Archive for the ‘productivity and performance’ Category

contingency theory – is that like a thing anymore?

Once in a while, I am asked by students about contingency theory – the view in organization theory that there is no optimal firm structure and that it simply “depends.” In other words, it’s the pragmatism of the org theory world. Here’t the question I get asked: is contingency theory still an active research area? On the one hand, it is obviously alive – people (including myself) still talk about it in published articles. On the other hand, it seems to be permission to resort to contextual, ad hoc exaplanations, or, better, to add a needed extra dimension of variation. There aren’t native “contingency theory variables” that have been developed in the decades since the 1960s.

My own view is that it is now more of an argumentative move rather than a stand alone theory. Even though it is an obvious point, it acts as a corrective to the very rigid theories of org environments often found in sociology (e.g., iron cage institutionalism or early population ecology). If you think there is a real advance in contingency theory, do use the comment section.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

February 19, 2014 at 12:01 am

getting what we measure

Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Rhode Island College and is the author of Student Activism and Curricular Change in Higher Education. Her current research explores network effects on curricular change in higher education. Her primary teaching responsibilities include social research methods and law and society courses, and this spring she is teaching a new interdisciplinary upper-level general education course on higher education.

One of the hallmarks of modernity is the focus on rationality and efficiency in organizational function: organizations of all types, from hospitals to Fortune 500 corporations, from universities to small not-for-profits, seek to improve their performance in terms of measureable outcomes. But, as the aphorism goes, “What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated” (variously attributed to any number of management scholars). For example, pharmaceutical companies’ focus on stock prices, sales figures, and the next blockbuster drug has led to a focus on treatments for common, chronic conditions, such as the umpteenth heartburn medication, and less focus on the development of new antibiotics, a trend that may soon prove to have devastating effects on our attempts to control infections disease.

In higher education, a similar dynamic is occurring. In the past, colleges and universities were primarily measured (and funded) based on enrollments. This meant that encouraging more students to enroll, and keeping them enrolled in classes until after the third week (or whenever official enrollment statistics are due), was often the highest priority, and whether students ever graduated did not matter nearly as much. You get what you measure: students in seats.

More recently, the emphasis has shifted to retention and graduation as measureable outcomes. This change encouraged administrators to consider what was necessary to keep students in school and to improve time-to-degree, but it came with its own perverse incentives. For example, administrators turned to student evaluations as a way to increase student satisfaction; some colleges and universities discourage faculty from failing students because failures decrease graduation rates and increase dropout rates. This leads to colleges in which students can graduate with a 2.0, never having written a paper (a phenomenon discussed in recent books like Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift and Armstrong and Hamilton’s Paying for the Party). It also contributes to rampant grade inflation, including elite institutions where over half of all grades awarded are As (happy students=repeat customers). You get what you measure: grads with high grades.

A variety of colleges and universities have thus sought ways to curb grade inflation, such as providing average class grades on transcripts and setting strict grading curves. By encouraging tougher grading standards, these methods may indeed reduce the average GPA of enrolled students, but tougher grading standards do not necessarily translate into better educated graduates—and in any case, most colleges and universities have not chosen to enact these sorts of reforms. Indeed, the ease by which average grades can be manipulated highlights the fact that grades themselves may not be even an adequate proxy measure of student learning, and thus the assessment movement was born.

Today, accrediting agencies require colleges and universities to demonstrate that students meet measurable learning outcomes, and projects like the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile encourage institutions and departments to clearly state the intended outcomes of their programs in measureable language. Some colleges and universities have gone further, developing competency-based degrees in which students supposedly demonstrate their skills rather than their seat time to graduate. At first blush, many critics argued that these programs are just another kind of teaching to the test. But teaching to the test is only a problem if the test is not actually able to test the desired learning outcomes—you get what you measure: results on the test.

It has already become clear to advocates of competency-based learning that competency is a pretty low floor, and instead they have begun to use the term “proficiency.” One goal of proficiency-based degree plans has been to shorten the time and cost of a degree, particularly by reducing Baumol’s cost disease by disrupting the relationship between seat time, faculty workload, and degree production. So far, competency- and proficiency-based programs are rare and likely appeal only to a particular self-selected group—but as Chambliss and Takacs point out in their forthcoming book How College Works, college only works if it works for all students, including the lazy, the unmotivated, and the perhaps not-so-smart.

So if we get what we measure and what gets rewarded gets repeated—and we measure proficiencies and reward completion—what do we get? Degrees as checklists? Students who cannot earn a college degree because, while they are excellent writers and have superb disciplinary knowledge, they cannot (in Lumina’s language) construct and define “a cultural, political, or technological alternative vision of either the natural or human world,” a key bachelor’s-level competency? An even more extreme bifurcation of the higher education field in which some colleges and universities develop rigorous proficiency measures and provide students with the supports necessary to excel while others assess writing, critical thinking, and speaking with machine- or peer-grading?

Or is it possible to build a system that measures proficiencies in a real, valuable way and which rewards completion without reducing the rigor of these proficiencies? In other words, can find a way to measure what we want to get instead of getting what we happen to have measured?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

January 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

get organized – the eisenhower way!!!!


The Uncluttered blog has a nice post about the way Eisenhower organized his work. It’s a 2×2 table, which means sociologists should love it:

Long before David Allen taught the world how to get things done, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was getting things done with a system all his own.

He was highly organized and prioritized his tasks and responsibilities while serving as president, a five-star general, supreme commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, and supreme commander of NATO. Eisenhower devised an effective system that’s simple enough to be executed with a pencil and a piece of paper and effective enough to, well, run the free world. It’s called the Eisenhower Matrix.

Yes, the Matrix of (Eisenhower) Domination.

Go ahead, I dare you to click on these links: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

January 4, 2014 at 12:01 am

stop interviewing people

A recent Washington Post op-ed describes recent research showing that interviews are poor predictors of future job performance. The idea is old, but the results elaborate in new ways. From Daniel Willingham, a psychologist at the University of Virginia:

You do end feeling as though you have a richer impression of the person than that gleaned from the stark facts on a resume. But there’s no evidence that interviews prompt better decisions (e.g., Huffcutt & Arthur, 1994).

A new study (Dana, Dawes, & Peterson, 2013) gives us some understanding of why.

The information on a resume is limited but mostly valuable: it reliably predicts future job performance. The information in an interview is abundant–too abundant actually. Some of it will have to be ignored. So the question is whether people ignore irrelevant information and pick out the useful. The hypothesis that they don’t is called dilution. The useful information is diluted by noise.

Dana and colleagues also examined a second possible mechanism. Given people’s general propensity for sense-making, they thought that interviewers might have a tendency to try to weave all information into a coherent story, rather than to discard what was quirky or incoherent.

Three experiments supported both hypothesized mechanisms.

In other words, interviews encourage people to see patterns in the data where none exist. They also distract us with irrelevant information. Toss this in the file of “we have evidence it don’t work, but people will do it anyway.”

Seriously good books: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

October 30, 2013 at 12:01 am

coaches are the highest paid state employees


Deadspin provides this illustration of the highest paid state employees. It says something when a public institutions gives more support for collegiate sports than other functions. That’s why I advocate a separation of sport and school.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

May 16, 2013 at 12:53 am

sociology don’t pay nuthin’ had one of those lists of majors that don’t pay very well. #8? You guessed it – sociology:

People who enter the field of sociology generally are interested in helping their fellow man. Unfortunately, that kind of benevolence doesn’t usually translate to wealth. Here are three jobs commonly held by sociology majors (click on job title and/or salary for more info):

… social worker

… corrections officer

… chemical dependency counselor

This is one of those cheesy magazine articles on careers, but it is consistent with prior research on college majors and income. Sociology is a feeder into service professions. That’s a good thing, though I do wonder how my sublime lectures on the differences between structuralism and post-structuralism help people get off of drugs.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz


Written by fabiorojas

March 29, 2013 at 12:34 am

michael cohen’s last research

Like most of us in the world of organization studies, I was saddened to hear of Michael Cohen’s passing. I only met him once and he was very gracious. In the spirit of his work, let me me draw your attention to his last research project – an analysis of “handoffs.” The issue is that doctors can’t continuously watch patients. Whenever a doctor leaves to go home, a new doctor comes in and there is a “handoff.” Cohen wrote a nice summary for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation website:

1. To be effective, a handoff has to happen.

It may seem incredibly commonplace, but all too often preventable injuries or even deaths trace back to handoffs that were abbreviated, conducted in awkward conditions, or downright skipped.  The easy cases to identify are things like leaving before handoff is done, or rushing the handoff in order to get out the door.

Unfortunately, many other causes are also in play. Some major examples derive from schedule or workload incompatibilities.  If patients are sent from the PACU (post-anesthesia care unit) to a floor unit during its nursing report, the nurses accepting the patients will necessarily miss out on the handoff of existing patients. If a patient is moved from the Emergency Department (ED) before her doctor or nurse has time to complete phone calls to the destination unit, the patient endures some period of having been transferred without benefit of handoff. If there is a shift change in the ED just before a patient moves, the handoff is conducted by a doctor or nurse who has only second-hand familiarity with the events. To improve handoffs, we may need to teach participants to think about the organizational structures that make it hard to do them well.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

February 9, 2013 at 12:01 am

productively handling structured and unstructured time as a scholar

In this post, I want to follow-up on my previous posts about conducting research by discussing the thorny issue of time management.  One challenge of academia involves completing work under schedules that incorporate both structured and unstructured time, with both unclear ends (what does one want/need to accomplish?) and means of reaching these ends (how does one achieve that goal?).  People must learn to self-manage the processes of undertaking a dissertation or research project and preparing publications along with other responsibilities.

During the school year, class preparation and grading, committee work (i.e., admissions committee, curriculum committee, hiring committee, etc.), service to the profession (i.e., reviewing manuscripts or conference papers, committee work for professional associations, etc.), and other commitments structure schedules.  For some, research, writing, and publishing all get squeezed into the remaining time.  Thus, periods such as the summer, winter break, and sabbaticals usually start with a long list of best intentions of how to spend “unstructured” time, which can feel overwhelming.

What to do?  This post is devoted to examining several Jedi tricks that increase the likelihood of accomplishing research projects during both structured and unstructured times.

Use deadlines

As part of class requirements, I used to assign my students two two-page long journal entries to help them understand the link between theory and phenomena (say, how routines help direct workers but may have undesired consequences).  The deadlines for these assignments were open-ended as students could pick whichever readings they wanted to use to analyze their organizational experience.  The assignment was due the same day that the reading was due.

Although a few students submitted their work on time, most students struggled with selecting their own deadlines and waited until the semester’s last week to turn in their journal entries.  A few didn’t submit any entries at all.  After a couple semesters, I tried another tactic: I made the first of the two journal entries due by the semester’s midpoint.  Student turn-in rates improved during the first half, but students still had problems with turning in the second journal entry.  After reading behavioral economist Dan Ariely’s description of his experiments with having MBA students set their own deadlines for turning in assignments versus setting deadlines for them (the MBA students at his elite institution apparently did no better than my undergrads in setting their own deadlines), I finally replaced this requirement with regular homework assignments with set deadlines.

Such experimentation shows how setting deadlines can be helpful, even if the deadlines are arbitrarily imposed.

How to set deadline prods:

- Understand prioritization

For scholars, juggling multiple responsibilities often means that projects that lack hard deadlines or immediate reinforcement can fall by the wayside.  It’s too easy to prioritize not particularly important deadlines for obligatory service commitments or bureaucratic paperwork simply because these have set deadlines while other, often more important or consequential responsibilities do not.  Or, some may find that the instantaneous gratification of teaching or mentoring students can trump the often-lonely, seemingly thankless task of writing up research and responding to reviewers’ comments.   These “pulls” can derail research productivity, particularly during long projects where deadlines are self-set – for example, submitting journal or book manuscripts for peer review.

For those of you who enjoy making 2 by 2 typologies, time management guru Stephen Covey suggests writing down projects and responsibilities in an important vs. not important and urgent vs. not urgent table to assess how you are allocating time.

- Routinize large projects into small incremental tasks

Based on his research comparing the writing and publication productivity of faculty who wrote in spurts versus regular, steady writing, Richard Boice recommends setting up small, incremental deadlines.  Rather than “binging” on intermittent writing bouts, he suggests regularly writing small amounts.  Some people assume that they have to be motivated first in order to be productive – instead, productivity is like a waterwheel: productivity elicits productivity.

- Follow a preset template

Wendy Belcher published an excellent guide to how to submit and publish journal articles according to a set schedule.  Her chapters cover topics such as how to write letters of inquiry to editors and how to respond to reviewers’ comments.

- Use other external deadlines

Some scholars find that presenting at conferences helps with getting initial drafts done, with the possible bonus of getting useful feedback during the review process or presentation.  If you’re writing journal manuscripts, check out calls for special issues, which usually have hard deadlines.  These also have the added advantage that reviewers have to get back to submitters by a set date.

- Participate in a writing group or colloquiums

Writing groups or colloquiums where members regularly present drafts for feedback can be great prods for productivity.  Depending on what your needs are, writing groups need not include only members from your own discipline – often, those from other disciplines can offer writing feedback that extend beyond substantive content, or they can suggest alternative perspectives which can be very helpful for cross-fertilizing with other fields.  Your university might even have a program led by a trained facilitator who will set up guidelines for a group.

- Intermix different types of deadlines

Sometimes deadlines for smaller projects can feed larger project deadlines by supporting substantive knowledge.  For example, if you are asked to write a dictionary entry or review a book related to your research topic, you now have the opportunity to distill your knowledge of existing literature.  Successful submission can set up conditions for entrainment – that is, meeting a small deadline might provide the impetus to pursue a larger deadline.  The tricky balance is not to take too many small projects at the expense of a larger one with a bigger impact.

- Use carrots and sticks

To meet deadlines, some colleagues have used carrots like a non-refundable vacation or moving to a new job.   A stick might be running out of funding – a “natural” end to a project.

- Work with collaborators

If you’re the type of scholar who prefers company, you might find that the stimulation of working interdependently with others is more appealing than working independently.  However, this can be a double-edged sword if the collaborators (or you) are overly optimistic about abilities to expend time.   Most likely these will involve frank conversations about authorship and responsibilities upfront, as well as adjustments along the way.

- Spend regular time with friends and family; participate in a hobby

Finally, some might feel tempted to eschew “distractions” until a big project is over.  However, scheduling in hobbies and regular downtime with friends and family – even a deceptively mundane task such as a walk with a pet – can help motivate scholars over the productivity hump.

Other resources

Randy Pausch’s recorded talk on time management

A handy guide to how research progresses (or not)

Add your recommendations to the comments…

Written by katherinechen

August 2, 2012 at 3:05 pm

online networks and sources of firm value

Why is Facebook valuable? As we’ve discussed before, we know it’s valuable, but we don’t know how valuable. The issue is that we know that advertisers are willing to pay, but we also know that estimated revenue per FB user is low (about $1.21 by one estimate).  If FB is valued in tens of billions, that’s way more than the couple of billion generated by users. Currently, FB is charging advertisers about $9.50 a user. Something ain’t right.

There’s more. The big selling feature is that FB has data volunteered by users, but FB doesn’t seem very adept at using this data to target ads. For example, I get Indiana targeted ads, some hobbies (online games), and generic ads for online colleges. Most of this could have been obtained from other websites. The ads don’t seem to exploit my networks much.

The best I can figure out is that social networking creates economic value for investors by the same mechanism that tv shows create value for networks. A social network is a form of entertainment, people just want to keep up with friends in an easy way and FB does that. So we watch our FB page like we watch a TV show. Enter the advertisers.

As long as FB maintains an easy to use interface, it will likely remain the social network leader, at least among US users. But this also means that FB’s market value will drop until it matches the relatively more modest income stream generated by users. That doesn’t mean FB is doomed to failure. It’s got a lock on it’s niche, which is huge, but for it to justify its utterly gigantic IPO, it’ll have to innovate in ways to create more value beyond allowing Internet addicts to post the cat meme of the day.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

July 30, 2012 at 12:01 am

facebook headlines vs. reality

A few minutes ago: “Facebook Q2 revenue increases 32 percent.” Then, in the text: “The world’s No.1 online social network reported a net loss of $157 million, or 8 cents a share.” Ouch.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

July 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm

an inconvenient truth about social science and humanities majors

First, I’d like to thank our July guests, Jenn Lena and Katherine Chen. We are blessed to have such accomplished friends. Second, I’m picking a fight with Jenn Lena, just because I can. Earlier this week, Jenn referred to an earlier discussion of college majors, where I argued that some students drift into social sciences and humanities because they are easier and that this means that these students have less academic ability. Jenn called this view bonkers.

I may be bonkers, but I’ve got some evidence. But first, a few qualifiers. People may think I hate the humanities or that I think poets are dumb. Quite the opposite. I am impressed by the humanities. I think it requires enormous intellect to write great music or compose an insightful poem. Also, I freely admit that there a lot of folks in the arts who have high cognitive ability that’s on par with people in other fields. Doing great art is just as much of a challenge as solving a math problem.

But that still doesn’t mitigate the fact that the *average* social science or humanity major simply has less academic skill than the *average* science major. For example, consider this 2004 study from the Journal of Econometrics, Ability Sorting and Returns to the College Major by Peter Arcidiacono.  The paper analyzes labor market outcomes, SAT scores, and college major. The majors are sorted into natural science, social/science humanities, business & education. If you look at Table 2, the results are clear. The natural science majors had higher mean scores in both SAT math and verbal (!), though the verbal difference is small. The humanities/social sciences does about the same as business in math, but better in verbal. Education is dead last in both categories. These results are not atypical and common in the higher education literature.

There is also evidence about graduate students. Studies of GRE score by major, once again, show that sciences do better than humanities/arts/social sciences in math, and there are many science fields that do better than the humanities & arts in verbal GRE. Once again, education and some types of business, don’t do well.

Bottom line: On the average, science students are the best in terms of math, reading, and vocabulary. On the average, education is rock bottom. The arts and social sciences are in the middle, but still consistently less than the sciences.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

July 13, 2012 at 12:01 am

recommendations for speedy journal reviews

Brendan Nyhan wrote a post on how to improve publication process. I’d like to focus on one recommendation. He had this idea about awarding credit to speedy or high quality reviewers. Get some points and you will be first in line for another high quality reviewer. This proposal, I think, should be fairly easy to implement.

  • Probably tough for a system across all journals, but it could easily be done for a group of journals that all use the same submission system, like Manuscript Central. Or maybe all journals at Chicago or Cambridge.
  • Each person who participates in Manuscript Central has a unique ID# attached to their email.
  • You start with 10 credit points.
  • You can add points by submitting paper reviews within 3 months. 1 point per review.
  • You lose 1 point for a declined review, reviews that never show up, 0r short, useless reviews. Your review will be judged by the editor.
  • Half-credit for slow reviews.
  • Manuscript Central can regulate the flow of requests, so people aren’t penalized for being popular (e.g., maybe 2 a month).
  • No paper can be uploaded to Manuscript Central if any author has an email whose ID# has zero or less credit.

The system is simple and intuitive. I can’t imagine programming it would be hard. It also provides the right incentives. The system can be gamed a little (switching emails), but not much.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

July 10, 2012 at 12:01 am

why behaviorism isn’t satanism

Here’s a recent book chapter worth reading: “Why Behaviorism Isn’t Satanism.”


The history of comparative evolutionary psychology can be characterized, broadly speaking, as a series of reactions to Cartesian versus pragmatist views of the mind and behavior. Here, a brief history of these theoretical shifts is presented to illuminate how and why contemporary comparative evolutionary psychology takes the form that it does. This brings to the fore the strongly cognitivist research emphasis of current evolutionary comparative research, and the manner in which alternative accounts based on learning theory and other behaviorist principles generally receive short shrift. I attempt to show why many of these criticisms of alternative accounts are unjustified, that cognitivism does not constitute the radical lurch away from behaviorism that many imagine, and that an alternative “embodied and embedded” view of cognition—itself developing in reaction to the extremes of cognitivism—reaches back to a number of behaviorist philosophical principles, including the rejection of a separation between brain and body, and between the organism and environment.

Key Words: animal, cognition, behavior, cognitivism, behaviorism, evolution, learning, psychology

Written by teppo

June 19, 2012 at 5:48 pm

great book reviews over at mobilizing ideas

Written by fabiorojas

June 10, 2012 at 12:01 am

i ain’t paying $99 for no damn orgtheory book, even though my buds peter and nicolai wrote it

Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm is $99 at Amazon, and my library has not ordered a copy. I don’t own a Kindle since it won’t accept books, like the Grad Skool Rulz, from independent distributors. How might a man on a sociologist’s salary get a copy of this fine volume?

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

June 4, 2012 at 12:01 am

bill roy’s other comment on jenn lena’s book

Previous discussion of Banding Together: Part 1, Part 2, Bill Roy’s comments, Brayden’s comments

Bill Roy gave me permission to post this comment and illustration: ” Trajectories, of course, apply to individuals as well as genres.  The comparison of musical trajectories to other artistic trajectories is very promising.  I have played around with trajectories of musical careers in the 78 rpm era (before 1950).  Career trajectories also include output—how many songs a performer records.  If you examine the number of songs performers record relative to their first recording, the overall picture is one of decline.  The great majority of musicians record only once. Year 1=2 (A and B sides of a record), and all subsequent years=0.  Artists who record more than once peak early, then decline.  What is especially interesting is that those who eventually record many songs (hundreds) look no different in their second or third year.  They peak later, then decline at a slower rate.  If you compare groups with different levels of life-time productivity, the initial curves are nearly identical.  This is illustrated in this figure:  The x axis is the number of years relative to an artist’s first record.  The y axis is the average number of songs in that year (a different metric should be used because the distribution approximates a pareto distribution, but I’m just beginning the analysis).  The different lines are different levels of life time productivity.  Of course, there is right censoring.”

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

April 25, 2012 at 12:02 am

enclothed cognition: clothes and perception

Adam Galinsky’s recent work and experiment on clothing and perceptions of cognition have been getting lots of attention. Here’s the New York Times piece – “Mind games: Sometimes a white coat isn’t just a white coat.”  And, the ABC News story – “Clothes make the man and career.”

Here’s the paper (with Hajo Adam) in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, “Enclothed Cognition.

(Sorry, Fabio, I don’t think the untucked shirt + Fanny Pack look gets you any extra cognition points.  But I could be wrong.)

Written by teppo

April 8, 2012 at 5:16 am

open innovation, a primer by joel west

Here’s Joel West giving a primer (at Berkeley) on open and user innovation.

Written by teppo

April 2, 2012 at 8:29 pm

all the art in the world

The European Art Foundation released a report that estimates the total volume of the global fine arts trade. They surveyed auction houses, consultants, and deals to get an estimate. Doesn’t sound like they focused on crafts and low  status art. Total? $60.8 billion. Roughly speaking every person on earth chips in about $10 for fine art. Obviously, some chip in more than others.

Other facts:

  • global art commerce ($60bn) is a less than 10% of the total US defense budget ($739bn)
  • there’s a ton of auctioneers dealing in the super hot Chinese art market
  •  the average high art item is sold for about $1,2000
  • London and New York account for 60% of the total.

Interesting reading.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

March 30, 2012 at 12:02 am

lena book forum – part 1: people get together and make stuff

Jenn Lena’s new book, Banding Together, takes on a major issue in the sociology of culture – how people organize so that they can make culture. In other words, music, or painting, or poetry, just doesn’t appear out of nowhere. There’s usually a community of people who create the music.

Of course, Jenn Lena isn’t the first to make this observation. Howard Becker has a well known book called “Art Worlds,” which describes the world of visual arts, with its gate keepers and taste makers. However, the sociology of cultural production wasn’t terribly well developed in the years after Becker’s work. During the 1980s and 1990s, “culture” took on a different meaning in sociology. It didn’t mean cultural artifacts, it meant the cognitive aspects of behavior, the shared understandings that guide action and provide meaning to the world.

Still, a number of sociologists did continue plugging away at the question of how people came together to actually make stuff that was artistic or “cultural.” Richard Peterson wrote a highly influential book on the social construction of country music. More recently, we have studies of how artistic organizations persist (see Victoria Johnson’s book on operas) and how networks facilitate artistic work (see Gabriel Rossman’s work).

A follower and co-author of Petersen, Jenn Lena brings this literature to a new point. She asks a very simple, yet surprisingly neglected, question. What are the different ways that people get together to make music?

Here answer is intuitive and important. Music communities tend to take on one of four forms – traditional (e.g., think folk music); commercial; avant-garde; and scene based. These forms can mutate into one another and Jenn spends a lot of time describing how that happens. Each type of music community (“genre” in her words) has it’s own type of organizations and networks.

It’s a rich book that pushes the study of markets and culture in the right direction and I think its models can be extended. Next week, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of music production and talk about how the model might be applied to other examples of cultural production.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

March 29, 2012 at 12:47 am

getting big stuff done: is this an organizational problem?

I’m a sucker for nutty futurist speculations.  So bear with me on this one.

A few nights ago I was watching Neal Stephenson’s talk on “getting big stuff done,” where he bemoans the lack of aggressive technological progress in the past forty or so years.  There’s obviously some debate about this, though he makes some good points.  He raises the question of why, for example, we haven’t yet built a 20km tall building despite the fact that it appears to be technologically very feasible with extant materials.  Nutty.  But an interesting question.  From a sci-fi writer.

Stephenson ends his talk on an organizational note and asks:

What is going on in the financial and management worlds that has caused us to narrow our scope and reduce our ambitions so drastically?

I like that question.  Even if you think that ambitions have not been lowered, I think all of us would like to see the big problems of the world addressed more aggressively.  (Unless one subscribes to the Leibnizian view that we live in the “best of all possible [organizational] worlds.”)  Surely organization theory is central to this.  This is particularly true in cases where technologies and solutions for big problems seemingly already exist – but it is the social technologies and organizational solutions that appear to be sub-optimal.  So, how can more aggressive forms of collective action and organizational performance be realized?   I don’t see org theorists really wrestling with these types of questions, systematically anyways.  It would be great to see some more wide-eyed speculation about the organizational forms and theories that perhaps might facilitate more aggressive technological, social and human progress.

I can see several reasons for why organization theorists don’t engage with these types of, “futurist” questions.  First, theories of organization tend to lag practice.  That is, organizational scholars describe and explain the world (in its current or past state), though they don’t often engage in speculative forecasting (about possible future states).  Second, many of the organizational sub-fields suited for wide-eyed speculation are in a bit of a lull, or they represent small niches.  For example, organization design isn’t a super “hot” area these days (certainly with exceptions) — despite its obvious importance.  Institutional and environmental theories of organization have taken hold in many parts, and agentic theories are often seen as overly naive.  Environmental and institutional theories of course are valuable, but they delimit and are incremental, and are perhaps just self-fulfilling and thus may not always be practically helpful for thinking about the future.

That’s my (very speculative) two cents.

Written by teppo

March 5, 2012 at 1:06 am

wikipedia blackout and SOPA

Despite its many problems, I use wikipedia, a lot.  Too much.  Sure enough, just now I tried to dig something up – and got the wikipedia blackout page.  Given the blackout-  where will we quickly read up on SOPA (or whatever else)?

The SOPA thing is a complicated matter – a fascinating tension between protecting intellectual property and free speech.  At the extreme – should online sites like Pirate Bay (free movies, music and books) be allowed to operate freely?  Few people say “yes” to that one (including Jimmy Wales), so the questions emerge in the gray areas. But SOPA itself is a mess, no question.

Written by teppo

January 18, 2012 at 5:55 am

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

scholastica, an iniative to change academic publishing

We all have gripes about the publishing process.  Scholastica is a cool initiative by set of grad students at the University of Chicago to take the pain out of academic publishing.  Specifically, “Scholastica makes it easy to create and manage peer reviewed journals online by streamlining administrative tasks and helping you find enthusiastic, qualified reviewers.”

Definitely a worthy cause!  Be sure to check Scholastica out.

Written by teppo

December 21, 2011 at 11:20 pm peer-reviewing the internet is an ambitious project to peer-review the internet.  The project was recently featured on kickstarter - and it successfully raised $100,000+ for the effort.  The site “will enable sentence-level critique of written words combined with a sophisticated yet easy-to-use model of community peer-review.”  Cool.  I think orgtheory already has a system for this type of peer review — readers and co-bloggers who aren’t afraid to challenge posts in the comments – but an open peer-review overlay of the Internet is ambitious.

The effort will inevitably run into lots of fascinating, epistemological issues: what indeed counts as truth, what is expertise (particularly when there are divergent opinions), how are disputes reconciled, the role of social consensus versus logic or proof, etc.  The effort should be fun to follow.

Written by teppo

December 4, 2011 at 11:56 pm

how do performance artists make money?


Merchandising!!!! From artifno:

How do artists with ephemeral work get paid?

The simplest answer is that they usually don’t. The key to a lucrative art career is — no surprises here — to produce something that has some sort of material worth. Most performances have negligible market value because they are not easily corralled into a permanent object… It could be argued that Matthew Barney, one of the most successful artists working today, has engineered his market entirely from these aesthetic epiphenomena, with the films documenting his performances, the props persisting as sculpture, and sketches being sold as art objects. Then there is the relatively new phenomenon — arising, in part, from gala culture — of the performance commission, where the most famous practitioners are paid to create spectacles for elite crowds.

Basically, artists make money from the rich dood equivalent of lunch boxes and action figures dolls.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

December 3, 2011 at 12:03 am

using mechanical turk for research

Perspectives on Psychological Science has a short piece on using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk as a subject pool: “Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: A New Source for Inexpensive, Yet High-Quality, Data?”

As Google Scholar shows, Mechanical Turk is being used in lots of clever ways.

Mechanical Turk has been called a digital sweatshop.  Here are two perspectives – an Economic Letters piece: “The condition of the Turking class: Are online employers fair and honest?”   And, a piece calling for intervention: “Working the crowd: Employment and labor law in the crowdsourcing industry.”

Here’s the Mechanical Turk page.  Here are some research-related tasks that you can get paid for.

Written by teppo

November 25, 2011 at 12:52 am

citizen science: crowdsourcing observation, data and coding

@viil linked to a Boston Herald article that talks about how crowdsourcing is changing science.  Lots of cool initiatives going on related to “citizen science” — for example, check out and and (very cool, including iPhone app to help catalogue species).

Here’s David Kirsch’s previous post on a citizen science for organization studies and other orgtheory crowdsourcing posts.

Written by teppo

November 19, 2011 at 11:51 pm

google scholar citations

As some may already have seen, Google Scholar Citations is now open to all.  Basically you can put up your own google scholar page, edit it with various details (home page, co-authors, etc), compute various stats, etc.  I’m guessing the functionality will increase over time.

Here are some examples of people’s google scholar pages – James Heckman, Howard Aldrich, Stanley Ambrose, Paul Dirac.  And – orgtheory’s very own Omar Lizardo.

If you are interested, it just takes a second to set up (and make public, or not).

Written by teppo

November 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm

prezi for academic presentations?

I have played around a bit with Prezi, the whizbang presentation software that Tedsters, Hans Rosling (actually, here’s GapMinder) and other cool people use.

Some quick takes on Prezi.

The positives:

  • visual focus
  • nice macro layouts and views
  • cloud-desktop interface very handy
  • sure to impress some audiences
  • quite easy to use
  • big bonus: the company is very nice to educators – you can download a free desktop version (with 500MB of memory)
  • relatively easy to “Prezify” old keynote or powerpoint slides – I converted some old slides and it was seamless (though, you have to go from pdf to Prezi – which creates within-slide limitations)
  • some cool collaboration options (haven’t tried them though)
  • handles images beautifully


  • gimmicky
  • very gimmicky
  • remember that first 1995 presentation you saw with slide transitions, you know, where the presenter proudly smirked with each transition – Prezi feels like that (I  saw someone present with Prezi and the emphasis clearly was on the fact that the presenter was using Prezi, not the content)
  • shoot me if someone pulls up with their iPad2 and plugs in a Prezi – though the cloud might obviate that

I’ll probably be using Prezi in some settings (BTW: you can explore Prezi presentations here).  It has some nice features.

Though, in terms of teaching, I’ve tried to move away from more than one slide per each class (I’m a chalkboard kinda guy these days), so perhaps not for class.  I have a gazillion slides for any given class but I prefer to talk through the issues.  For academic presentations, I think simplicity is good.  Whizbang just distracts (though, the whizbang factor can also be dialed down in Prezi as well).  I’ll probably stick with good ol’ keynote, google and/or ppt – until further notice.

I’m still wondering - what makes for a good academic presentation?  For now, it seems that the research question, idea itself and you have to shine.  If the technology distracts, then that is a problem.

Written by teppo

November 14, 2011 at 6:27 am

evolution of sociality

The most recent issue of Nature has a piece on the stepwise evolution of stable sociality in primates.

Although much attention has been focused on explaining and describing the diversity of social grouping patterns among primates1, 2, 3, less effort has been devoted to understanding the evolutionary history of social living4. This is partly because social behaviours do not fossilize, making it difficult to infer changes over evolutionary time. However, primate social behaviour shows strong evidence for phylogenetic inertia, permitting the use of Bayesian comparative methods to infer changes in social behaviour through time, thereby allowing us to evaluate alternative models of social evolution. Here we present a model of primate social evolution, whereby sociality progresses from solitary foraging individuals directly to large multi-male/multi-female aggregations (approximately 52 million years (Myr) ago), with pair-living (approximately 16 Myr ago) or single-male harem systems (approximately 16 Myr ago) derivative from this second stage. This model fits the data significantly better than the two widely accepted alternatives (an unstructured model implied by the socioecological hypothesis or a model that allows linear stepwise changes in social complexity through time). We also find strong support for the co-evolution of social living with a change from nocturnal to diurnal activity patterns, but not with sex-biased dispersal. This supports suggestions that social living may arise because of increased predation risk associated with diurnal activity. Sociality based on loose aggregation is followed by a second shift to stable or bonded groups. This structuring facilitates the evolution of cooperative behaviours5 and may provide the scaffold for other distinctive anthropoid traits including coalition formation, cooperative resource defence and large brains.

Written by teppo

November 10, 2011 at 6:34 am

how long is the optimal tenure clock?

I have heard that several schools have recently moved their tenure clocks back (from six to eight years).   Tenure clocks do vary significantly from university to university, from five-six years to ten or so years.

So, what is the “optimal” tenure clock?

A short clock seems to have some advantages.  Scholarly productivity can be evident early on, so a short clock perhaps makes sense. Perhaps a short clock instills an appropriate sense of urgency about publishing.   Though, I have seen several people not get tenure somewhere, move to a “higher-ranked” school and then get tenure shortly thereafter.  A longer clock gives scholars time to establish themselves further, to develop a reputation (citations are often used as a measure – and this takes time), etc. And, certain types of work (ethnographies) and certain types of publishing (books) can take quite long.

Of course, tenure clocks are used in different ways at different schools.  Some schools pride themselves on rejecting tenure candidates – so perhaps a short clock makes sense there.

Anyways – any thoughts, is there an optimal tenure clock?

Written by teppo

November 9, 2011 at 8:33 pm

#ows, the human microphone and hand signals

I’m sort of intrigued by the various innovations emerging from the Occupy Wallstreet Movement (I posted at strategyprofs about some of the tech ones, specifically apps).

One of the cooler, more low-tech innovations (ok, ok, these have been around for a long time – but still) is the use of the “human microphone” – note that the wiki entry was initiated just two weeks ago.  Occupy also has its own hand signals (and, check out the hand signals for consensus decision-making).  Cool.  Twinkles.

Here’s a hand signal tutorial:

Written by teppo

November 3, 2011 at 7:55 pm

diederik stapel

This case against social psychologist Diederik Stapel is something else.  Unbelievable.  Here’s the Science summary: Dutch ‘Lord of the Data Forged Dozens of Studies (including updates).

One of the updates is an English version of the formal case – including a response by Stapel at the end (pdf).  He promises to provide a longer response by Monday.

Written by teppo

November 3, 2011 at 1:36 am

joel baum is growing a mustache in movember

Joel Baum is growing a mustache in November.  It’s for a very good cause. He is crowdsourcing the style of mustache he’ll grow.  Any famous social theorists that Joel could emulate?

Be sure to contribute to the cause!  Joel is raising money for prostate cancer awareness.  He asked if I would, in solidarity, also grow a ‘stache in November.  I think I’ll contribute $ instead.

He’ll post pics and ‘stache updates on his “mo space.”  Here’s the email Joel sent (posted with permission).

Dear all –

I am about to embark on an epic, and historic journey.  Specifically, starting tomorrow (Nov 1), I will begin growing a mustache.  And, I will grow it until Nov 30.

It will not be pretty.  It will be grey.

It will not make me look any younger.  It will be itchy. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by teppo

October 31, 2011 at 9:26 pm


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 972 other followers