They are happy to walk away from the economic disaster that they have managed to bring about, with huge payoffs and with new roles advising governments how to prevent such economic disasters.

Many of these people display several of the characteristics of psychopaths and some of them are undoubtedly true psychopaths. Psychopaths are the 1% of people who have no conscience or empathy and who do not care for anyone other than themselves. Some psychopaths are violent and end up in jail, others forge careers in corporations. The latter group who forge successful corporate careers is called Corporate  Psychopaths.

I have a complaint to make to the editors of the Journal of Business Ethics. Why is the term “Corporate Psychopaths” capitalized every time it appears in the paper? As if that’s not enough, why do we need the to capitalize “Global Financial Crisis” every time it appears in the paper? This combination leads to unattractive sentences like this:

The knowledge that Corporate Psychopaths are to be found at the top of organisations and seem to favour working with other people’s money in large financial organisations has in turn, led to the development of the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis. The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is that Corporate Psychopaths, rising to key senior positions within modern financial corporations…..

Why not just capitalize and put in bold every letter and add blinking animation for emphasis?

Written by brayden king

February 24, 2012 at 4:44 pm

creative groups

It’s been a while since we’ve knocked heads with our evil twin blog.  I can’t let this one pass. Peter Klein misrepresents the main point of this Jonah Lehrer New Yorker article, which dissects the myth that brainstorming leads to creativity and greater problem solving. Citing a quote by former orgtheory guest blogger Keith Sawyer – “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas” – Peter implies that groups would be more creative if they’d just let individuals work on their own. This fits nicely with a pure reductionist perspective but it’s not at all what the article is really trying to say.

This is the conclusion that Peter should have drawn from the essay: “[L]ike it or not, human creativity has increasingly become a group process.”  Lehrer goes on to cite research by my colleagues at Northwestern, Ben Jones and Brian Uzzi, which shows that both scientists and Broadway teams are more successful and creative when bringing together teams made up of diverse individuals. From an article in Science by Wuchty, Jones, and Uzzi:

By analyzing 19.9 million peer-reviewed academic papers and 2.1 million patents from the past fifty years, [Jones] has shown that levels of teamwork have increased in more than ninety-five per cent of scientific subfields; the size of the average team has increased by about twenty per cent each decade. The most frequently cited studies in a field used to be the product of a lone genius, like Einstein or Darwin. Today, regardless of whether researchers are studying particle physics or human genetics, science papers by multiple authors receive more than twice as many citations as those by individuals. This trend was even more apparent when it came to so-called “home-run papers”—publications with at least a hundred citations. These were more than six times as likely to come from a team of scientists.

And summarizing Uzzi’s and Spiro’s AJS paper on Broadway shows:

Uzzi devised a way to quantify the density of these connections, a figure he called Q. If musicals were being developed by teams of artists that had worked together several times before—a common practice, because Broadway producers see “incumbent teams” as less risky—those musicals would have an extremely high Q. A musical created by a team of strangers would have a low Q…..When the Q was low—less than 1.7 on Uzzi’s five-point scale—the musicals were likely to fail. Because the artists didn’t know one another, they struggled to work together and exchange ideas. “This wasn’t so surprising,” Uzzi says. “It takes time to develop a successful collaboration.” But, when the Q was too high (above 3.2), the work also suffered. The artists all thought in similar ways, which crushed innovation. According to Uzzi, this is what happened on Broadway during the nineteen-twenties, which he made the focus of a separate study. The decade is remembered for its glittering array of talent—Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Oscar Hammerstein II, and so on—but Uzzi’s data reveals that ninety per cent of musicals produced during the decade were flops, far above the historical norm. “Broadway had some of the biggest names ever,” Uzzi explains. “But the shows were too full of repeat relationships, and that stifled creativity.”

In short, Uzzi argues that teams that had intermediate levels of relationship density were more creative and more successful.

It’s not that groups aren’t effective generators of creativity. As these studies show, innovation tends to be produced via group processes. Knowledge production is increasingly a collective outcome. Rather than assume that people work best alone, we should think more carefully about what kinds of groups are optimally designed for producing creativity.  Diverse groups will be more creative than homogeneous groups. Groups that embrace conflict and critical thought will be less susceptible to groupthink than groups that avoid such conflict.  Groups made up of members who have little experience with outsiders will be less creative.  I agree with Peter that brainstorming is ineffectively taught in many classrooms, but rather than throw out the idea altogether, we should try to teach people how to design groups that are good at generating new ideas.

Written by brayden king

February 14, 2012 at 12:05 am

the trouble with garfinkel

John Levi Martin’s new book, The Explanation of Social Action, is a riot, meaning I’m thoroughly entertained and intellectually provoked at the same time. The ultimate aim of the book is to provide a new basis for judging the quality of social theory. I’ll say more later about how well he accomplishes this goal. For now I just want to draw attention to one of my favorite footnotes of all time. It appears early in the book when John is talking about theorists he is going to discuss and those he dismisses by their absence:

I might reasonably also be asked why no use is made here of the work of Garfinkel (e.g., 2002), which had many of the same influences and made many of the same critiques of conventional sociological explanation. The answer is simple: Garfinkel chose to write in gobbledy-gook, and although I do not begrudge him the enjoyment he so obviously received from this activity, I also see no reason to wade through the results to extract arguments that were made previously and more clearly by others. Finally, rather than indicate to his sociological readers that there was a wide range of inspiring and dissenting traditions from which they could draw (the approach of the current work), Garfinkel instead attempted to put his own formalizations in between his students and the phenomenological tradition, acting more like a cult leader than a scholar. Even did I not find this somewhat disappointing on a human level, it would make little scientific sense to reward such behavior.

This gives you a taste for the kind of book he has written. You may not agree with everything John writes in this book, but he certainly knows how to make punchy points.

Written by brayden king

February 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm

Posted in books, brayden, just theory

the different bourdieus

Bourdieu is everywhere in social theory these days. Ranging from practice theory to studies of taste and consumption, you can find Bourdieu lurking in the background and quite often taking center stage. Bourdieu may be the most blogged-about theorist here on orgtheory. He’s so easily transportable because of the generality of his concepts and because he wrote extensively on so many different things during his career. Given the expanse of his theoretical contributions, it can sometimes be hard to pin down Bourdieu as a theorist. The reason for this, suggests my prolific co-blogger Omar Lizardo in this commentary forthcoming in Sociological Forum, is that Bourdieu’s contributions to American sociology have occurred over various stages, creating multiple clusters of Bourdieuian-influenced theorists. Depending on which cluster you’re a part of, you’re getting a slightly different angle on the Bourdieuian perspective.  I highly recommend reading Omar’s commentary for anyone who thinks they know (or would like to get to know) Bourdieu’s work. It helps put Bourdieu in historical context.

The final stage of Bourdieuian influence, which is an emerging trend Omar admits, is focused on embodiment, cognition, and action. Although he doesn’t mention it in the essay, I have noticed that a strong community in institutional theory has really grabbed on to this this aspect of Bourdieu. Institutional theory in the late 80s through the mid-90s was heavily influenced by Bourdieu’s field theory (Omar’s stage 2 of Bourdieuian influence), but in recent years institutional theorists have become less interested in the constraining aspects of field forces and more interested in how institutional change bubbles up from below, which places more emphasis on agency and reflexive cognition. Scholars interested in institutional entrepreneurship and institutional work (for example, read Lawrence, Suddaby, and Leca), in particular, seem to be drawing more and more from Bourdieu’s theory of practice.  The attractiveness of practice theory is that you don’t have to completely shed your structural view of institutions and fields to develop an endogenous explanations for how people create local worlds of resistance and novelty. Although I think it’s fair to question how well executed many of these studies are, I’ve noticed that a large portion of institutional theory has moved from stage 2 in Omar’s depiction of Bourdieu to stage 3.

Perhaps this is the reason why I’ve heard so many grumblings from people in the institutional theory world about Fligstein’s and McAdam’s work on “strategic action fields.” The F&M conceptualization of institutions and change is still very stage 2 in its understanding of how actors are situated in a field and how fields evolve over time. But this no longer resonates with many institutional theorists, who have already moved beyond this conceptualization of institutions to a stage 3 model in which actors are embedded in multiple fields and possess more agency than the actors of a fixed field world. While the former view is more structural and deterministic, the latter view is more cognitive and stochastic. F&M do very little to bridge stage 2 with stage 3 Bourdieu (although one could argue, but they don’t, that the concept of “social skill” derives from practice theory).

For more orgtheory commentary on Fligstein’s and McAdam’s SAF, see here and here.

Written by brayden king

January 16, 2012 at 5:47 pm

where your iphone comes from

The latest episode of This American Life is a breathtaking first-person account of a Mac aficionado’s visit to an electronics manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China. Here he meets some of the workers who put iPhones together and discovers that the entire manufacturing process is done by hand! He learns of the incredible toll this process of constructing little electronics goods has on their health and lives. The account, partly due to Mike Daisey’s engaging monologue style, is really unforgettable and disturbing. One of my favorite lines from Daisy’s account:

How often do we wish more things were hand-made? Oh, we talk about that all the time, don’t we? I wish it was like the old days. I wish things had that human touch. But that’s not true. There are more hand-made things now than there have ever been in the history of the world. Everything is hand-made. I know, I have been there. I have seen the workers laying in parts thinner than human hair, one after another after another. Everything is hand-made.

In typical TAL style, they try to get the other side of the story and the last ten minutes of the episode really grapple with the effects of sweatshop labor on economic mobility. Still, the voices that will remain in your head after the podcast are those of the mistreated workers whose bodies are souls are slowly being sacrificed on the factory line.

Written by brayden king

January 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm

the diffusion of….whatever

I just can’t stop chuckling about the graph in this cartoon.

From Pictures for Sad Children (HT: Tastefully Offensive)

Written by brayden king

January 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Posted in brayden, fun

mobilizing ideas

Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Social Movements has a blog, a “a hub for stimulating conversation between activists and scholars about important issues in social movements and social change.” One of the interesting features of the blog is a monthly exchange of essays by social movement scholars about a particular issue/topic. The blog already has some interesting content, e.g., Francesca Polletta on Internet mobilization and collective identity; Jeff Larson on the diversity issues within the Occupy movement. I’ll be a regular reader!

Written by brayden king

December 1, 2011 at 3:54 pm


Tis the season of the academic job market. I stopped by this morning to see that the sociology job market rumor mill is up and running. Read at your own risk. I can never tell how accurate this information is or if trying to gauge the information/noise ratio is worth the effort. Still, it’s there to read (either as a tool or as a setting of ethnographic research). I’m not sure if there is an equivalent board exclusively for the management market, but if anyone knows about such a board please post it in comments.

I’m sure many of you have seen the announcement already, but in case you haven’t, my department at Northwestern is hiring.  This is a multidisciplinary search. We’re looking for qualified candidates who have PhDs in “organizational behavior, management, strategy, sociology, psychology, and related fields.”  So, that includes just about every PhD in our readership. Here’s the official announcement. The application deadline is Nov. 15.

Written by brayden king

November 4, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Posted in academia, brayden

cohort replacement and institutional change

Institutional theorists have become obsessed with explaining sources of institutional change in organizations. During neoinstitutional theory’s rise to prominence, it was mostly a theory of stability and homogenization of society, but in the last decade or so more and more institutional scholars have started focusing on change dynamics. There are some obviously good reasons for this, including the purpose of making institutional theory a more useful tool. Theories of institutional change often try to find endogenous explanations, e.g., institutional contradictions, competition between institutional logics. Still most of these explanations, because they give primacy to higher-level processes, ignore what’s going on at the ground level or at least fail to take into account the processes whereby people change their beliefs, adapt values, and alter their identities to make room for a new institutional practice.

In our rush to generate endogenous explanations for institutional change, it seems that some of the obvious micro-level processes of institutional change have been ignored. This research completely ignores the people whose “hearts and minds” must change in order to actually create lasting institutional change, even though for a new routine to become institutionalized people have to put it into action and for a new policy to be seen as “legitimate” people have to be convinced of the policy’s appropriateness. Perhaps the lack of emphasis on these micro-dynamics is the result of methodological biases. Demographic analysis, public opinion research, and experimental methods are mostly outside the toolkit of most institutional theorists. And yet, there’s probably a lot we could get from these analyses.

One potentially very important mechanism of institutional change is cohort replacement. By that I mean the replacement of old guards of organizational members and leaders with newer cohorts who have different beliefs, opinions, and values. It’s strange, when you think about it, that institutional theorists haven’t considered in any serious way how cohort replacement affects organizational practices and policies, even though opinion research indicates that cohort differences explain significant variation in beliefs and attitudes. Cohort differences may often matter more than life stage differences in explaining political opinions and attitudes. Take the case of liberalizing beliefs about same sex marriage. One study indicates that about half of the growth in support for same sex marriage is the result of cohort replacement. Younger generations are simply more open to this practice than preceding generations. We can expect that in a couple of generations, same sex marriage will be legal everywhere due to cohort replacement.

How might cohort replacement explain organizational change? One way to examine this would be to look at how demographic differences across organizations explain openness to new policies/practices or rates of early adoption. Another fruitful path would be to explain how cohort replacement creates identity conflict in organizations, a potentially crucial source of friction underlying change. Cohorts, in this sense, could be conceptualized as the carriers of different identities and logics. A nice illustration of this type of research is Nancy Whittier’s 1997 ASR paper about micro-cohorts and the transformation of the feminist movement. Even though the paper is often cited as an important illustration of how collective identity matters in movements, I think it’s undervalued as a study of institutional change.  Another potential line of investigation would be to examine the link between cohort replacement and selection processes at the field level-of-analysis.  One of my students pointed out to me yesterday that Haveman’s and Rao’s 1997 AJS paper on the thrift industry relies to an extent on the imagery of cohort replacement to explain why certain forms of thrift were selected.

More generally speaking, there should be a stronger link between research on organizational demography (e.g., see Damon Phillips’s work on law firms; Heather Haveman on managerial tenure) and institutional theory. Obviously, rates of entry and exit of managers affect organizational processes. The question for institutional theory is, how do these demographic changes affect institutional stability and heterogeneity?

Written by brayden king

October 25, 2011 at 5:22 pm


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