where do great theories come from?
If you are interested in this question, consider reading Great Minds in Management: The Process of Theory Development (Oxford University Press). In this edited book volume, a set of top minds were asked to talk about the origins of the theories that are attributed to them. So there is a chapter by Albert Bandura on Social Cognitive Theory, a chapter by Barry Staw on the escalation of commitment, a chapter by Jay Barney on the origins of the resource-based view, Karl Weick talks about sensemaking, Ed Freeman on stakeholder theory, Dick Scott on institutional theory, Oliver Williamson on transaction cost economics, Sid Winter talks about evolutionary economics, Jeff Pfeffer about resource-dependence, etc, etc.
No matter what your theoretical cookie is – the chapters are interesting (though I haven’t carefully read all of them). Some of the chapters are biographical, others talk about their own (often interdisciplinary) influences, some talk about the struggles of getting their work published (Barney’s RBV paper was rejected by top journals, he eventually accepted his own paper in a “lesser” journal — the article is now cited nearly 20,000 times), others offer “lessons” (Williamson: be disciplined, be interdisciplinary, have an active mind), etc.
In the epilogue the volume editors Ken Smith and Mike Hitt offer their thoughts on the process of theory development (summarized in the figure below).