Archive for the ‘strategy’ Category

shimer college and the puzzle of declining liberal arts colleges

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The Guardian recently ran an article about Shimer College, a tiny great books college in Chicago, Illinois. Originally, the authors wanted to know why it had been ranked so low by the Department of Education. The answer is that there is a fair amount of non-completion, people leave with debt, and they don’t get great jobs. Why? Shimer College takes all kinds of students and makes them go through this unique curriculum of great books for four years. It sounds like a wonderful institution, but not one that produces the “right numbers.” It’s also a college that is very close to closing due to extremely low enrollments.

When I finished reading the article, I realized that Shimer College represented a puzzle. Normally, in a large market, like higher education, we see an explosion of organizational forms catering to different market segments. And to some extent, that’s exactly what happened in higher ed. We have research schools, tribal colleges, cosmetology schools, and an army of biblical colleges. But the liberal arts sector keeps shrinking and shrinking. Is it really all that hard to find 200 people in a nation of 300 million that wants the free wheeling inquiry of Shimer College?

Here’s my solution to the issue. Start with the observation that there’s a negative association between price and risk tolerance. When college is cheap, people will try out all kinds of college experiences. As it becomes more expensive and tied to the labor market, there is a huge pressure for conformity. You get diversity when there is a strong social identity supporting an institution (e.g., ethnicity or religion) or when students simply can’t be shoe horned into existing structures (e.g., cosmetology students don’t need football stadiums). Thus, liberal arts schools exist only for a market segment that (a) needs the four year credential, (b) really, really doesn’t want the standard package offered by the big universities, and (c) has the cash to pay for such a specialized service. You also have some liberal arts schools that are bankrolled by others (e.g., Deep Springs or Berea). You probably get down to a few thousand students per year at most and there is stiff competition for their money. And as prices keep going up, the market gets smaller.

So yes, there are probably tons of students who would love the liberal arts education, but not many who would pay the full sticker price. I hope that people can create a model where you bring people back to this type of education at a more reasonable price.

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


Written by fabiorojas

December 15, 2014 at 3:15 am

q&a with hahrie han: part 1


This week, we are having a Q&A with our recent guest blogger, Hahrie Han. She is a political scientist at Wellesley College and has a new book out on the topic of how organizations sustain the participation of their members called How Organizations Develop Activists. If you want, put any questions you may have in the comments.

How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century

By Hahrie Han (@hahriehan)

Question 1. Can you summarize, for the readers of this blog, your new book’s main argument? How do you prove that?

 The book begins by asking why some organizations are better than others at getting (and keeping) people involved in activism than others. All over the world, there are myriad organizations, campaigns, and movements trying to get people to do everything from signing petitions to showing up for meetings to participating in protest. Some are better than others. Why?

To answer this question, I wanted to look particularly at what the organization does. There are so many factors that affect an organization’s ability to engage activists that the organization itself cannot control. What about the things it can control? Do they matter? So I set up a study of two national organizations working in health and environmental politics that also had state and local chapters operating relatively autonomously. I created matched pairs of these local chapters that were working in the same kinds of communities, and attracted the same kinds of people to the organization. But, they differed in their ability to cultivate activism. By examining differences among organizations in each pair, I could see what the high-engagement organizations did differently. I also ran some field experiments to test the ideas that emerged.

I found that the core factor distinguishing the high-engagement organizations was the way they engaged people in activities that transformed their sense of individual and collective agency. Just like any other organization, these organizations wanted to get more people to do more stuff, but they did it in a way that cultivated their motivations, developed their skills, and built their capacity for further activism. Doing so meant that high-engagement organizations used distinct strategies for recruiting, engaging, and supporting volunteers, which I detail in the book. By combining this kind of transformational organizing with a hard-nosed focus on numbers, they were able to build the breadth and depth of activism they wanted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

November 18, 2014 at 12:01 am

ukraine, finland, and russia

It has recently been revealed that Russian/separatist forces are taking more territory in the Ukraine. What to do? There are few good options. Russia is so massive compared to neighbors. But history does have one example of semi-successful defense from Russian/Soviet incursion – the Winter War of 1940, when Finland resisted (sort of) a Soviet invasion.

Organizationally, the issue is that the Finns were simply outnumbered and had to build a new strategy to deal with that fact. The solution was to (a) exploit the geography, (b) come up with innovative tactics, and (c) preserve your own while maximizing enemy casualties. For example, the Finnish air force developed the novel tactics where they would refuse to defend and focus on attack; novel mining techniques (Finns learned how to put mines in frozen lakes); hijacking radio frequencies and misdirecting Soviet planes; and exploiting the Finnish geography with well placed garrisons and snipers.

The legacy of the Finnish war is ambiguous. According to the wiki, they inflicted massive casualties on the Soviets, forcing a settlement. But still, the Finns suffered enormous losses. Helsinki was bombed. Almost a thousand civilians died, nearly 26,000 soldiers perished in a short three month war. The Finns also saw, as the Ukrainians do today, that there is limited help from the rest of the world.

The lesson is hard to extract. Finnland’s Winter War is the best outcome among many wars of aggression on the Russian border. Perhaps it would be better to do as the Georgians did and try to minimize the conflict. Regardless, the Ukraine is in for some very difficult times.

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

Written by fabiorojas

September 5, 2014 at 12:01 am

the islamic state’s leadership style

The Small Wars Journal has an article on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. Written by Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, it should be of interest to any scholar interested in leadership. The basic question is how the Islamic State suddenly defeated two states on their home turf. Anderson lays out the basics:

  1. Unlike most Arab armies, there is a great deal of trust among the leaders and soldiers. Fighters are sorted into units based on language and nationality. al-Baghdadi does not micro-manage and instead trusts commanders to achieve well specified goals.
  2. Social media: He uses the Genghis Khan technique – kill a few folks and show the bodies to the public via Twitter. Surrender ensues.
  3. Self-financing: Focuses on goals that well help finance the next round. Banks, oils fields, utilities. It’s the “live off the land model” updated. The Islamic state is also good at selecting which captured resources will be useful. Tanks are bad (slow, susceptible to air power). Bulldozers are good (they tear down weak Iraqi fortifications).
  4. A return to maneuver warfare: Since Arabic armies don’t have cohesion or trust, they can’t move well. They sit and shoot. In contrast, IS forces move well, aim at weak points, and retreat when they encounter a “surface” (military term for a well supported force).

Except for terror, IS is simply employing the tactics that Western forces are good at but Arab forces can’t use.

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

Written by fabiorojas

August 27, 2014 at 12:00 am

how field theory can inform strategy research

The field of strategy research could learn something from field theory. Ed Walker and I make this point in a forthcoming paper, “Winning hearts and minds: Field theory and the three dimensions of strategy,” now published online at the journal Strategic Organization.  We argue that strategy researchers too narrowly conceptualizes strategy, focusing almost exclusively on financial performance and ignoring firms’ (or elites’) motivations to attain status and power. When strategy scholars pay attention to status they usually only do so as an independent variable – a precursor to financial performance. Field theory forces us, we think, to consider the broader struggles for control and dominance that propel firms, elites, and other actors to take action. Shaping public perceptions is one of the main ways in which social actors improve their status and attain more power, and so an important component of strategy involves actively managing impressions – i.e., what people think and how they feel about key issues and actors.

Strategy research—and to some degree social movement theory as well—portrays organizations as resource-accumulating machines. The ultimate measure of success is financial performance. Another way to conceptualize organizations is as social actors whose primary function is to manage the impressions and perceptions of their various audiences. Their ultimate goal is to maintain positions of dominance. Resource accumulation depends on the ability of an organization to gain favorability and esteem. Shaping public perceptions about why one organization deserves favor is key, then, to long-term survival. But there exists an alternative and more long-term rationale for shaping public perceptions: for organizations to gain positions of prominence and power in society, they must be able to influence the rules of the game and the cultural norms and belief systems that shape who wins and who does not…

What role does strategy have in this conflict-ridden view of the world? In our estimation, strategy can be conceptualized as having three dimensions. We take inspiration from the ideas of Max Weber (1922 [1978]) in his classic essay on “Class, Status, and Party” in order to understand the features of strategy. We argue that strategy research has focused almost exclusively on financial performance (“class,” in Weber’s resource-based view of economic positions) and management’s role in shaping it. However, Weber’s conceptualization suggests that firms ought to be at least as concerned with prestige or esteem (“status”) or on the relative leverage of various stakeholders and policymakers upon firms’ actions (“party”). ..

[W]e find three major limitations in strategy research. First, it is far too focused upon firm performance at the expense of understanding strategic elements of relative status and sources of power/vulnerability. Second, its perspective is often far too short term and does not pay enough attention to all three of the aforementioned aspects of strategy, especially in the context of the “long game” of business maneuvering. Third, it downplays the extent to which businesses’ capacities for accumulating resources, maintaining reputations, and obtaining political leverage are all subject to conflict with other actors whose own relative position depends on their ability to convince the public of their alternative ideologies and worldviews.

In the paper we talk more about research focused on political influence, in particular, ought to shift away from the specialty areas of “nonmarket strategy” or “political strategy” and move to the forefront of strategy research.

Written by brayden king

April 14, 2014 at 2:22 pm

gender quotas and boards of directors

Siri Ann Terjesen is an assistant professor of management and international business at Indiana University. She is an entreprenuership researcher and she also does work on supply chains and related issues. This guest post addresses gender and management.

I am hoping that orgtheory readers can offer some new theoretical angles for a relatively new phenomenon: national legislation to set gender quotas (usually of 33%-40%) for boards of directors, usually with a short time horizon (3-5 years) and targeted to publicly-traded but also state-owned enterprises. The first country to adopt a gender board quota was Norway, in December 2003- setting a 40% quota for state-owned firms by 2006 and for publicly-traded firms by 2008. Since then, ten countries have implemented quotas (Spain, Finland, Quebec in Canada for SOEs, Israel, Iceland, Kenya for SOEs, France, Italy for SOEs, and Belgium) and another 16 have softer ‘comply or explain’ legislation. The mandatory quotas have potentially tremendous impact at multiple levels: from individuals’ careers and ambitions to creating new boardroom composition and dynamics, to challenging targeted firms to establish greater levels of female leadership at the board level, and providing an example for other countries. I recently surveyed the fast-growing academic literature on gender board quotas (about 80 articles, book chapters, working papers, and conference papers, all in the last 7 years, most in the last 2 years) and it is generally a-theoretical with the exception of some work on institutional theory and path dependency (as antecedents and inputs to the process of legislation) and a little bit on tokenism (back to Kanter’s 15% in 1977). Dear readers, any thoughts for promising theoretical perspectives?

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

Written by fabiorojas

February 12, 2014 at 12:01 am

why intro is the most important course you may ever teach

Scatter has a great post on why we need to treat the Introduction to Sociology course with great importance by Nathan Palmer:

The 101 class is the public face of our discipline. Every year there are roughly a million students in the United States who take Soc 101, that is, if my publisher friends’ estimates are to be believed. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, 101 will be their only exposure to our discipline. Sure, they might hear about our research findings in the media, but chances are they’ll have no idea that it was a sociologist who produced the research.

…How do the faculty in your department think about 101? Is it something to be avoided like the plague? Is it a hazing ritual that you put newbs through so that senior faculty can get to teach their “real classes” (i.e. their upper division classes within their area of interest)?


First, it matters because the introductory classes serve as the on ramp to the major. As reported by in their forth coming book How College Works, Chambliss and Takacs find that,

Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.

Second, it matters because of Krulak’s law which posits, “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.”[2] Put simply, if the 101 class is the frontline of sociology, then the 101 teacher is the ambassador for us all.

Read the whole thing.

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

Written by fabiorojas

January 30, 2014 at 12:09 am


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