Archive for the ‘business schools’ Category

extended q & a with daniel beunza about taking the floor: models, morals, and management in a wall st. trading room

Following 9/11, Wall St. firms struggled to re-establish routines in temporary offices.  Many financial firms subsequently made contingency plans by building or renting disaster recovery sites.   As we see now,  these contingency plans relied upon certain assumptions that did not anticipate current pandemic conditions:

The coronavirus outbreak threw a wrench into the continuity planning that many Wall Street companies had put in place since at least the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those plans were largely built around the idea that if trading at a bank headquarters was knocked off-line, groups of traders would decamp to satellite trading floors outside the radius of whatever disaster had befallen New York. But those plans quickly became unworkable, given the dangers of infections from coronavirus for virtually all office work that puts people close to one another.

“This is really not the disaster that they had planned for,” said Daniel Beunza, a business professor at the City University of London, who has studied and recently written a book on bank trading floor culture.


Just in time for us to understand the importance of face-to-face proximity in the workplace, Beunza has a new book Taking the Floor: Models, Morals, and Management in a Wall Street Trading Room (2019, Princeton University Press) based on years of ethnographic observation. Beunza kindly agreed to an extended Q&A about his research.

Q: “Chapter 1 of your book describes how you were able to gain access to an organization, after two failed attempts.  Quinn, a classmate, offers to introduce you to a former co-worker of his from finance: Bob, now the head of a derivatives trading floor at International Securities.  You meet with Bob and observe activities, where you realize that the trading floor no longer looks or sounds like prior literature’s depictions.  After this first meeting, you send over “sanitized” field notes about your first visit (p. 32), and you meet again with Bob, who has even read and reflected on these field notes. This second meeting to go over your initial impressions starts a longer relationship between yourself and this unit of International Securities [a pseudonym].  You have your own desk on the floor, where you can write down notes​.  

In subsequent years, after the bulk of your field research ends, you invite Bob to come as a guest speaker in your Columbia Business School classes.  Your book recounts how bringing in Bob not only offers the MBA finance students perspective on their desired field of employment, but might also smooth over student-professor relations, especially since teaching evaluations matter.  Afterwards, Bob comments on the students’ late arrivals to class and how he handled the equivalent in his workplace, helping you to understand divergences in your respective approaches to relationships and organizations. 

In chapter 8, your book describes your interview with Peter, an executive who had worked with Bob at International Securities.  Peter describes how most Wall Streeters might react to researchers’ requests for access:

“Bob is a curious dude.  He reads a lot.  He befriended you because he was curious. Most guys on Wall Street would say, ‘Oh, another academic from Columbia?  Thank you very much.  Goodbye.  I don’t have time for you.  You’re going to teach me a new algorithm? You’re going to teach me something big?  Okay.  Come in and sit down.  And I’ll pay you, by the way.’  But a sociologist?  ‘Wrong person on my trading floor.  A desk?  No.  You’re crazy.  Go away.’ So Bob has those qualities, and many of the people you see here have those qualities” (p. 168).

Peter’s comment, along with your observations, also offers a colleague’s assessment of Bob’s management style.  Rather than relying on money as an incentive or fear as a motivation, Bob hires people ‘who were a little different,’ and he cultivates relationships by spending time with employees during work hours in supportive and subtle ways, according to Peter.  (Elsewhere, your book notes that this does not extend to colleagues having drinks outside of work – a way that other organizations can cultivate informal relations.)  

 Your book argues that such practices, when coupled with clearly communicated values delineating permissible and impermissible actions, constitute “proximate control.” Such efforts can check potential “model-based moral disengagement” where parties focus on spot transactions over longer-term relationships; this focus can damage banks’ viability and legitimacy.  In other words, your book posits that face-to-face contact can channel decisions and actions, potentially reigning in the damaging unknown unknowns that could be unleashed by complex financial models.

 First, the content question:

These analyses remind me of older discussions about managerial techniques (notably, Chester Barnard, who built upon Mary Parker Follet’s ideas) and mantras (Henri Fayol’s span of control), as well as more recent ones about corporate culture.  Indeed, your book acknowledges that Bob’s “small village” approach may seem “retro” (p. 170).

That said, your book underscores how people and organizations still benefit from face-to-face connection and interdependency.  Some workplaces increasingly de-emphasize these aspects, as work has become virtually mediated, distributed, asynchronous, etc.  Why and how does it matter so much more now?  How are these findings applicable beyond the financial sector​?”

Beunza: “Face-to-face connections are crucial, but I should add that the perspective coming out of the book is not a luddite rejection of technology. The book makes a sharp distinction between valuation and control. The use of models to value securities is in many ways a more advanced and more legitimate way of pursing advantage on Wall Street than alternatives such as privileged information.

However, the use of models for the purpose of control raises very serious concerns about justice in the organization. Employees are quickly offended with a model built into a control tool penalizes them for something they did correctly, or allows for gaming the system. If perceptions of injustice become recurring, there is a danger that employees will morally disengage at work, that is, no longer feel bad when they breach their own moral principles. At that point, employees lose their own internal moral constraints, and become free to pursue their interests, unconstrained. That is a very dangerous situation.

I would argue this is applicable to all attempts at mechanistically controlling employees, including other industries such as the Tech sector, and not-for-profit sectors such as academia. Some of the warmest receptions of my book I have seen are by academics in the UK, who confront a mechanistic Research Assessment Exercise that quantifies the value of their research output.”

Q: “Second, the reflexivity question:

Did you anticipate how Bob’s visit to your Columbia Business School classroom might provide additional insight into your own “management” [facilitation?] style and your research regarding financial models and organizations?  How have research and teaching offered synergistic boosts to respective responsibilities?  How do such cross-over experiences – discussing issues that arise in researcher’s organizations, which probably constitute “extreme” cases in some dimensions – help with developing organizational theory?”

Beunza: “Back in 2007, I had a diffuse sense that I would learn something of significance when inviting Bob to my classroom, but was not sure what. Before I saw him, I suspected that my original view of him as a non-hierarchical, flat-organization type of manager might not quite be entirely accurate, as a former colleague of him said he was a “control freak.” But I had no way of articulating my doubts, or take them forward. His visit proved essential in that regard. As soon as he showed up and established authority with my unruly students, I understood there was something I had missed in my three years of fieldwork. And so I set out to ask him about it.

More generally, my teaching was instrumental in understanding my research. MBA students at Columbia Business School did not take my authority for granted. I had to earn it by probing, questioning, and genuinely illuminating them. So, I develop a gut feeling for what authority is and feels like. This helped me understand that asking middle managers to abdicate their decisions in a model (which is what the introduction of quantitative risk management entailed in the late 90s) is a fundamental challenge to the organization.”

Q: “This, a methods question:

Peter’s comment underscores what Michel Anteby (2016) depicts as “field embrace” – how an organization welcomes a researcher – as opposed to denying or limiting access.  Anteby notes how organizations react to researchers’ requests to access is a form of data.  How did Bob’s welcoming you and continued conversations over the years shed additional insight into your phenomena?”

Beunza: “Anteby is right that the bank’s form of embrace is data. Indeed, I could not quite understand why International Securities embraced my presence in the early 2000s until 2015, when Bob laid out for me the grand tour of his life and career, and allowed me to understand just how much of an experiment the trading floor I had observed was. Bob truly needed someone to witness what he had done, react back to it, accept or challenge the new organization design. And this was the most fundamental observation of the research process – the one that motivates the book. My entire book is an answer to one question, “how did Bob’s experiment perform?” that I could only pose once I understood why he had embraced my presence.”

————– Read more after the jump ———— Read the rest of this entry »


Appetite for Innovation: Creativity & Change at elBulli (To be published by Columbia University Press on July 12, 2016)

How is it possible for an organization to systematically enact changes in the larger system of which it is part? Using Ferran Adria’s iconic restaurant “elBulli” as an example of organizational creativity and radical innovation, Appetite for Innovation examines how Adria’s organization was able to systematically produce breakthroughs of knowledge within its field and, ultimately, to stabilize a new genre or paradigm in cuisine – the often called “experimental,” “molecular,” or “techno-emotional” culinary movement.

Recognized as the most influential restaurant in the world, elBulli has been at the forefront of the revolution that has inspired the gastronomic avant-garde worldwide. With a voracious appetite for innovation, year after year, Adrià and his team have broken through with new ingredients, combinations, culinary concepts and techniques that have transformed our way of understanding food and the development of creativity in haute cuisine.

Appetite for Innovation is an organizational study of the system of innovation behind Adrià’s successful organization. It reveals key mechanisms that explain the organization’s ability to continuously devise, implement and legitimate innovative ideas within its field and beyond. Based on exclusive access to meetings, observations, and interviews with renowned professionals of the contemporary gastronomic field, the book reveals how a culture for change was developed within the organization; how new communities were attracted to the organization’s work and helped to perpetuate its practice, and how the organization and its leader’s charisma and reputation were built and maintained over time. The book draws on examples from other fields, including art, science, music, theatre and literature to explore the research’s potential to inform practices of innovation and creativity in multiple kinds of organizations and industries.

The research for Appetite for Innovation was conducted when Adria’s organization was undergoing its most profound transformation, from a restaurant to a research center for innovation, “elBulli foundation”.  The book, therefore, takes advantage of this unique moment in time to retrace the story of a restaurant that became a legend and to explore underlying factors that led to its reinvention in 2011 into a seemingly unparalleled organizational model.

Appetite for Innovation is primarily intended to reach and be used by academic and professionals from the fields of innovation and organizations studies. It is also directed towards a non-specialist readership interested in the topics of innovation and creativity in general. In order to engage a wider audience and show the fascinating world of chefs and the inner-workings of high-end restaurants, the book is filled with photographs of dishes, creative processes and team’s dynamics within haute cuisine kitchens and culinary labs. It also includes numerous diagrams and graphs that illustrate the practices enacted by the elBulli organization to sustain innovation, and the networks of relationships that it developed over time. Each chapter opens with an iconic recipe created by elBulli as a way of illustrating the book’s central arguments and key turning points that enable the organization to gain a strategic position within its field and become successful.

To find a detailed description of the book please go to:

Also, included Appetite for Innovation in its list of 17 books recommended for “creative leaders” to read this summer:




Written by M. Pilar Opazo

June 8, 2016 at 4:46 pm

where are all the anthropologists who do management research?

Alex Stewart and Howard Aldrich have published a thought-provoking piece about anthropologists and ethnography in management research.   In “Collaboration Between Management and Anthropology Researchers: Obstacles and Opportunities” in Academy of Management Perspectives, the authors discuss several ethnographies and the institutional environment of the business school.

While anthropologists are employed at corporations, the authors claim that anthropologists are underrepresented among management researchers:

“To document the limited business school market, we examined the doctoral disciplines of faculty in “top” business schools. We found 751 tenure track faculty members in management in the 44 schools that are listed in the “top 25” by at least one of Business Week, The Economist, Financial Times, or U.S. News. Of these faculty members, about 60% obtained their doctorate in management; 16 % did so in psychology; 10 % in economics; and 7 % in sociology; but only 0.1% — one person — in anthropology.” (174)

The authors posit 8 barriers to the inclusion of anthropologists:

“To explore the possible reasons for anthropology’s surprisingly small impact, we draw on recent writings on applied anthropology and the emerging fields of business anthropology and practicing anthropology. Scholars in these fields work on the boundary between management and anthropology and experience the benefits and challenges of an anthropological approach. On the basis of these readings, we identify eight properties of anthropological scholarship that might limit anthropology’s integration into management scholarship. These are: (1) expertise about the remote and exotic, (2) sympathy for the remote and the less powerful, (3) ethnography as a primary data source, (4) challenges of fieldwork access, (5) lengthy fieldwork duration, (6) a tendency to solo authorship, (7) complex, contextualized findings, and (8) a higher value placed on monographs than on journal articles.” (175)

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Written by katherinechen

July 18, 2015 at 6:51 pm

b-school profs read their worst evaluations

Brayden, willing to contribute?

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

March 24, 2015 at 12:01 am

do MBA’s actually become good managers?

Henry Mintzberg raises the hypothesis that business schools aren’t terribly good at training managers:

This is one question these centers of research do not study. We made an exception. A decade after its publication in 1990, I looked at a book called Inside the Harvard Business School, by David Ewing. (The first line was “The Harvard Business School is probably the most powerful private institution in the world.” Unfortunately he might have been right.) The book listed 19 Harvard alumni who “had made it to the top”—the school’s superstars as of 1990. My attention was drawn to a few people who would not have been on that list after 1990.

So Joseph Lampel and I studied the subsequent records of all 19. How did they do? In a word, badly. A majority, 10, seemed clearly to have failed, meaning that the company went bankrupt, they were forced out of the CEO chair, a major merger backfired, and so on. The performance of another 4 we found to be questionable at least. Some of these 14 CEOs built up or turned around businesses, prominently and dramatically, only to see them weaken or collapse just as dramatically.

Mintzberg also notes that few people seemed interested in his analysis. It’s like a medical school ignoring a study showing that all their graduates kills their patients.

My view on these findings is (a) I need some counter factuals – do non-MBA holders do any better? and (b) an assessment of selection effects – maybe at risk companies tend to over-recruit MBA’s in a desperate attempt to save the ship. Mintzberg is definitely onto something important. It is not entirely clear how a lot MBA training translates into making the tough decisions that CEO’s are often faced with.

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

Written by fabiorojas

December 18, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in business schools, fabio

thinning out orgtheory

Recently, Elizabeth and Brayden have drawn attention to the institutional position of organizational sociology. Three pertinent facts:

  1. A lot of organizational sociologists have moved to b-schools.
  2. The major orgtheory/b-school journal, ASQ, rarely publishes people in sociology programs.*
  3. The dominance of institutional theory

When I look at these trends, I see two things. One, orgtheory has market value. A low budget discipline like sociology simply won’t retain people. Two, I think there is a “thinning” that is occurring in orgtheory. While orgtheory remains vibrant, it is now, in sociology, a field that has jettisoned much of its heritage. Sociologists have gravitated toward big structural theories, like institutionalism, networks, and ecology (the big three, as Heather might say). But what happened to the rest? Why don’t sociologists care about Carnegie school theory? Why have people stopped working on Blau style middle level theory? Human relations?

The answer is not clear to me. One culprit might be the journal system. To succeed in sociology at the higher levels, you need fast publication in two or three journals and it’s probably easier to just work on well established variables/processes (diffusion/density/networks). I certainly did that and I freely admit that I’d be unemployed if I tried to hatch new variables. Second, there might simply be a new division of labor in academia. The “sociology of organizations” now simply means structural analysis. An “b-school orgtheory” means other features of orgs, like performance, that sociologists care less about.

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

* That didn’t have to be the case, Don.

Written by fabiorojas

June 12, 2014 at 12:14 am

sociologists in asq

So I was toying around with the “future of org theory” line of thought, and started thinking about the past of org theory instead, because that’s so much easier.

In my mind ASQ straddles sociology and business schools, or at least has, historically. I thought that ASQ used to publish a fair number of sociologists and now publishes fewer. I figured that was part of the decline-of-org-theory-in-soc story.

But when I took a look, it turned out (based on a limited, totally nonscientific sample) I had the story totally wrong. There were hardly any sociologists publishing in ASQ 20 years ago, either.

A little data, based on the author bio pages: The last four issues of ASQ had, collectively, 45 authors. One, Olav Sorensen, has a courtesy appointment in sociology. Three — Sorenson, Amanda Sharkey, and Brayden King — have soc PhDs but B-school appointments. That’s it for sociologists. Not all the rest are at B-schools, but they’re not in soc departments either.

But. Ten years ago, in 2003-04, ASQ had 34 authors. Not one was appointed solely to a soc department. Two had a joint appointment in sociology and something else, and one a courtesy appointment in soc. Six (including the joint/courtesy appointments) held sociology PhDs.

Okay, I thought. I’m just not going far back enough. The decline of sociologists took place earlier, maybe in the late 90s. So I looked at 1993-94.

Nope. No dice. 36 authors. 1 with a sociology appointment, 1 with a joint appointment in sociology. Three soc PhDs.

That’s where I stopped, since it was getting time-consuming, though I’m curious if another decade would have made a difference.

I suppose on the one hand this shouldn’t be so surprising. I mean, “Administrative Science” kind of gives it away: not a sociology journal. But why would I have had the impression that there used to be more sociologists publishing in ASQ? Has org theory as done in business schools moved further from sociology in other ways?

Written by epopp

June 6, 2014 at 3:16 pm

book spotlight: the moral background by gabriel abend



Gabriel Abend has just published The Moral Background, a book that investigates the rise of business ethics. It’s certainly a history of American business ethics, but it has a much more ambitious purpose. Abend uses the history of business ethics to illustrate and promote a specific sociological idea: “the moral background.”

This is an important idea so I’ll try to give you a sense of what it means. Roughly speaking, morality – the labeling of things as good or bad – depends on a number prior ideas and cognitive processes – the “background.” In Abend’s account, the “background” has many dimensions, such as a repertoire for argument, an ability to perceive certain people and actors as capable of moral actions, and tacit assumptions about how the social world works. In other words, moral judgments rely on a gut feeling of what should be moral, an understanding who can be moral, and tools for making arguments about good and bad.

Business ethics, it turns out, is an amazingly good case study because for a long time the concept didn’t exist in quite the same way as it does today. Now, there are business ethicists, a Better Business Bureau and over a century of arguments about what responsibilities business should have. I am not doing justice to this meaty book, but the book’s empirical chapters are quite fascinating (and very detailed) explorations of how the “moral background” of business was defined in the corporate office, the church and the business school.

This book represents, in a sense, the full expression of some emergent themes in cultural sociology that were well expressed in Isaac Reed’s book, which argued that what sociologists do (or ought to do) is study “cultural landscapes.” When you combine this book, Reed’s book, and others like Glaeser’s book, you see that cultural sociology has now made a notable move from the study of cognition (Griswold), toolkits (Swidler) and actions (Joas) and established, or re-established, the primacy of symbolic systems as the focus of its inquiry.

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

Written by fabiorojas

May 14, 2014 at 12:08 am

upcoming asa oow session: does organizational sociology have a future?

This semester, I agreed to teach a PhD-level course on organizational theory when I realized that fewer and fewer colleagues who are trained in organizational research remain in sociology departments.  Apparently, I am not the only organizational researcher who is wondering about the implications of the de-centralization of organizational sociology.

Mark your calendars for Aug.!  Liz Gorman has planned the following Organizations, Occupations, and Work (OOW) session for the ASA annual meeting this Aug. in San Francisco.  The line-up includes some of our regular commenters and readers:

Title: Section on Organizations, Occupation and Work Invited Session. Does Organizational Sociology Have a Future?
Description:  Few sociologists today consider themselves primarily scholars of organizations.  Sociologists who study different types of organizations within their primary fields–such as economic sociology, science, social movements, political sociology, and urban sociology–are often not in conversation with each other.  Many sociologically-trained scholars have migrated to business schools and become absorbed by the large interdisciplinary field of organization studies, which tends to have a managerial orientation.  Little attention is directed to the broader impact of organizations on society.  This invited session will consider these and other trends in the study of organizations within the discipline of sociology.  It will ask whether “organizations” still constitutes a coherent subfield, whether it can or should be revitalized, and what its future direction might look like. 
Organizer:  Elizabeth Gorman, University of Virginia
Howard Aldrich, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Elisabeth Clemens, University of Chicago
Harland Prechel, Texas A&M University
Martin Ruef, Duke University
Ezra Zuckerman, MIT Sloan School

Topics: Organizations, Formal and Complex

Written by katherinechen

April 4, 2014 at 4:14 pm

should mba programs train entrepreneurs?

An old question for management scholars, with a few words from Bill Reichert, a well known tech guy:

Anyone who has spent any time in the entrepreneur ecosystem knows that there is an inverse correlation between high prestige MBAs and entrepreneurship. It’s clear what is going on here. The GMAT, like the SAT, is focused on finding the high achievement individuals in society — not the compassionate, ethical, collaborative, or socially conscious individuals. The whole institutional educational game is focused on individual achievement and test scores on standardized bodies of knowledge, not on teamwork, risk-taking, and innovative thinking.

A biting quote for legend Guy Kawasaki:

Entrepreneurs ask us all the time how we figure out the valuation of a startup company. Most VCs suggest that this is a very mysterious art. But actually it’s quite simple: To determine the fair value of a startup company, multiply the number of engineers by $250,000, add $250,000 for each engineer from IIT, and then subtract $500,000 for each MBA. <

Reichert ends on a positive note:

So what should we do to develop these talents in our young people? Is it the proper domain of our university system to teach team skills and social consciousness? Or do we simply accept that the current approach to finding and selecting elites is the best the university system can do, and leave it to the real world to apprentice young graduates in these skills and attitudes? It’s hard to imagine developing an effective curriculum for our educational system that will develop the non-academic team skills and creative thinking skills that we need. But we can probably do more, in early education, in the universities, and in the workplace, to foster the development of these skills and to make sure that young people with these skills are not undervalued by the educational system, or by our society.

Definitely worth the read.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 10, 2013 at 12:01 am

lifting the crimson curtain: Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education

As a grad student, I always found crossing the bridge over the Charles River from Harvard University to the Harvard Business School (HBS) to be a bit like approaching Emerald (or more appropriately, Crimson) City. On the Allston side, the buildings seemed shinier (or, as shiny as New England vernacular architecture allows), and the grounds were undergoing constant replantings, thanks to a well-heeled donor. In addition, HBS has loomed large as an institution central to the dissemination of organizational theory and management practices, including Elton Mayo’s human relations.

HBS has certain peculiarities about teaching and learning, like the use of case studies which follow formulaic structures as the basis for directed class discussion.* Moreover, instructors follow a strict grading break-down: mandatory “III”s assigned to the lowest-performing students of classes – a source of concern, as students with too many IIIs must justify their performance before a board and possibly go on leave.** To help instructors with grading, hired scribes document student discussion comments.***

Such conditions raise questions about the links, as well as disconnects, between classroom and managerial leadership, so I was delighted to see a new ethnography about business school teaching at the UChicago Press book display at ASAs.

With his latest book, Michel Anteby lifts the crimson curtain from HBS with his new book Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education (University of Chicago Press, 2013).


Here’s the official blurb:
“Corporate accountability is never far from the front page, and as one of the world’s most elite business schools, Harvard Business School trains many of the future leaders of Fortune 500 companies.  But how does HBS formally and informally ensure faculty and students embrace proper business standards? Relying on his first-hand experience as a Harvard Business School faculty member, Michel Anteby takes readers inside HBS in order to draw vivid parallels between the socialization of faculty and of students.

In an era when many organizations are focused on principles of responsibility, Harvard Business School has long tried to promote better business standards. Anteby’s rich account reveals the surprising role of silence and ambiguity in HBS’s process of codifying morals and business values. As Anteby describes, at HBS specifics are often left unspoken; for example, teaching notes given to faculty provide much guidance on how to teach but are largely silent on what to teach. Manufacturing Morals demonstrates how faculty and students are exposed to a system that operates on open-ended directives that require significant decision-making on the part of those involved, with little overt guidance from the hierarchy. Anteby suggests that this model-which tolerates moral complexity-is perhaps one of the few that can adapt and endure over time.”

Check it out! And while you’re at it, have a look at Anteby’s previous book, Moral Gray Zones (2008, Princeton University Press).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

August 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

tips for teaching business undergraduates

I occasionally teach a course aimed at business undergraduates. It’s a work/occupations/orgs course that uses various economic examples to discuss sociological ideas. The issue for me is that I often get torched in the evaluations. In my other classes, my evaluations range from the department average to very high. But hitting the department average is real accomplishment for this course. I’ve heard the same from some other instructors in the department. They do well with sociology students, but the identical course will get much lower scores when it is taught to business students.

So I ask my brothers and sisters in management: What would you advise the instructor of business students? In the past, I’ve added discussion, taken it away, added/subtracted readings, added/taken away group projects, provided my slides online, etc. How else can I experiment with this course?

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Written by fabiorojas

May 11, 2013 at 4:38 pm

what are business schools for? a follow up with santiago iniguez

A while ago, we asked: what are b-schools for? We covered discussions by various b-school deans. One of those deans, Santiago Iniguez of the IE business school, has drawn my attention to an interview where he discusses his new book, The Learning Curve, which focuses on management education. Click here and scroll down. Relevant to readers who are interested in b-schools and their mission.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

January 29, 2013 at 12:01 am

business schools: a problem in organizational design

Rakesh Khurana and former orgtheory guester JC Spender have written a provocative, forthcoming piece titled: Herbert A. Simon on What Ails Business Schools: More than ‘A Problem in Organizational DesignJournal of Management Studies.   (Here is Simon’s original 1967 Journal of Management Studies essay: The Business School, A Problem in Organizational Design.)

Rakesh and JC’s piece essentially traces the history of business school education, links it with the Carnegie tradition and then reflects on Simon’s essay about business schools and highlights some of the extant problems.  I enjoyed their historical discussion though I disagree with the end-conclusions about an “intellectual stasis” – along with the associated rigor-relevance issues.  I’ll post about that beef later on.  But the essay is most definitely worth reading!  It raises all kinds of interesting issues.

Here’s the abstract:

We critically examine Herbert Simon’s 1967 essay, ‘The business school: a problem in organizational design’. We consider this essay within the context of Simon’s key ideas about organizations, particularly those closely associated with the ‘Carnegie perspective’ on organizations and how they influenced the reinvention of American business schools in the post-Second World War era, and were deeply influenced by the post War context and also were appropriated by the Ford and Carnegie Foundations to reform business school teaching and research. We argue that management educators misappropriated Simon’s concept of an intellectually robust and relevant research and educational agenda for business schools that has in part contributed to the intellectual stasis that now characterizes business education research and its capacity to inform management practice.

Written by teppo

March 29, 2012 at 8:44 pm

meet me in pittsburgh!!!

I will be giving a talk at CMU in the Tepper School this coming Friday. The topic is “Hybridity in Organizational Fields: Evidence from the Anti-Iraq War Movement.” I’ll be giving a talk about a series of studies that my co-author and I have conducted on the topic of the anti-Iraq War movement and its impact on allied social movements. Movements. Organizations. Cross-over and hybrids. Good times, I promise. Email me if you want to meet me on Thu or Fri.

Books: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

March 26, 2012 at 2:56 am

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

conference for orgtheory in developing regions

Writing from the home office in Switzerland, Tim draws my attention to a conference for management PhD scholars interested in development. From the call for papers for the UNDP Development Academy:

The oikos UNDP Young Scholars Development Academy 2012 provides PhD students and young scholars working on poverty, sustainable development, and the informal economy from an Organisation and Management Theory perspective a platform to present and discuss their on-going research projects with fellow students and senior faculty.

Research on inclusive business models, market development and sustainability between the informal and formal economy is a promising and challenging field for young researchers and PhD students. It calls for a multitude of methods, combination of disciplines in strategy, organisation studies, sociology, anthropology and economics, and new research designs, e.g. market ethnography in organisation studies.

Great opportunity for orgtheory PhD students and tenure track/post docs. Check it out.

Adverts: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

February 8, 2012 at 12:15 am

podolny interviews jim march on leadership

I don’t usually read the Academy of Management Learning & Education but the most recent issue has some interesting articles on “leadership.”  The term of course is and can be highly problematic — macro scholars in particular are very skeptical — but part of the effort in the special issue is to delineate the scope of leadership, particularly as it relates to teaching leadership.

As the editorial intro mentions, leadership is a very common term used in how most business school describe and sell themselves (the editors point to the “leadership” language in the mission statements of top schools: Chicago, Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Duke, etc., etc). Perhap’s its a normative or symbolic thing.

Well – the article that might interest orgtheory readers is Joel Podolny’s short interview with Jim March: “A conversation with James G. March on learning about leadership” (sorry that link is gated – I could not find a free version anywhere).  Any Blue Devil fans may also be interested in Sitkin and Hackman’s interview with Coach K: Developing Team Leadership.

Written by teppo

November 2, 2011 at 9:15 pm

academy of management 2011, receptions and parties

The 2011 Academy of Management conference (in San Antonio) is in a couple weeks.  Miguel Unzueta (UCLA) and Sekou Bermiss (Texas) have put together a helpful Academy of Management parties and receptions twitter account, @AoMParties.  Thanks guys!  Very helpful.  Here’s the google calendar of the events.

Written by teppo

July 28, 2011 at 10:05 pm

joel baum: article effects > journal effects

Joel Baum has written a provocative article which argues and shows that, essentially, article effects are larger than journal effects.

In other words, impact factors and associated journal rankings give the impression of within-journal article homogeneity.  But top journals of course have significant variance in article-level citations, and thus journals and less-cited articles essentially “free-ride” on the citations of a few, highly-cited pieces.  A few articles get lots of citations, most get far less — and the former provide a halo for the latter.  And, “lesser” journals also publish articles that become hits (take Jay Barney’s 1991 Journal of Management article, with 17,000+ google scholar citations), hits that are more cited than average articles in “top” journals.

The whole journal rankings obsession (and associated labels: “A” etc journal) can be a little nutty, and I think Joel’s piece nicely reminds us that, well, article content matters.  There’s a bit of a “count” culture in some places, where ideas and content get subverted by “how many A pubs” someone has published.  Counts trump ideas.  At times, high stakes decisions — hiring, tenure, rewards — also get made based on counts, and thus Joel’s piece on article-effects is a welcome reminder.

Having said that, I do think that journal effects certainly remain important (a limited number of journals are analyzed in the paper), no question. And citations of course are not the only (nor perfect) measure of impact.

But definitely a fascinating piece.

Here’s the abstract:

The simplicity and apparent objectivity of the Institute for Scientific Information’s Impact Factor has resulted in its widespread use to assess the quality of organization studies journals and by extension the impact of the articles they publish and the achievements of their authors.  After describing how such uses of the Impact Factor can distort both researcher and editorial behavior to the detriment of the field, I show how extreme variability in article citedness permits the vast majority of articles – and journals themselves – to free-ride on a small number of highly-cited articles.  I conclude that the Impact Factor has little credibility as a proxy for the quality of either organization studies journals or the articles they publish, resulting in attributions of journal or article quality that are incorrect as much or more than half the time.  The clear implication is that we need to cease our reliance on such a non-scientific, quantitative characterization to evaluate the quality of our work.

Here’s the paper (posted with permission from Joel):  “Free-riding on power laws: Questioning the validity of the impact factor as a measure of research quality in organization studies.” The paper is forthcoming in Organization.

The article has some great links to the Bill Starbuck piece that Brayden discussed. Here’s Bill’s OMT blog post.

Written by teppo

February 3, 2011 at 4:34 am

business school research and teaching

There’s an engaging debate on the pages of the Financial Times’s Business Education section.

London Business School’s Freek Vermeulen argues that there is a big gap between business school research and teaching, essentially, popular fads replace relevant teaching.   Timothy Devinney responds and argues that research already subtly influences teaching.

Written by teppo

February 3, 2011 at 1:03 am

mba rankings, crowdsourced

An effort to crowdsource MBA program rankings.

Rank here:

[With big apologies to those with rankings fatigue.  This one’s, largely, targeted toward a different population.  Actually, sort of an interesting self-selection that occurs with these rankings — more on that later.]

Written by teppo

January 17, 2011 at 4:23 am

Happy New Year going forward

A seasonal message from Jamie Targett, our Director of Corporate Affairs

Soon it will be time to remove all traces of the officially authorised low-key festive accessories that have decorated our offices during the festive season. Time also to turn our faces towards the future that is to come. Time to evaluate our personal strategic objectives and our intended goal outcomes. Time to contemplate our game plan, examine core competencies, reinforce best practices, break out of silos, exert maximum leverage, evolve new synergies and maximise our skill sets.

A very happy management-oriented New Year to you all.

Written by Kieran

December 24, 2010 at 2:40 am

the coming wave of csr research in organizational theory

Yesterday and today I attended a conference at the University of Michigan about corporate social responsibility in a global world.  Kiyoteru Tsutsui of Michigan sociology put the conference together with the help of the Japan Foundation. One of the unique aspects of this conference was the diversity of scholars who presented. Most of the participants had a strong disciplinary focus (either from sociology, political science, or economics). Few had a traditional management focus. As one of the discussants (an esteemed management scholar himself) noted, this was a big shift from past conferences on CSR he’s participated in. Research on social performance, ethics, and corporate responsibility grew in the business schools, in part as a reaction to the growing interest in these issues among actual managers.  Members of the Academy of Management who were interested in social responsibility issues were not in the mainstream, however, and had to huddle together in their own division (Social Issues in Management), creating their own conferences and journals. The disciplines stayed away from CSR studies like they were the plague.

It looks like that is beginning to change. Based on the scholarship I’ve seen at this conference, work on CSR by organizational theorists from the disciplines is  suddenly in vogue.  Phd students in sociology, for example, are suddenly making CSR the focus of their dissertations. Political scientists, economists, and sociologists are bringing their own theoretical toolkits to the table, giving CSR studies a new flavor and level of rigor. Could this mean that CSR research will suddenly start appearing in journals like ASR and ASQ?  Will the Social Issues scholars be included in these new conversations? Another potential concern is that as sociologists and political scientists move into CSR territory, the object of analysis shifts from a focus on performance and consequences to an examination of the origins of CSR. Sociologists, of course, see CSR as an interesting social and organizational phenomenon in its own right. Thus, the old guard, with their links to practice and implementation, may become lab rats in the studies of the new guard, as scholarship begins to focus more on adoption, diffusion, and variation in use.

Written by brayden king

September 11, 2010 at 2:35 pm

the dreary lives of middle managers

Quy Nguyen Huy reviews Paul Osterman’s book, The Truth about Middle Managers: Who They Are, How They Work, Why They Matter, in the latest issue of ASQ. Huy and Osterman both believe that middle managers are understudied contributors to the business world, given their closeness to the actual work, innovation, and productive efforts in our economy. Huy’s own work suggests that middle managers play an important role in sustaining the emotional energy of an organization. Their ability to cultivate positive emotional states has a big impact on an organization’s ability to facilitate successful change. When middle managers resist change and fail to attend to the emotional states of employees, organizational change tends to produce resistance and a lack of commitment. When middle managers attend to the emotional states of their employees, radical change is embraced and is more likely to produce positive outcomes for the organization.

So research indicates that middle managers are critical components to some of the most important organizational outcomes, like innovation and change. This intuition makes it all the more surprising that most organizations have tended to de-prioritize their investment in middle management. Businesses increasingly see middle managers as expendable. The result is that managers have become less committed to and less emotionally invested in their companies. Huy summarizes Osterman on this point:

Osterman suggests that middle managers in U.S. corporations live in a “small world” that has limited horizons. Beyond focusing on their day-to-day jobs and committing to their colleagues, the middle managers he studied saw no larger purpose in what they were doing. This suggests, among other things, that middle managers are neither truly committed to their employers nor fully engaged in executing the firm’s
strategy. This fi nding is supported by Osterman’s survey of recent M.B.A. graduates, who hold a deeply cynical view of their employers.

This finding resonates with my own experience in teaching MBA students, who have already internalized the degraded image of middle managers in the corporate world. At the beginning of each quarter I ask the students to tell me where they see themselves working in 5 and 10 years after graduation. Most students see themselves working up the corporate ladder after five years, presumably in some middle management position. But after 10 years their visions change pretty dramatically.  A few say they hope to be promoted to some executive position. But a surprisingly large number of students say they’d like to be running a nonprofit or charity, starting their own business, or working for an independent investment fund. Few, if any, see themselves as corporate managers. Why is that? I think it’s because, as Osterman and Huy point out, the role of middle manager has become so degraded that it can no longer be equated with success. It’s too bad. Organizations, by making middle management expendable and by paying more and more money to top executives while not giving equivalent income increases to middle management, has unintentionally devalued one of their most important assets. It’s no wonder that new talent sees middle management as small and trivial work.

Written by brayden king

June 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm


An anonymous correspondent newly-enrolled in an Executive MBA program writes:

Does your B-school allow students to sign NDAs when working on projects or disclosing non-public company information in the classroom? They may just use an honor system. But I’m interested to know.

So what’s standard practice at your school? Inquiring minds want to know.

Written by Kieran

March 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm

economics and deconstruction

So, last week, I presented at the Oliver Williamson seminar on institutional analysis, based in the Haas School of Business at UC-Berkeley.  (This week, I presented for Labor Studies here at IU.  How’s that for variety?)  It was a great experience and a smart crowd–predominantly made up of economists, and playing by economists’ rules for talks.  I was glad to make it through the bulk of the material I wanted to share, and thankful that the intellectual sparring (which I even mildly enjoyed) wasn’t hostile.  I heard “we don’t usually get sociologists” several times.  I was actually surprised that the worlds of “business and public policy” (primarily economists) and “management of organizations” (more psychologists and sociologists) don’t overlap so much, at least in this particular setting.

One side reflection….

…Economists are pretty damn quick and agile when it comes to using notions about signaling and agency theory to undercut arguments about cultural categories in markets.

Here, that occurred when I talked about Love and Kraatz’s interesting finding that corporate downsizing in the 1980s had negative effects on firms’ reputations (relative to their competitors).  Love and Kraatz show that these effects are robust to controls for financial and market performance and argue that they represent an evaluation of firms’ “character” and trustworthiness.  It’s a nice paper and interesting argument, which differs from neo-institutionalist lines about conformity with the dominant institutional logic (in this case, of shareholder value).  The economist counter-argument was that downsizing is really a signal that the firm knows it will be in trouble in the future–and therefore provides valuable information about the firm’s market value.  This isn’t picked up in measures of market performance because it’s really a forecast of performance to come, not a reflection of curent performance. 

In a discussion a few years ago, something similar happened when I used Zuckerman’s “categorical imperative” findings to demonstrate the effects of legitimacy.  Then, the counter-argument, if I remember correctly, was that the real problem with firms that don’t fit the expected categories is that they are scattered in such a way that generates agency problems that ultimately devalue them.

My goal is not to argue about which interpretation is right.  In my view, these two papers are super-high quality and go to great lengths to establish their findings.  The point is that it’s amazing how quick one can be to undermine a rigorously developed argument with a wave of the hand.  From one perspective, this could be an indication of the power of a strong paradigm.  But I think it also reflects a tendency toward deconstruction in that paradigm…and I mean this in something not too terribly far from the Derrida/Foucault sense.  All that is solid melts into thin air.  Arguments become increasingly hard to operationalize, models become impossible to properly specify, and therefore more falls back on the paradigmatic assumptions.  My sense is that sociologists are more pragmatist in their orientation:  Build with what you have; talk, talk, talk  to sort it out.

Just a scattered thought, which maybe has implications for Mark’s earlier post about org theory and institutional economics.

Next step, coming soon…a more substantive post….no more mentions of Williamson, I promise.

Written by timbartley

February 26, 2010 at 12:18 am

b-schools don’t make managers anymore

New Republic has an interesting article on the shift in b-schools from management to consulting:

But some of the people I spoke to asked a slightly different question: Even if you could reclaim a chunk of those blue-collar jobs, would you have the managers you need to supervise them?

It’s not obvious that you would. Since 1965, the percentage of graduates of highly-ranked business schools who go into consulting and financial services has doubled, from about one-third to about two-thirds. And while some of these consultants and financiers end up in the manufacturing sector, in some respects that’s the problem. Harvard business professor Rakesh Khurana, with whom I discussed these questions at length, observes that most of GM’s top executives in recent decades hailed from a finance rather than an operations background. (Outgoing GM CEO Fritz Henderson and his failed predecessor, Rick Wagoner, both worked their way up from the company’s vaunted Treasurer’s office.) But these executives were frequently numb to the sorts of innovations that enable high-quality production at low cost. As Khurana quips, “That’s how you end up with GM rather than Toyota.” 


The new managerial class tended to neglect process innovation because it was hard to justify in a quarterly earnings report, where metrics like “return on investment” reigned supreme…

The country’s business schools tended to reflect and reinforce these trends. By the late 1970s, top business schools began admitting much higher-caliber students than they had in previous decades. This might seem like a good thing. The problem is that these students tended to be overachiever types motivated primarily by salary rather than some lifelong ambition to run a steel mill. And there was a lot more money to be made in finance than  manufacturing. A recent paper by economists Thomas Philippon and Ariell Reshef shows that compensation in the finance sector began a sharp, upward trajectory around 1980.

My take: It’s not clear to me that this is such a bad thing. It really depends on what you think about the modern American economy. If, like Jerry Davis, you think that transition to securitized virtual firms is bad, then this is just another symptom of the problem. If you think that the economy is now different and America’s advantage is in financial machinery, then maybe it’s ok. Either way: who *is* training the managers? Our products have been getting better over time – who’d doing that? Is it all foriegn firms?

Written by fabiorojas

December 24, 2009 at 12:47 am

getting a Wharton MBA, as seen from the sharp end

These are interesting times to be in an MBA program. Here at orgtheory we get glimpses of the faculty view, but what about the students? Gareth Keane is a student at Wharton, and since he started there — he’s now a second year — he’s been writing a column for the Irish Times about life in the program. Given the constraints on what someone in his position can politely say in print, you get a pretty good picture of the challenges, rewards and stresses of the program. (His most recent contribution mentions that he’ll be leading a group of first- and second-year MBAs to Antarctica over Christmas, which should make a nice change from a Philly winter. Gareth is of course too polite to say this.)

The general topic has been on my mind recently. My brother runs the customer service and operations divisions of a large financial services company. He’s getting ready to do a part-time MBA himself, and is wondering how much he’ll get out of it. Meanwhile (much to the brother’s amusement, it must be said) I’ll be teaching Organizations & Management next semester to Duke undergrads enrolled in our Markets & Management Program. M&M is a really interesting beast. It’s effectively an undergrad business concentration, the largest certificate program on campus, and it’s run by the Sociology department (Lisa Keister is the Director) with contributions from Economics and other units, together with. In some ways it’s like an Econ Soc undergrad program that got institutionalized about 15 or 20 years ahead of its time. While I’ve taught straight Soc of Orgs to sociology majors before, the audience here is a bit different so the course will be, too. I’ll probably post the syllabus here at some point. If you have any recommendations for relevant books or articles that have worked well with undergrad audiences, I’d be interested to hear them.

Incidentally, like me Gareth is an Irish expat. We’re from different parts of the country, went to different universities, and we have never met. It is a well-established theorem of mathematical sociology that we must therefore be no more than two degrees of separation apart. And indeed it turns out that I knew his wife when I was in college. You can see why social network analysis did not originate in Ireland, much as oceanography did not originate amongst schools of fish in the Pacific Ocean.

Written by Kieran

November 8, 2009 at 3:50 am

fad and fashion in organizational theory

I could use any opinions (even venomous, acerbic, and anonymous insults), as well as leads to theories, data, examples, personal experiences, and references bearing on the question:

Are there fads or fashions in particular branches of the Social Sciences generally, or in Organizational Theory, in this particular instance?

Note that I assume that current theories of fads and fashions differ substantively, as they draw from very different theoretical traditions in Sociology (ASQ, Abrahamson and Eisenman, 2008).

Why this question about scientific fads or fashions in science? First, addressing it could suggest how helpful or harmful fads or fashions in science influence its evolution or progress.  Second, I hope that this question will trigger a heated, pointed and thought-provoking debate on this blog. Third, the question matters greatly to the development of the study of fads or fashions.

Why? A recent study examines fashions in capital punishment; the sequence of fashion waves in techniques ranging from hanging, to electrocuting, to gassing, and to injecting human beings with deadly chemicals (Denver, Best, and Haas, 2008). This study, and a growing number of studies of fads or fashions in social techniques over the last decade, stand out in the history of sociological studies of fads or fashions over the last century.

How? Since the turn of century, social scientists have mostly studied fads or fashions in aesthetic forms, which they considered, therefore, relatively unimportant social entities; fads in streaking or in toys, to site some examples, or fashions in women’s dress or men’s hirsuteness, to site others. They have made passing references to fads or fashions in social techniques, which they considered much more important. But they have rarely pursued these lines of inquiry developing specific theories and research on fads or fashions in these social techniques.

In my dissertation, I employed theories of fads or fashion in aesthetic forms to study fads or fashions in business techniques. For example, I developed a market theory of fashionable business techniques (AMR, Abrahamson, 1996). This market theory, in particular, brought me a steady stream of reasoned and ad hominem insults, particularly from management consultants peddling business techniques in that market. Delighted, for over twenty years now, I have studied fads, fashions or bandwagons in business techniques.

During these two decades, I have been astonished to witness the radiation of careful studies of technical fads or fashions. Studies range across fads or fashions in important techniques belonging to medicine, education, dieting, parenting, national and international government policy, urban design and now capital punishment (as well as many unfounded claims about fads or fashions in these various techniques).

The final frontier in the study of technical fads and fashions, however, seems to be the study of fads or fashions in topics or techniques belonging to the hard and social sciences generally, and to Organizational Theory in this particular instance. A few have touched on the topic very cautiously: Crane (1969), for instance, asks diplomatically “Fashion in science: does it exist?” Others, however, have gone full bore; in those cases, they have been either completely ignored (e.g. Spurber, 1990) or savagely attacked (e.g. Sorokin, 1956).

Sorokin (1956), in particular, had the impudence of entitling his book Fads and Foibles in Modern Sociology, triggering and avalanche of vitriolic assaults. To give the flavor, Horton’s (1956: 338-339) review of Sorokin’s book in the American Journal of Sociology states (and it only gets nastier):

The manner is demagogic rather than scholarly… The derogation and ridicule in this book can be interpreted only as an appeal to third parties against sociology as a science and profession… Only the enemies of rational social inquiry can possibly benefit…

Clearly, the attack is unfair because the aim of understanding useful or harmful fads or fashions in science, was and should be, to help its evolution or progress. Yet, discussing fads or fashions in Organizational Theory (or in Cultural studies, Sociology, Political Science, Economics, Psychology or Social Psychology, for that matter) is a bit like teetering at the top of a tall Sequoia’s canopy and shaking the branch you are standing on. Despite this warning, some heated argumentation will result, I fondly hope.

Written by Eric Abrahamson

November 5, 2009 at 11:45 pm

another world is possible, and Stinchcombe is its prophet

The recent and abrupt end of that whole “shareholder capitalism” fad that swept the US indicates that we are at an interesting turning point in the organization of the economy.  Surprisingly, this may be an opportunity for organization theory to have a place in creating a more humane society in the US.

My previous posts (and recent writings) have described developments that undermine the idea of a society of organizations in the US.  One is the disaggregation of production into an OEM model, where the parts needed to create a (temporary) organization are widely available (even to a guy in Irvine with an idea for cheap LCD televisions to compete with Sony and Samsung).  Another is the hegemony, and then the downfall, of the shareholder value model.

Meanwhile, back at organization theory, the dominance of neo-institutionalism has rendered the field largely irrelevant to any practical concerns.  We’ve got a lot of fun exposes of hypocrisy, documentation of diffusion processes dressed up in sociological mumbo-jumbo, and arid discussions of agency-structure dialectics.  But our understanding of organization design – formerly the practical application of organization theory — has languished, and other fields have stepped into the breach (particularly economics and information systems). 

But if the rightful domain of shareholder capitalism has retrenched, as I believe it has, then this might be an opening to rehabilitate organization theory, and even neoinstitutionalism, in the service of creating more participative enterprises.  Institutionalists describe the process by which entrepreneurs draw on the parts available (strewn around the landscape, in Meyer and Rowan’s imagery) to create organizations or projects.  One of the recurring themes of the literature is the role of bricolage (building “with the ruins” available), while another is the pervasive use of analogies and metaphors in creating new forms.  (“It’s like a McDonald’s drive-through for kidney transplants.”)  This kind of thing can be taught, say, to paying customers in b-schools.

If I’m right about the end of the “society of organizations,” or at least the end of the dominance of 20th-century-style encompassing corporations, then we may be on the verge of a Cambrian explosion of new organizational forms.  This time, however, we may be able to escape the utter dominance of shareholder value.  It’s happened before — consider the explosion of cooperative forms created in response to the first wave of corporatization, documented by the estimable Marc Schneiberg.  We still have a surprising number of such non-corporate forms around, even in the US: State Farm Insurance (a mutual), Land ‘o Lakes (a producer cooperative), REI (a consumer cooperative) and the 8000 non-profit credit unions that enroll an amazing 86 million Americans.  (It turns out the US is already socialist, but doesn’t know it.)  And how about Wikipedia, Linux, and the various social movements that generate spontaneous collective action in the absence of a profit motive (e.g., Iran’s “Twitter revolution”)?

Another world is possible, and Art Stinchcombe is its prophet. We’ve been dealt a hand of fantastic new technologies for organizing, and are temporarily free of some of the old constraints in which all enterprises have to end up with an IPO.  Organization theorists can midwife a new period of experimentation by compiling our “flea market” of alternative organization types, and mashing them up with new technologies that lower the costs of coordination.   Examples include Kiva (, which allows people to do individual micro-lending, or, where you can post or contribute to open-source projects.  (Incidentally, I’d love examples of this, if people have them.) 

So, to the barricades, or the organization design classroom!  I’m waiting to see that iPhone “democracy app” that turns GM into a kibbutz.

Written by Jerry Davis

September 28, 2009 at 1:10 am

let’s talk about b-schools and org theory

I’ve always liked b-schools. My first real social science job was working as Berkeley management scholar Thomas Marschak’s research assistant on a project concerning Hurwicz style mechanism design. He was super nice and I learned quite a bit about social science from him. At Chicago, org theory was seen as naturally interdisciplinary – with representatives in the b-school (Burt, Phillips, Stuart, and others), soc (Laumann), ed (Bidwell, Bryk), political science (Padgett) and many other depts. My own adviser, Rafe Stolzenberg wrote some very interesting papers on orgtheory in the 70s, including this one on the effect of firm size on rate of return to education (jstor link here). Orgtheory was well represented in the world of sociology and in many other fields as well. The disciplines and professional schools could easily co-exist.

However, going on the job market in 2002/2003, I found that this was not a view shared by everyone. During an informal interview, a person from a highly regarded program asked bluntly: “Why should we hire you? Isn’t organization theory moving to the business schools?” I was flabbergasted. I then mumbled something like, “Well, my research shows that social movements have important impacts on universities, and the social movement/orgs area will be important.” History shows that I was correct. The movement/orgs field has been a great area.

But years later, the interaction still leaves me with a lingering question – is there any concrete reason to believe that organization studies (and now economic sociology) can’t flourish in both sociology and strategy/org departments? Personally, I think that we can all get along, but I’ve heard other people say that b-schools (and other professional schools) are killing soc of orgs via brain drain. What do you think?

Written by fabiorojas

September 7, 2009 at 12:19 am

orgtheorist makes good: kogut on the daily show

dailyshowthumbTry as I might, I have not been able to figure out how to embed this video: the Daily Show with Jon Stewart takes on the MBA oath and Bruce Kogut plays a staring role.

Having watched it, I am now considering getting some prominent arm tattoos… clearly they generate more respect from MBA students than my current sartorial efforts have achieved to date.

More importantly, kudos to Bruce for playing the straight man with aplomb.  I’d say he does the George Burns thing to John Oliver’s Gracie very well indeed.

Written by seansafford

August 14, 2009 at 3:37 pm

business school research and teaching

Matt Symonds at wonders whether funding academic research is a worthy pursuit of business schools. Given the hard economic times (and yes, even the wealthy business schools are having to cut back), it might seem odd that research budgets are one expenditure most top schools are not willing to cut. In the article a number of business school professors and deans speak out, justifying the importance of research to actual MBA training. The usual arguments appear, including the idea that business school training should be more about professionalizing management than providing soft or hard skills. According to this vision research should be tightly linked to the professionalization  process.

Since joining the Academy of Management several years ago, one major difference I’ve noticed between b-school academics and sociologists is the priority Academy members give to integrating research with teaching. Although there are some movements within the ASA to improve teaching and link what goes on in the sections to what goes on in the classroom, this is mostly treated as a low status endeavor.  It doesn’t work in the same way in the Academy. Teaching, perhaps because our constituency is paying so much more for a good education than what you see in most undergrad social science departments and because of the related resource dependence, is an important part of the management scholar’s identity. Because research is also valued and because there is some distance between what we research and what we actually teach, b-school scholars spend a lot of time thinking about how we can integrate the two. It seems especially important for org. theorists because the gap between research and relevance is somewhat bigger (compared to, for example, strategy scholars). As evidence, check out the useful list of teaching resources the OMT Division has made available.

Written by brayden king

August 10, 2009 at 12:39 pm

business schools and the economic crisis

BW_PollThe lashing of business schools continues. Here’s a recent BusinessWeek article: MBAs: Public Enemy No. 1? Readers, so far, feel that some MBAs (was it their education?) are at least partially responsible for the economic meltdown — see results on the right. HBR’s online forum on ‘how to fix business schools’ also has a (longer, 11-question) survey on the topic — you can take it here (results apparently will be posted soon).

Here’s a Rakesh Khurana interview, published two days ago, on the future of the business school.

Written by teppo

May 29, 2009 at 4:13 am

Posted in business schools