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teaching resources on employee ownership – guest post by adria scharf

For those of you who are constructing courses or gathering materials for students or practitioners, please have a look at Adria Scharf’s guest post about a new online resource.  Adria Scharf  is the director of the Curriculum Library for Employee Ownership at Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations.

“Teaching Resources on Employee Ownership

The Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations houses a free online library of teaching resources about employee ownership with more than 600 teaching materials and links, including case studies, videos, policy reports, syllabi, and articles. Find the Curriculum Library for Employee Ownership (CLEO) site here: http://cleo.rutgers.edu.

 

RutgersCLEOScreen Shot 2020-08-07 at 5.33.04 PM

The library includes about 75 resources–such as journal articles, films, case studies, and policy reports–about worker cooperatives. It provides 90 links to company case studies–most of which were written for business school classrooms;  50 resources on “capitalism,” and more.

The site is designed to give instructors in business schools, sociology, labor studies, and other fields resources to teach about, and research, employee ownership. It conceives of employee ownership to include a wide range of organizational forms ranging from truly democratic worker cooperatives to more traditional public and private companies that share stock broadly with their employees.

From the CLEO home page, you can search by key word, title, or author name. Click on “Advanced Search” to filter your searches by multiple criteria. At the bottom of the home page, you can browse the database by search categories including Format, Discipline, Subject, Industry, World Region or Country, Company Name, and/or Publication Date.

RutgersCLEOsamplesearchScreen Shot 2020-08-07 at 5.34.53 PM

Also on the home page, click on “CLEO Collections” to find free downloadable case studies, recent videos and new policy reports.”

RutgersCLEOcollectionsScreen Shot 2020-08-07 at 5.36.17 PM

Written by katherinechen

August 10, 2020 at 3:19 pm

the sociology of worker ownership – guest post by adria scharf

In this guest post, Adria Scharf, director of the Curriculum Library for Employee Ownership, invites you to watch a video workshop that can help inform research, course syllabi, reading lists, and work with practitioners.  Read on for more info, including a special Q&A session at the 2020 ASA meeting.

“The Sociology of Worker Ownership

“Worker ownership” offers both an alternative to the dominant capitalist model of the employment relationship and a means to broaden the ownership of wealth in society.

In this video workshop, “The Sociology of Worker Ownership: New Data Sets and Research Approaches,” leading researchers introduce datasets and research approaches to study worker ownership and its effects:

The video opens with comments from Joyce Rothschild and Joseph Blasi, and is moderated by Adria Scharf.  Janet Boguslaw, Laura Hanson Schlachter, Nancy Weifek, and Joseph Blasi present data sets and research. Sarah Reibstein also contributed.

Alternatively, you can view the video (automatic cc: available) here: https://cleo.rutgers.edu/articles/the-sociology-of-worker-ownership-new-data-sets-and-research-approaches/

This Research & Policy Workshop was developed for the 2020 Annual Meeting of the ASA.  A live Q&A with the presenters will take place at the 2020 ASA virtual annual meeting on Tues., August 11th at 5:30 EDT.

Find a list of several datasets, with information on how to access them, here:

https://cleo.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Datasets-on-Employee-Ownership-2.pdf

 

Written by katherinechen

August 4, 2020 at 6:46 pm

book spotlight: beyond technonationalism by kathryn ibata-arens

At SASE 2019 in the New School, NYC, I served as a critic on an author-meets-critic session for Vincent de Paul Professor of Political Science Kathryn Ibata-Arens‘s latest book, Beyond Technonationalism: Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Asia.  

Beyondtechnonationalismcover

Here, I’ll share my critic’s comments in the hopes that you will consider reading or assigning this book and perhaps bringing the author, an organizations researcher and Asia studies specialist at DePaul, in for an invigorating talk!

“Ibata-Arens’s book demonstrates impressive mastery in its coverage of how 4 countries address a pressing policy question that concerns all nation-states, especially those with shifting markets and labor pools.  With its 4 cases (Japan, China, India, and Singapore),  Beyond Technonationalism: Biomedical Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Asia covers impressive scope in explicating the organizational dimensions and national governmental policies that promote – or inhibit – innovations and entrepreneurship in markets.

The book deftly compares cases with rich contextual details about nation-states’ polices and examples of ventures that have thrived under these policies.  Throughout, the book offers cautionary stories details how innovation policies may be undercut by concurrent forces.  Corruption, in particular, can suppress innovation. Espionage also makes an appearance, with China copying’s Japan’s JR rail-line specs, but according to an anonymous Japanese official source, is considered in ill taste to openly mention in polite company. Openness to immigration and migration policies also impact national capacity to build tacit knowledge needed for entrepreneurial ventures.  Finally, as many of us in the academy are intimately familiar, demonstrating bureaucratic accountability can consume time and resources otherwise spent on productive research activities.

As always, with projects of this breadth, choices must made in what to amplify and highlight in the analysis.  Perhaps because I am a sociologist, what could be developed more – perhaps for another related project – are highlighting the consequences of what happens when nation-states and organizations permit or feed relational inequality mechanisms at the interpersonal, intra-organizational, interorganizational, and transnational levels.  When we allow companies and other organizations to, for example, amplify gender inequalities through practices that favor advantaged groups over other groups, what’s diminished, even for the advantaged groups?

Such points appear throughout the book, as sort of bon mots of surprise, described inequality most explicitly with India’s efforts to rectify its stratifying caste system with quotas and Singapore’s efforts to promote meritocracy based on talent.  The book also alludes to inequality more subtly with references to Japan’s insularity, particularly regarding immigration and migration. To a less obvious degree, inequality mechanisms are apparent in China’s reliance upon guanxi networks, which favors those who are well-connected. Here, we can see the impact of not channeling talent, whether talent is lost to outright exploitation of labor or social closure efforts that advantage some at the expense of others.

But ultimately individuals, organizations, and nations may not particularly care about how they waste individual and collective human potential.  At best, they may signal muted attention to these issues via symbolic statements; at worst, in the pursuit of multiple, competing interests such as consolidating power and resources for a few, they may enshrine and even celebrate practices that deny basic dignities to whole swathes of our communities.

Another area that warrants more highlighting are various nations’ interdependence, transnationally, with various organizations.  These include higher education organizations in the US and Europe that train students and encourage research/entrepreneurial start-ups/partnerships.  Also, nations are also dependent upon receiving countries’ policies on immigration.  This is especially apparent now with the election of publicly elected officials who promote divisions based on national origin and other categorical distinctions, dampening the types and numbers of migrants who can train in the US and elsewhere.

Finally, I wonder what else could be discerned by looking into the state, at a more granular level, as a field of departments and policies that are mostly decoupled and at odds. Particularly in China, we can see regional vs. centralized government struggles.”

During the author-meets-critics session, Ibata-Arens described how nation-states are increasingly concerned about the implications of elected officials upon immigration policy and by extension, transnational relationships necessary to innovation that could be severed if immigration policies become more restrictive.

Several other experts have weighed in on the book’s merits:

Kathryn Ibata-Arens, who has excelled in her work on the development of technology in Japan, has here extended her research to consider the development of techno-nationalism in other Asian countries as well: China, Singapore, Japan, and India. She finds that these countries now pursue techno-nationalism by linking up with international developments to keep up with the latest technology in the United States and elsewhere. The book is a creative and original analysis of the changing nature of techno-nationalism.”
—Ezra F. Vogel, Harvard University
“Ibata-Arens examines how tacit knowledge enables technology development and how business, academic, and kinship networks foster knowledge creation and transfer. The empirically rich cases treat “networked technonationalist” biotech strategies with Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Singaporean characteristics. Essential reading for industry analysts of global bio-pharma and political economists seeking an alternative to tropes of economic liberalism and statist mercantilism.”
—Kenneth A. Oye, Professor of Political Science and Data, Systems, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“In Beyond Technonationalism, Ibata-Arens encourages us to look beyond the Asian developmental state model, noting how the model is increasingly unsuited for first-order innovation in the biomedical sector. She situates state policies and strategies in the technonationalist framework and argues that while all economies are technonationalist to some degree, in China, India, Singapore and Japan, the processes by which the innovation-driven state has emerged differ in important ways. Beyond Technonationalism is comparative analysis at its best. That it examines some of the world’s most important economies makes it a timely and important read.”
—Joseph Wong, Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Kathryn Ibata-Arens masterfully weaves a comparative story of how ambitious states in Asia are promoting their bio-tech industry by cleverly linking domestic efforts with global forces. Empirically rich and analytically insightful, she reveals by creatively eschewing liberalism and selectively using nationalism, states are both promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in their bio-medical industry and meeting social, health, and economic challenges as well.”
—Anthony P. D’Costa, Eminent Scholar in Global Studies and Professor of Economics, University of Alabama, Huntsville
For book excerpts, download a PDF here.  Follow the author’s twitter feed here.

book spotlight: culture and commerce by mukti khaire

khaire_book

A very,  very long time ago, Mukti Khaire was a guest blogger at orgtheory. Since then, she’s been a successful management researcher at the Harvard Business School and Cornell Tech. It is thus a great pleasure for me to read her new book Culture and Commerce: The Value of Entrepreneurship in Creative Industries. The book is a contribution to both the study of art markets and the study of entrepreneurship. The book’s premise is that art and business exist in a sort of fundamental tension. Khaire’s goal is to offer an account of what entrepreneurship means in the world of artistic markets.

The key element of Khaire’s theory is that artistic goods are not only introduced by entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs do a lot of work to reshape markets so they can accept radically new categories of goods. For example, getting people to accept high quality, but expensive, produce is the work that Whole Foods did in the grocery market about twenty years ago. Such people, who reshape old markets into new markets, Khaire calls “pioneer entrepreneurs.” Similarly, Khaire identifies people who add value because of their ability to provide commentary to products that need explanation.

The strong point of Culture and Commerce is that Khaire digs deeper into the production chain of artistic goods. There are market actors who specialize in bringing in the new products, those who specialize in educating the audience, and those who add quality signals (e.g., giving awards). It’s a very rich account of entrepreneurship that many blog reader will enjoy. Recommended!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

 

Written by fabiorojas

November 28, 2017 at 5:08 am

unicorns and gazelles are black swans

Both the public and scholars pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the Silicon Valley model of entrepreneurship. But for every startup that becomes a unicorn, a thousand more mundane businesses are started. Howard Aldrich and Martin Ruef contextualize this ordinary entrepreneurship in a special issue of Academy of Management Perspectives on the reemergence of “Main Street entrepreneurship”:

Dazed and confused by the wild hype surrounding gazelles and unicorns, entrepreneurship researchers have focused on the black swans of the entrepreneurial world, even though IPOs and venture capital financing of firms are extremely rare events. Despite their rarity, entrepreneurship conferences and journals have been filled with papers on various aspects of the process of “going public” and “VC networks.” Fortunately, in the middle of the Silicon Valley mania, other scholars have been paying attention to the mundane aspects of business startups – – the ordinary business starts, numbering in the hundreds of thousands each year in the United States for businesses with employees. This special issue gives us an opportunity to look back over what we believe to be scholars’ misplaced attention to the extreme and their neglect of the mundane. Correcting the misperception that has been introduced into the literature by selection biases favoring growing and profitable firms will give scholars and policymakers a more accurate and policy-relevant picture of entrepreneurship in the 21st century.

Check it out!

 

Written by epopp

November 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm

independent book stores are back!!! a guest post post by clayton childress

Clayton Childress is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Toronto. While making the case for examining the relationships between fields and reuniting the sociological studies of production and reception, Under the Cover empirically follows a works of fiction from start to finish: all the way from its creation, through its production, selling, and reading.

Three Reasons Independent Bookstores Are Coming Back

 A couple weeks ago, Fabio had a post about the recent rise in brick-and-mortar independent bookstores, suggesting that perhaps they have successfully repositioned themselves as “artisanal organizations” that thrive through the specialized curation of their stock, and through providing “authentic,” and maybe even somewhat bespoke, book buying experiences for their customers.

There’s some truth to this, but in my forthcoming book, I spend part of a chapter discussing the other factors. Here’s several of them.

Why the return:

1)     The Demise of the Borders Group, and Shifting Opportunity Space in Brick-and-Mortar Bookselling.

This graph from Statista in Fabio’s original post starts in 2009, lopping off decades of retrenchment in the number of American Bookseller Association member stores. Despite the recent uptick, independent bookstores have actually declined by about 50% since their peak. More importantly, it’s worth noting that even in the graph we see independent bookstores mostly holding steady from 2009 to 2010, with their rise starting in 2011. Why does this matter? As Dan Hirschman rightly hypothesizes in the comments section of the original post, the bankruptcy and liquidation of the Borders Group began in February of 2011, and is key to any story about the return of independent bookstores. To put some numbers to it, between 2010 and 2011 the Borders Group closed its remaining 686 stores, and between 2010 and 2016 – after spending decades in decline –651 independent bookstores were opened. It’s a pretty neat story of nearly one-to-one replacement between Borders and independents since 2011.*

Yet, if anything, this isn’t as much a surprising story about the continued prevalence of independent bookstores themselves, but rather, a story about the continued prevalence of paper as a medium through which people like to consume the types of books that are mostly sold in independent bookstores. When Borders liquated people didn’t predict that independents would take their place, but that’s because they had mostly misattributed the bankruptcy of Borders to the rise of eBook technology and Amazon. That story was never quite right, though. Borders last year of turning a profit, 2006, mostly predated these supposed causal factors. Instead, Borders’ rise to prominence came through a competitive advantage in their back-end logistics operations, which they then never really updated, and by the mid-2000s they had turned from a market leader to a market trailer. Borders also invested more floor space in selling CDs right when that market started to decline, and then turned that floor space into the selling of DVDs right when that market started to decline – their stores were always too big, and they seemed to have a preternatural ability to keep on filling them with the wrong things. As for the rise of Amazon and online book sales in the decline of Borders, they did play a role, but not the one that people think. In perhaps one of the least prescient moves in the history of American bookselling, as online bookselling started to take off, Borders decided to not spend resources investing in that market, and instead contracted their online bookselling out to Amazon, helping them on their way to dominance of the market. Oh, you dummies.

So, while it was mostly back-end distribution problems, stores that were too big, and a series of bad bets that tanked Borders, its demise was never really about a lack of demand for print books, which allowed independents to fill that market space after Borders disappeared. For independent used book stores (which have always had as much of a supply problem as a demand problem), advances in back end supply systems have in fact made them more viable.

2)     Independent Bookstores are the Favored Trading Partners of the Publishing Industry.

Starting during the Great Depression, in order to keep bookstores in business, book publishers began letting them return any (damaged or undamaged) unsold books, meaning that for nothing more than the cost of freight bookstores could pack books up to the ceiling without taking on much financial risk on stocking decisions (if you’ve ever been curious why so many bookstores seem so overstuffed with product, here’s your answer).

It was the beginning of a long history of cooperation between publishers and sellers, and the cooperation has never been more friendly than it is between publishers and independent stores. Publishers and bookstores want the same thing: for people to go into bookstores looking for the books that are actually in stock. With about 300,000 new industry-published books coming out per year, that’s no small feat. For this reason, cooperation between publishers and independents is key, and they rely on an informal system of gift exchange, the details of which I go into in my book.

With the rise of chain bookstores such as Walden, Crown, Barnes & Noble, and Borders, this cooperation became formalized as “co-op,” a system in which publishers nominate their books, and if they are chosen for co-op by the seller, then pay to have their books placed on front tables and endcaps across the country. The basic shorthand is that it costs a publisher about a dollar per copy to get their book on a front table at Barnes & Noble, which is very roughly the same amount that an author gets paid per copy to write the book in her advance (talk to any publisher for long enough and they’ll grind their teeth while noting this).

From the cooperation system with independents the chains developed “co-op”, but a publisher’s relationship with Amazon is closer to coercion. With the chains, publishers can decide to nominate for “co-op” or not, but as soon as publisher sells a book on Amazon they’ve already entered into an enforced “co-op” agreement, in which usually around 6-8% of all of their revenue from selling on Amazon is then withheld, and must be used to advertise on Amazon for future titles. This tends to gets talked about less as “coercion”, and more as “just the way things are” –it’s what happens when you have a retailer that dominates the space enough to set its own terms.

As a result, while book publishers like independent bookstores because they believe them to be owned and staffed by true book lovers (Jeff Bezos was famously disinterested in books when launching Amazon – books are just fairly durable objects of standard size and shape and therefore ship well, making them a good test market for the early days of ecommerce), they also do everything they can to support independent bookstores because their trading terms with them are most favorable to publishers. In their most extreme forms, we can see publishing professionals collaborate in opening their own independent bookstores, but more generally, they engage in subtler forms of support: getting their big name authors to smaller places, and maybe over-donating a little bit to the true cost of printing flyers, and covering the cost of wine and cheese for when the author gets there. Rather than doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, however, publishers do it because independent bookstores are good for them to have around, as they’re the only booksellers who are too small and diffuse to make publishers do things.

3)    A Further Reorientation to Niche Specialization at Independents

Here we get to artisanal organizations, and the independent bookstores that are sticking around (or even more importantly, opening) have mostly given up aspirations of being generalists. In Toronto, we’ve got an independent bookstore which specializes in aviation, another for medieval history, and a third which has found a niche for discount-priced theology.* They’re like the Cascade sour beers to Barnes & Noble’s pilsners. While it’s definitely a trend, it’s not one I’d trace back just to 2010, as instead, the artisanal organization market position is one that independent bookstores have been relying on at least back into the 1980s.

In addition to just being niche, while independent hardware stores and grocers were going the way of the dodo, independent bookstores were also able to both capture and foment the formation of the “buy independent” social movements of the 1990s. It’s not many retail outlets that can successfully advocate for their mere existence as a public good. For instance, when was the last time that the New York Times unironically quoted somebody referring to the closing of an independent laundromat halfway across the country as a civic tragedy? As generalist independent bookstores have come to terms with their inability to compete on breadth with Barnes & Noble and Amazon, we see not only a transition to niche sellers, but also more sellers overall, as each one tends to take up a smaller footprint and have lower overhead costs than the independents of the past.

***

Of course, while there has been a rise in the number of independent bookstores in the 2010s, we shouldn’t overstate it, or be certain that it will continue. At the end of the day –and nobody likes to admit this –we’re talking about a segment that makes up less than 10% of industry sales and is still way down from its peak. It took one of the two major brick-and-mortar chains going out of business for this return to happen, but if Barnes & Noble goes under, it will upend any balance left between Amazon and everyone else. Yet unlike the industries for music and journalism, a preference for analog books among a major segment of the market doesn’t seem to be going away. Maybe if Barnes goes under we’ll instead be graphing the rise of brick-and-mortar bookstores by Amazon, and romantically pine for the good old days of Barnes as the industry villain.

 *If you’re a cynic, or even just a careful optimist, you’re also going to want to factor in the 80 stores Barnes & Noble has closed since 2010. So, since 2010 that’s a loss of 766 big brick-and-mortar bookstores which were selling a lot of books, and a gain of 655 generally much smaller brick-and-mortar bookstores which are generally selling many fewer books. Yet the number of physical books sold hasn’t really declined, and has actually increased for three years running (for reasons that are the subject of another post). In any case, the difference has been made up by Amazon.

**H/T to Christina Hutchinson and Chanmin Park, two undergraduate students in my Culture, Creativity, and Cities course, for these examples. You can see some of their work on bookstores, as well as other students’ great (and in progress!) work from this semester on Toronto martial arts studios, Korean and Indian restaurants, religious centers, food festivals, and so on here.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street

 

Written by fabiorojas

March 30, 2017 at 12:21 am

cfp: “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at SASE in Lyon, France- cfp deadline extended to Feb. 17, 2017!

The Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) has extended the abstract submission deadline for all the mini-conferences and networks to Feb. 17, 2017!*

Just as a reminder: Joyce Rothschild and I are co-organizing a mini-conference at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) in Lyon, France.  Please consider submitting an abstract, due to the SASE submission site by Feb. 17, 2017 (updated deadline!).  Accepted presenters will need to provide a full paper by June 1, 2017 for discussion.  Please circulate to this cfp to interested persons!

Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives

Forty years ago, as the most recent wave of economic collectives and cooperatives emerged, they advocated a model of egalitarian organization so contrary to bureaucracy that they were widely called “alternative institutions” (Rothschild 1979). Today, the practices of cooperative organizations appear in many movement organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even “sharing” firms. Cooperative practices are more relevant than ever, especially as recent political changes in the US and Europe threaten to crush rather than cultivate economic opportunities.

Cooperative groups engage in more “just” economic relations, defined as relations that are more equal, communalistic, or mutually supportive.  The oldest collectives – utopian communes, worker co-operatives, free schools, and feminist groups – sought authentic relations otherwise suppressed in a hierarchical, capitalist system.  Similar practices shape newer forms: co-housing, communities and companies promoting the “sharing economy,” giving circles, self-help groups, and artistic and social movement groups including Burning Man and OCCUPY. While some cooperatives enact transformative values such as ethically responsible consumerism and collective ownership, other groups’ practices reproduce an increasingly stratified society marked by precarity. Submitted papers might analyze the reasons for such differences, or they might examine conditions that encourage the development of more egalitarian forms of organization.

Submitted papers could also cover, but are not limited, to exploring:

  • What is the nature of “relational work” (cf. Zelizer 2012) conducted in these groups, and how it differs – or is similar to – from relational work undertaken in conventional capitalist systems?
  • How do collectivities that engage in alternative economic relations confront challenges that threaten – or buttress – their existence? These challenges include recruiting and retaining members, making decisions, and managing relations with the state and other organizations. Moreover, how do these groups construct distinct identities and practices, beyond defining what they are not?
  • How are various firms attempting to incorporate alternative values without fully applying them? For instance, how are companies that claim to advance the sharing economy – Uber, airbnb, and the like – borrowing the ideology and practices of alternative economic relations for profit rather than authentic empowerment? What are the implications of this co-optation for people, organizations, and society at large?
  • How do new organizations, especially high tech firms, address or elide inequality issues? How do organizing practices and values affect recognition and action on such issues?
  • What can we learn from 19th century historical examples of communes and cooperatives that can shed insight on their keys to successful operation today? Similarly, how might new cooperatives emerge as egalitarian and collective responses to on-going immigration issues or economic crisis generated by policies favoring the already wealthy?
  • Are collectives, cooperatives and/or firms that require creativity, such as artists’ cooperatives or high tech firms, most effective when they are organized along more egalitarian principles? How do aspects of these new modes of economic organization make them more supportive of individual and group creativity?

Bibliography

Graeber, David.   2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography.   Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Rothschild, Joyce. 1979. “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 509-527.

Rothschild, Joyce and J. Allen Whitt. 1986. The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Zelizer, Vivianna A. 2012. “How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?” Politics & Society 40(2): 145-174.

Questions about the above cfp may be directed to Joyce and myself.

Here is info about the mini-conference format:

Each mini-conference will consist of 3 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by 1 June 2017. Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission.

More info about mini-conferences here.

The 2017 SASE conference in Lyon, France, hosted by the University of Lyon I from 29 June to 1 July 2017, will welcome contributions that explore new forms of economy, their particularities, their impact, their potential development, and their regulation.

More info about the SASE conference theme, a critical perspective on the sharing economy, is available at “What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?

Joyce and I look forward to reading your submissions!

*Note: If you have problems with submitting your abstract for our mini-conference, please let us and the SASE/Confex staff know.

Bonus: Curious about how contemporary worker cooperatives operate?  This website has video and other resources that profiles several cooperatives.

 

 

 

 

Written by katherinechen

February 3, 2017 at 4:12 pm

book highlight: Digital Kenya

Now is the time of year when we are wading through the flotsam of the passing semester (grading, entering grades, firefighting “emergency” cases, etc.) and preparing for the next semester (more of the same?).

Nonetheless, a new semester always brings the prospect of joining the cutting edge…

Inside Africas Hubs-17.jpg

For those of you looking to update syllabi or reading lists on technology and  organizations, have a look at Bitange Ndemo and Tim Weiss‘s co-editted new book Digital Kenya: An Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Making  (2016, Palgrave), which with the support of the Ford Foundation is (bonus alert!) also available as an open access PDF.

DigitalKenya_front_digital.png

The book’s press release (digitalkenyapressrelease_december2016-final) promises insiders’ perspectives of what it takes to launch and sustain organizations in a growing tech sector.  Its conversations with social entrepreneurs and founders of leading organizations rounds out research that is usually conducted of high-tech firms  in North America.  For example, in conversation #3, Anne Githuku-Shongwe explains how she founded Afroes to counter negative Western stereotypes with positive images of heroes and heroines for her children.  In conversation #6, Su Kahumbu Stephanou, creator of the mobile App iCow, recounts her journey, along with various setbacks, towards sustainable, organic farming.

Inside Africas Hubs-16.jpg

For the open access publication, visit www.tinyurl.com/DigitalKenya-free.

To order the book in print, visit www.tinyurl.com/DigitalKenya.

 

Written by katherinechen

December 20, 2016 at 6:37 pm

cfp: “Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives” at SASE in Lyon, France – abstracts due Feb. 17, 2017 (updated)

Joyce Rothschild and I are co-organizing a mini-conference at the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) in Lyon, France.  Please consider submitting an abstract, due to the SASE submission site by Feb. 17, 2017 (updated deadline!).  Accepted presenters will need to provide a full paper by June 1, 2017 for discussion.  Please circulate to this cfp to interested persons!

Seeking a More Just and Egalitarian Economy: Realizing the Future via Co-operatives, Communes, and Other Collectives

Forty years ago, as the most recent wave of economic collectives and cooperatives emerged, they advocated a model of egalitarian organization so contrary to bureaucracy that they were widely called “alternative institutions” (Rothschild 1979). Today, the practices of cooperative organizations appear in many movement organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and even “sharing” firms. Cooperative practices are more relevant than ever, especially as recent political changes in the US and Europe threaten to crush rather than cultivate economic opportunities.

Cooperative groups engage in more “just” economic relations, defined as relations that are more equal, communalistic, or mutually supportive.  The oldest collectives – utopian communes, worker co-operatives, free schools, and feminist groups – sought authentic relations otherwise suppressed in a hierarchical, capitalist system.  Similar practices shape newer forms: co-housing, communities and companies promoting the “sharing economy,” giving circles, self-help groups, and artistic and social movement groups including Burning Man and OCCUPY. While some cooperatives enact transformative values such as ethically responsible consumerism and collective ownership, other groups’ practices reproduce an increasingly stratified society marked by precarity. Submitted papers might analyze the reasons for such differences, or they might examine conditions that encourage the development of more egalitarian forms of organization.

Submitted papers could also cover, but are not limited, to exploring:

  • What is the nature of “relational work” (cf. Zelizer 2012) conducted in these groups, and how it differs – or is similar to – from relational work undertaken in conventional capitalist systems?
  • How do collectivities that engage in alternative economic relations confront challenges that threaten – or buttress – their existence? These challenges include recruiting and retaining members, making decisions, and managing relations with the state and other organizations. Moreover, how do these groups construct distinct identities and practices, beyond defining what they are not?
  • How are various firms attempting to incorporate alternative values without fully applying them? For instance, how are companies that claim to advance the sharing economy – Uber, airbnb, and the like – borrowing the ideology and practices of alternative economic relations for profit rather than authentic empowerment? What are the implications of this co-optation for people, organizations, and society at large?
  • How do new organizations, especially high tech firms, address or elide inequality issues? How do organizing practices and values affect recognition and action on such issues?
  • What can we learn from 19th century historical examples of communes and cooperatives that can shed insight on their keys to successful operation today? Similarly, how might new cooperatives emerge as egalitarian and collective responses to on-going immigration issues or economic crisis generated by policies favoring the already wealthy?
  • Are collectives, cooperatives and/or firms that require creativity, such as artists’ cooperatives or high tech firms, most effective when they are organized along more egalitarian principles? How do aspects of these new modes of economic organization make them more supportive of individual and group creativity?

 

Bibliography

Graeber, David.   2009. Direct Action: An Ethnography.   Oakland, CA: AK Press.

Rothschild, Joyce. 1979. “The Collectivist Organization: An Alternative to Rational-Bureaucratic Models.” American Sociological Review 44(4): 509-527.

Rothschild, Joyce and J. Allen Whitt. 1986. The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Organizational Democracy and Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Zelizer, Vivianna A. 2012. “How I Became a Relational Economic Sociologist and What Does That Mean?” Politics & Society 40(2): 145-174.

Questions about the above cfp may be directed to Joyce and myself.

Here is info about the mini-conference format:

Each mini-conference will consist of 3 to 6 panels, which will be featured as a separate stream in the program. Each panel will have a discussant, meaning that selected participants must submit a completed paper in advance, by 1 June 2017. Submissions for panels will be open to all scholars on the basis of an extended abstract. If a paper proposal cannot be accommodated within a mini-conference, organizers will forward it to the most appropriate research network as a regular submission.

More info about mini-conferences here.

The 2017 SASE conference in Lyon, France, hosted by the University of Lyon I from 29 June to 1 July 2017, will welcome contributions that explore new forms of economy, their particularities, their impact, their potential development, and their regulation.

More info about the SASE conference theme, a critical perspective on the sharing economy, is available at “What’s Next? Disruptive/Collaborative Economy or Business as Usual?

Joyce and I look forward to reading your submissions!

Written by katherinechen

December 13, 2016 at 9:16 pm

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: http://cup.columbia.edu/book/appetite-for-innovation/9780231176781

Also, Forbes.com included Appetite for Innovation in its list of 17 books recommended for “creative leaders” to read this summer:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/berlinschoolofcreativeleadership/2016/05/15/17-summer-books-creative-leaders-can-read-at-the-beach/#7ac430985cef

 

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Written by M. Pilar Opazo

June 8, 2016 at 4:46 pm

tucker max: a surpsingly good economic sociologist

Tucker Max is most well known as a “fratire” writer, but he’s also an law school graduate, investor, and successful business owner. He recently wrote a column for the Observer about his experience as angel investor and his analysis is highly sociological. The basic point is that the VC field is structured by networks. Yes, the next Google or Facebook is out there, but you can only get a chance to invest if you work with one of a very small number firms who get “first dibs” on the start-ups that have a chance at making it big:

The other problem is that there are, at BEST, only a few of these massive home run companies formed each year. You think you can predict, out of the thousands of start-ups launched each year, which ones will be the winners? A lot of people think they can. Almost all are wrong. But here’s the most messed up part: even if you can reliably pick the winners with some degree of certainty, you’re still probably going to lose. Why? Because you probably can’t get into the winners. This is because the best companies (at least in Silicon Valley) tend to get identified early, and as a result, they have a lot of people trying to put money into them. And to even be able to put money in, you have to have a way in, which means one thing: It almost always takes the right social connections to get into very early stage companies. Let me be super clear about this: all the great deals I got into were because of my social network. That’s it. No other reason.

Another great sociological lesson: good ideas don’t make money, good people make money. The problem is that there are very few people who are “good” entrepreneurs that can successfully turn a small start up in a larger firm. Simply put, there are a lot of immature men and women running start ups and many of them are horrible at taking advice. Thus, the angel investor isn’t just working with products, they are working with people who may be unable to take direction:

Most of the founders are young, and young people are inexperienced, which might be great for a lot of reasons (energy, enthusiasm, flexibility, no assumptions), but it almost automatically makes them stupid at entrepreneurship. I was exceptionally stupid when I was young, so I speak from experience here, but without an experiential framework to fall back on, you have no way to understand and solve many of the hundreds of problems that come up when you start a company. The younger you are, the less experience you have, the harder this whole thing is. This doesn’t mean young people can’t excel at entrepreneurship. Yes of course some young people can and do build companies and become amazing CEO’s. Please, do not point to Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Speigel as your rebuttal; they are by definition the exceptions that prove the rule. For every one of them, there are 50 founders who torpedo their previously hot company by making all the standard mistakes of youth. Ask any VC you know to tell you those war stories. They have way more of the bad than the good.
 Great article… and invest in mutual funds!

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

Written by fabiorojas

September 8, 2015 at 12:01 am

“there’s no rankings problem that money can’t solve” – the tale of how northeastern gamed the college rankings

There’s a September 2014 Boston.com article on Northeastern University and how it broke the top-100 in the US News & World Report of colleges and universities. The summary goes something like this: Northeastern’s former president, Richard Freeland, inherited a school that was a poorly endowed commuter school. In the modern environment, that leads you to a death spiral. A low profile leads to low enrollments, which leads to low income, which leads to an even lower profile.

The solution? Crack the code to the US News college rankings. He hired statisticians to learn the correlations between inputs and rankings. He visited the US News office to see how they built their system and bug them about what he thought was unfair. Then, he “legally” (i.e., he didn’t cheat or lie) did things to boost the rank. For example, he moved Northeastern from commuter to residential school by building more dorms. He also admitted a different profile of student that wouldn’t the depress the mean SAT score and shifted student to programs that were not counted in the US News ranking (e.g., some students are admitted in Spring admissions and do not count in the US News score).

Comments: 1. In a way, this is admirable. If the audience for higher education buys into the rankings and you do what the rankings demand, aren’t you giving people what they want? 2. The quote in the title of the post is from Michael Bastedo, a higher ed guru at Michigan, who is pointing out that rankings essentially reflect money. If you buy fancier professors and better facilities, you get better students. The rank improves. 3. Still, this shows how hard it is to move. A nearly billion dollar drive moves you from a so-so rank of about 150 to a so-so rank of about 100-ish. Enough to be “above” the fold, but not enough to challenge the traditional leaders of higher ed.

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

Written by fabiorojas

February 13, 2015 at 12:01 am

howard aldrich on his intellectual trajectory and the history of organizational studies

Orgtheorist and loyal orgtheory commenter Howard E. Aldrich is featured in a video about his intellectual trajectory and the history of organizational studies.  Learn about Howard’s start in urban sociology and organizational studies, why he finds cross-sectional studies “abhorrent,” his years at Cornell where he overlapped with Bill Starbuck, and how he got started publishing in organizational ecology.  He also explains how the variation, selection, and retention VSR) approach was a “revelation” for him, and how various institutions (University of Michigan, Stanford, and others) have promoted his intellectual development via contact with various colleagues, collaborators, and graduate students.  Towards the end of the interview, Aldrich describes his latest research on the Maker movement, including hacking and the rise of affordable 3-D printing and other hardware and software that may propel technological innovation.*

The videoed interview is courtesy of Victor Nee’s Center for Economy & Society at Cornell University.  More videos, including a presentation on his work on entrepreneurship, are viewable here.  Also, those looking for an organizational studies text should see his seminal Organizations Evolving with Martin Reuf here.

* The Maker movement has strong affinities with Burning Man.  In fact, that’s partly how I started attending Maker Faire – check out my photos of past Maker Faires, which included performance artists from the now-defunct Deitch Art Parade.

Written by katherinechen

November 25, 2013 at 12:55 am

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

do we need college for industrialization? – a comment on mokyr’s history of industrial age britain

I’ve recently finished Joel Mokyr’s The Englightened Economy, an economic history of Britain during the industrial revolution. The book is an exhaustive argument about the role of Enlightenment ideas on economic development. I won’t go into detail here, but   I’ll summarize it by merely saying that the book is a thorough review of the literature on Britain through the eyes of economists and historians.

Today, I want to make a comment on an observation of Mokyr. In his review of research in higher education during British industrialization, he notes the following:

  • Higher education was very rare
  • Innovators and industrial leaders were mostly uneducated
  • Individuals with elite education (e.g., Oxbridge) were fairly rare among the ranks of the industrial leadership

Mokyr raises this point in service of the argument that Britain’s economic expansion can’t be attributed to rising quality of education since most people were not well educated until well after the industrial revolution. My point: This is somewhat analogous to economic expansion today. Leading Silicon Valley firms aren’t always, or even usually built, from people who have advanced degrees. I can think of only one such major firm (Google). Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple were founded by college drop outs, albeit elite drop outs. Groupon was founded by a policy school grad school drop out (not computer science). Twitter’s founder was a computer geek in high school but went to un-glamorous Missouri Tech, then later went to NYU, not known as a computer science hub.

The conclusion: You need an educated work force to carry out ideas, but the leadership doesn’t need a lot of education. Rapid economic expansion seems to hinge on having a mix of smart people who get their “training” from a wide variety of sources, not just college. Colleges are more about educating the masses who compose the rest of the organization.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 13, 2013 at 12:27 am

Howard Aldrich’s advice for young organizational scholars

Howard Aldrich, a man who needs no introduction, has written a new book about entrepreneurship and evolutionary theory. He’s also written a blog post at the publisher’s website discussing some of the book’s key insights and detailing his own intellectual journey as a sociologist who has embraced entrepreneurship as a topic of study. It’s really interesting.  Everyone should go read his blog post.

In addition to providing a really fascinating look into the mind of Howard Aldrich, in his post he offers some sage advice to young organizational scholars. It’s such good advice I thought I’d cross-post it here:

  1. Think in terms of long-term projects, especially if you are studying dynamic processes that take some time to unfold. Cross-sectional studies provide snapshots of the way things are at a moment in time, but most contemporary theorizing concerns mechanisms and emergent processes that must be studied over time. Many of my projects involved data collection that extended over 4 to 6 years, with analysis and writing requiring several more years. Luckily, I had a portfolio of projects, some of which came to fruition earlier than others and thus I never lacked things to do!
  2. Think in terms of cumulative work that builds one paper on top of another, as a project matures over its planned life. In this age of “salami-publishing” – chopping bigger projects into smaller chunks and then publishing the smaller bits as independent papers – scholars often forget that such behavior cannot go undetected.  Independent observers of someone’s career take notice of suboptimal publishing patterns and are likely to discount a project’s worth, if its contributions are diluted by being parceled out in dribs and drabs. Instead, focus on establishing theoretical and empirical continuity across your work.
  3. Pay attention to what others are doing and find ways to link your work to theirs. With tools such as Google Scholar, citation alerts, table of content alerts, and other technologically-enhanced ways of keeping track of work in your field, you can enhance the impact of your own contributions by showing how it relates to the emerging state of the art.
  4. Most research projects in organization and management studies are multi-disciplinary, especially in entrepreneurship. Keep up with key work in other disciplines working on the same or similar issues, attend conferences, read their journals, and seek other people with diverse competencies to work with you on your long-term projects.

I really like his second point about the cumulative contribution of your work.   One of the travesties of contemporary scholarly contribution metrics is that we have substituted quantity of publications for cumulative contribution. We assume that somebody with 5-6 publications in “A” journals has made a contribution, irrespective of the content of that work or how it aggregates into larger themes. Personally, I’d like to see more younger scholars who are actively laying out a theoretical and empirical agenda that builds on itself over time and who think less about how they can get their next AMJ paper published. Of course, making that a winning strategy is best done in a context where tenure committees actually read the work and make thoughtful assessments of quality rather than just counting lines on a CV.

Written by brayden king

February 8, 2013 at 8:27 pm

want to write on social entrepreneurship for a popular audience?

From the Home Office in St. Gallen, Switzerland, Tim Lehmann sent me the following call for applications:

Well, here is your opportunity:  The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the Huffington Post and Student Reporter have teamed up to invite ten students to form a virtual team starting 1st of February 2013 for six months to contribute to Huffington Post’s Social Entrepreneurship section.  Ideally, an inter-disciplinary team of students with strong disciplinary foci in sociology, psychology, anthropology, economics, entrepreneurship studies, and political theory would form this team.  We also welcome applications from social entrepreneurs.  Candidates must be enrolled in an educational program such as BA, MA, MBA, or PhD.

Here is the link and the accompanying statement.

Wicked reading: From Black Power/Grad Skool Rulz

Written by fabiorojas

December 9, 2012 at 12:07 am

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

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

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Written by fabiorojas

June 4, 2012 at 12:01 am

books and business cycles

Guest blogging for Megan McArdle at the Atlantic, Garrett Jones summarizes a new paper in the American Economic Review showing that books sales predict business cycles:

She [Michelle Alexopoulous] found that books really do predict booms. In her paper looking at new books from 1955-1997, she found that new technical books predicted between 1/6 and 1/5 of all medium-term changes in business capital investment.  Total GDP and (to a more modest extent) hours of work moved together with new tech books, usually with a lag of a couple of years.

Further, she found that a good economy didn’t predict more tech books, and a bad economy didn’t predict fewer.  So reverse causation isn’t the story.

Finally, as a placebo, she checked to see whether years when lots of history books were published tended to precede economic booms. They didn’t. Alexopoulos made a good effort of kicking the tires on this hypothesis.  And remember: She only looked at technical books: There are surely a lot of other new ideas in fields like management, biotech, and accounting that matter for business productivity, and they also seem to come in waves.

In other words, as people get ready to create wealth, they require new knowledge, a search indicated by book sales. Nice paper.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 16, 2012 at 12:01 am

nicolai foss and peter klein lecture

O&M’s Nicolai Foss delivering a lecture on Austrian Capital Theory.  And, here’s O&M’s Peter Klein discussing their joint book “Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment.”

Written by teppo

March 14, 2012 at 3:49 pm

first movers and the sociology of markets

I often think about the difference between the economic and sociological approaches to markets. If I were to summarize it, I’d say that contemporary economics views a market as a social domain where actors are achieving some sort of goal and everything else is treated as parameter in some sort of optimization problem. In contrast, sociologists are more interested in how people collectively define markets as social domains. Not incompatible, but these perspectives lead to different questions.

There’s a recent article by Dobrev and Gotsopoulos called “Legitimacy Vacuum, Structural Imprinting, and the First-Mover Disadvantage” in the AMJ that nicely illustrates my point about the sociological approach to markets. Using auto industry data, the authors show that first movers have a lower survival rate. As I’ve argued in the past, the ecological theory of markets makes a distinct prediction than standard IO approaches. In standard IO, first movers have a huge advantage. They have no competition. In ecological theories, first movers are bringing a product that consumers may not understand. Think about the first home computer (not the Apple) or the first social networking site (not Facebook or even Friendster). There’s a lot of learning. Consumers learn about new products, sellers learn to make a version people can afford and use. That’s why first movers don’t do well and it’s a sociological insight.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 6, 2012 at 12:27 am

steve jobs would’ve hated orgtheory

The coverage of Steve Jobs taught me a lot about Apple’s organization. For example, Steve Jobs did not believe in middle management. He believed in having divisions run by specialists. Advertising is run by people with a deep knowledge of advertising or graphics, not a generically trained manager:

Specialization is the norm at Apple, and as a result, Apple employees aren’t exposed to functions outside their area of expertise. Jennifer Bailey, the executive who runs Apple’s online store, for example, has no authority over the photographs on the site. Photographic images are handled companywide by Apple’s graphic arts department. Apple’s powerful retail chief, Ron Johnson, doesn’t control the inventory in his stores. Tim Cook, whose background is in supply-chain management, handles inventory across the company. (Johnson has plenty left to do, including site selection, in-store service, and store layout.)

Jobs sees such specialization as a process of having best-in-class employees in every role, and he has no patience for building managers for the sake of managing. “Steve would say the general manager structure is bullshit,” says Mike Janes, the former Apple executive. “It creates fiefdoms.” Instead, rising stars are invited to attend executive team meetings as guests to expose them to the decision-making process. It is the polar opposite of the General Electric-like (GE) notion of creating well-rounded executives.

Also, apparently, Jobs didn’t believe in human resources, until very recently.

Two comments: First, Jobs, as Kieran noted, was a charismatic leader. He also had an amazingly deep set of skills, derived from having worked in high tech in some capacity since age 13.  He also managed a company that produced highly related products. These issues obviate the need for generic managers.

Second, there’s little evidence that having a flat structure is necessary. In  high tech, we see a wide range of business models that are highly successful – even revolutionary. Google is wildly successful and seems to have a very different culture and structure. I wouldn’t draw general lessons from Jobs’ disdain for management. Apple’s structure flows from Jobs’ personality and his specific career (e.g., after returning to Apple, Jobs ejected all the old school management).

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Written by fabiorojas

October 15, 2011 at 12:31 am

memories of apples, a steve jobs tribute

As you probably have heard, Steve Jobs died. People with more knowledge of Jobs and the tech industry will have lots to say. Click here to read all the Steve Jobs posts on orgtheory. I still love the Mad TV satires, which poked fun at Jobs himself while being smart political satire. Great people, apparently, inspire great satires.

This tribute will be about my experience with Apple products over the last thirty years, the ups and the downs. My very first experience was sometime in the early 1980s. My father was a math teacher and he was all hot under the collar about these new computer thingies. At first, he got a Texas Instruments computer. Made sense since TI had a solid track record with scientific calculators. But as with most early home computers, the TI 99-4A had issues. Only so much you could do with it, not a whole lot of  software, and it cost a whole lot of money. I loved the games, but that was it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

October 6, 2011 at 5:33 am

Posted in entrepreneurship, fabio

the new auto industry (is almost here)

I test drove a Nissan Leaf this weekend. It’s a nice little car. It’s also the future of cars in America because the Leaf is an all electric car. For years, people have been promising that electric cars would be here. But now it’s happened. The technical issue was making a battery that was cheap, light weight enough, and didn’t take forever to charge. The problem is now solved.  Also, there is now an incentive to create charging stations. Major firms, like Walgreen’s and Ikea, have ordered tons of chargers. While you are shopping, you can charge the car for free.

Now, I want to discuss the long term consequences of electric cars for the auto industry. Currently, there’s an iron triangle that defines the auto world: manufacturers and the people who make specific parts; the oil industry; and dealers. The electric car will revolutionize how this triangle works.

The oil companies will take a big hit. Electricity is extremely cheap. Charging a car costs about 10% of the price of gas. It’s so cheap that, as I noted above, that merchants will give you electricity for free if you promise to shop at their store.

The real change, though, is in the nature of auto sales and the dealerships. Electric cars are made very differently than gas powered cars, which will upend the system of dealerships. Right now, dealers and auto manufacturers make their money off of maintenance. The price of a new car is subsidized pay all the repairs done by dealers.

Electric cars will change the system because electric cars have very few parts. The Nissan Leaf is essentially a big stack of batteries, which spin the axles. There are no belts, no injectors, no spark plugs, no gaskets, no oil. It’s like a kid’s toy car. That means there is almost no later maintenance. Thus, you can charge more at purchase (which the auto firm soaks up) because you will pay a lot less on gas and parts. The result? Dealerships will massively shrink.

This new system will take about 10 years to fully take hold. Once a few major cities have a bunch of charging ports, the model will be viable. Gas powered cars will be old cars or cars reserved for long distance trips where you are time sensitive and need to gas up quickly. Bottom line: The engineers have solved the battery problem and now the rest of the industry is set to change.

Written by fabiorojas

September 7, 2011 at 12:13 am

marc ventresca on entrepreneurship

Written by teppo

August 28, 2011 at 2:39 am

patent trolls and innovation

Other than financial measures (like ROA) I can’t think of another firm-level variable that is more commonly used in organizational studies than patent activity. Patents are used to track everything from innovation to technological niches to social networks among scientists.  Patents are an all-purpose measure because we think they are tightly linked to creativity and knowledge production, the engine that drives both science and capitalist enterprise. But what if this is increasingly not true? What if patent use is becoming decoupled from creativity?

This is one of the questions posed made by last week’s This American Life, my favorite NPR show and one of the most consistently interesting programs of journalism out there. The show talked about patent trolls – companies or individuals who acquire patents for the primary purpose of suing other actors who might use technology that potentially infringes on that patent.  The show focused on the firm, Intellectual Ventures, and its founder Nathan Myhrvoid. Through a couple of interesting vignettes and sly investigations, they showed how the company uses lawsuits, brought by a number of shell companies, to get large settlements out of technology companies, some of which are struggling enterpreneurial groups.  The show demonstrates how, rather than protect and promote innovation, increasingly patents are being used to stifle innovation by wiping out or financially weakening companies that are actually trying to bring innovation to the marketplace. Meanwhile, patent trolls sit on those patents and do nothing to advance the innovations.

This must have some implications for our current understanding of patents as indicators of creativity and innovation. One of the startling revelations in the program was just how much redundancy there is in the patent system. The number of patents issued that cover the same basic function is often in the thousands, especially in the software industry. Patents may be more indicative of turf wars than they are of real innovation.

Even if you’re not a technology scholar, I highly recommend that you listen to the podcast of the show.

Written by brayden king

July 26, 2011 at 8:33 pm

the entrepreneurial group

Martin Ruef’s The Entrepreneurial Group won this year’s Max Weber award as the best book in the Organizations, Occupations, and Work section of the ASA. (Notably, the books of two former orgtheory guest bloggers, Katherine Chen and Celeste Watkins-Hayes, received honorable mentions.)  Diane Burton also reviewed Ruef’s book in the most recent issue of ASQ. The review, while generally positive about Martin’s conceptualization of entrepreneurship as a product of collective action and group formation, has some pointed criticisms of Martin’s approach.

On the book jacket, Arthur Stinchcombe, a distinguished organizational sociologist, describes this book as a “drop of sanity in an ocean of fraud about entrepreneurship, especially in teaching positions financed by corporations.” In describing what is distinctive about his approach, Ruef makes a similar— although less polemically charged—claim in chapter 2 when he contrasts “business management” studies of  entrepreneurship and “social science” studies of entrepreneurship. According to Ruef, “Scholars in the business field tend to focus on group performance in high-growth and high-capitalization enterprises. This sampling approach may appeal to an audience of practitioners and business school students, but limits the external and internal validity of empirical conclusions” (p. 36). But by dismissing the related work that has been done by others, Ruef risks alienating the largest audience for his work, some of whom have done valuable research on “enterprises” that are not necessarily highgrowth or high capitalization, and others who  have a clear theoretical rationale for studying a non-representative sample.

Throughout the book, Ruef drives home his distinctive perspective. In doing so, he avoids in-depth engagement with the extant literature. Rather than relying on existing scholarship, he invents constructs and  measures and redefines terms to suit his purposes. Readers steeped in the entrepreneurship and management literatures are likely to be surprised by this approach. For example, Ruef describes his theoretical framework as “relational demography” but does not connect it to the extensive literature on this topic. His group-level approach is inconsistent with both the traditional dyadic approach (Tsui and O’Reilly, 1989)  and the emerging multilevel approach (Riordan and Wayne, 2007). While his expositional style highlights his own theoretical creativity and empirical ingenuity, its disconnection from related work may limit its potential to influence the broader community of entrepreneurship scholars. This is unfortunate, because there are many valuable insights and ideas in this book.

Princeton University Press categorizes the subject areas of the book as sociology, economics, and finance. Although the topic of entrepreneurial groups is clearly relevant to each of these fields, this is a sociology  book written by a sociologist for other sociologists.

This is a nice review that is not afraid to speak to the bigger intellectual issues circulating around the book, not unlike a recent review published in ASQ by Martin Ruef.  Having recently finished the book myself, I agree with Diane that The Entrepreneurial Group is quite original. But I would argue that the book is able to push boundaries precisely because it extracts itself from the literature on entrepreneurship. If Ruef had tried to rely on current measures/operationalizations and had spent more time engaging with existing scholarship, the book would have lost some of its freedom of thought and would have been less original, I think. Positioning himself as the outsider frees Ruef from constraining conventions. Rather than reading the book as a (mere) sociological account of entrepreneurship, I would hope entrepreneurship scholars would read it as a unique theoretical perspective with lots of seeds for future research in the entrepreneurship field.

Written by brayden king

July 19, 2011 at 7:58 pm

venture capital blog

Management researchers might enjoy this blog: “AVC” (A Venture Capitalist). It’s a nice personal blog by Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. A few  interesting posts: how he missed airbnb, motherhood and entrepreneurship, and recent “megatrends” in business. Check it out.

Written by fabiorojas

May 11, 2011 at 12:38 am

theories of entrepreneurship: an exercise in dichotomies

There’s a certain resistance to dichotomizing: the truth is somewhere in between, it’s more nuanced, processual, interactional etc — both “x” and “y” need to be considered — so we’ll call it “z” (say, “structuration”).  But, as I’m preparing for an entrepreneurship-related PhD class tomorrow, most of the papers we read indeed tend to set up a dichotomous relationship between two things.  Despite problems with these types of contrasts (it’s usually pretty easy to see where the argument is going), I still find the exercise of extremes very valuable.  Theories, after all, idealize and need to focus on something (usually in reaction to its opposite, sorta).

So, here are some of the entrepreneurship-related dichotomies that popped up:

  • structure versus agency
  • macro versus micro
  • exogenous versus endogenous
  • observation versus theory
  • experience versus thought
  • supply versus demand
  • backward- versus forward-looking
  • discovery versus creation
  • something versus nothing
  • actual versus possible

(The truth can be found on the right-hand side.)

Many of the above dichotomies — in one way or another — hearken to classic debates in philosophy: rationalism versus empiricism, realism versus constructionism, etc.   I don’t think that organizational scholars will solve any of these classic problems, though obviously there are comparative opportunities vis-a-vis the things that we study: collective action, social process and interaction, value creation and so forth.

Below the fold you’ll find some of the (somewhat eclectic) readings that somehow relate to the above dichotomies of entrepreneurship: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by teppo

May 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm

“content strategy” and the birth of occupations

The Elements of Content Strategy This morning I listened to an interesting interview on one of Dan Benjamin’s shows. He was talking to Erin Kissane about her new book, The Elements of Content Strategy. Say you are using a website to communicate something to someone, or enable communication between a group of people, or both. The something you are conveying or facilitating is your content. According to Kissane, the job of a “content strategist” is to figure out how best to make sure that content is assembled, presented, and maintained in a way that’s appropriate to its audience.

You might think that the term “Content Strategist” is evidence that the job market in the online sector must be picking up, because as an occupational title it’s got a slight buzzing sound around it. However, Kissane turned out to be a very thoughtful interviewee—one of those rare people who thinks about and then answers the questions they are asked. The book (which I bought and read over lunch: it’s short) is a handbook for this new occupation (or, as the author calls it, discipline). Despite a denial at the outset, it’s also implicitly a manifesto for it. Content strategists, she argues, live at the intersection of editing, curation (the dread online phrase of 2010), and marketing. They help you decide who your site is for, and what it’s for, and then develop a framework that lets you choose, care for, and publicize your content. The Elements of Content Strategy is an elegant argument for some principles to bear in mind, and a useful summary of a few heuristics you might use, while executing that task. I could have done with it to back me up at more than one meeting I’ve suffered through on the topic of Redesigning Our Website or Why Don’t We Start A Blog About That, or Perhaps The Twitter Will Excite The Kids, or what have you.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Kieran

March 9, 2011 at 12:26 am

the end of entrepreneurship studies

Brayden’s post resonated with me. There is something rotten in the state of entrepreneurship studies. Brayden thinks that the field has a serious definitional problem. Of course, he’s not the first to raise this issue. It’s one of the first things you notice when you start reading in the area.

His post has prompted me to articulate an even more radical position that I’ve been mulling over for a while. I don’t claim originality, I’m sure someone else must’ve said it. So here it goes:

There is no such thing as an entrepreneur. That is, there is no cogently defined group of people whose actions can easily and clearly be defined as “entreprenuerial” because there is no collection of behaviors that can be grouped together as all being “entrepreneurial.” Many of the behaviors that might considered “entrepreneurial” are logically independent of each other and their link to innovation, firm creation, risk bearing, or profit taking are highly context dependent.

There are two claims here. First, if you look at all the people that might intuitively be called “entreprenuers,” you’ll just get too much variation. The craziest example I can think of is from one of Kirzner’s texts, when he claims that anyone who exploits an opportunity is in some sense “entreprenuerial.” Just too broad. Another bizarre example is defining entreprenuers by personality traits (e.g. risk seekers). That’s like defining the class of athletes by height!

Second, I claim that if you define entrepreneurs by a set of actions, then you run into more problems. That list of actions is itself vague, context dependent, and the behaviors don’t logically have  much to do with each other. Example: one famous paper (Garthner 1981) argues that firm creation is a useful framework. One can stick with that, but you can quickly see some problems. Some are purely definitional: for example, if firms split, does that count? What about franchises? New firms appearing from mergers? Shell corporations? For-profits emerging from non-profit forms? Are these really all “entreprenuerial?”

That’s small potatoes compared to a bigger problem. Firm creation involves such a wide range of economic activities that it seems hard to get a grasp on it all. Do the local taco truck, Facebook, and a new auto manufacturer deserve to be together? The article sticks with firm creation because new firms are often innovative, but who says new firms are innovative? Some are, some aren’t. And innovation itself is hard to define. Facebook was highly innovative in some ways (GUI), but not others (the social network concept). This is an example of how the traits that supposedly define entrepreneurship are hard to bundle to together.

I think a lot of this comes from a romantic idea about the heroic profit seeker. The Austrian approach to entreprenuership certainly has this tinge to it. But this also applies, in a more moderate form, to other entrepreneurship researchers. These endless debates over definitions by generations of scholars indicates to me that there is a pointless search for a special class of individuals who are responsible for economic growth. You might call them “Schumpeter’s men.” And entreprenuership studies is defined by this secret army of economic geniuses.

That leads me Schumpter’s fallacy: the false belief that economic growth and the development of markets is driven by one particular profile of person or one particular organizational form. My alternative is this: markets are complex ecosystems of people, ideas, markets, rules, and organizations. Markets probably do have trajectories, or patterns of growth, that require different types of people over time. But even  in the early stages, you’ll need a heterogenous group of people and skill sets. And the degree to which need a particular type of person varies by the product sold or the institutional environment.

What should come after the end of entreprenuership studies? I’d like to think of it as “market formation research.” Instead of focusing on these mysterious, undefinable entreprenuers, why not simply say that markets requires certain things, like firms and products, in particular combinations? Then management researchers would use their various tools to discover what kinds of people are needed for activity X, which could be starting firms of a certain types or inventing a new product? No need to collapse all these people and actions into one concept. You avoid the need to ever define entreprenuers and each discipline can focus on its own version of market formation studies. Economists could study, for example, the pay-off to starting a firm, while sociologists could study how firm starters use their networks and psychologists could study tolerance for risk.

I think the field is already well in this direction. There are tons of empirical studies on various aspects of “entrepreneuship.” All that researchers need to do is simply drop the entreprenuer concept and switch to a more ecological framework. Then you can start the much more productive process of figuring out which traits, skills, and people fit together in the economic process.

Written by fabiorojas

February 22, 2011 at 12:35 am

Posted in entrepreneurship, fabio

what is entrepreneurship anyway?

I’m in Gainesville, Florida attending a retreat for law and entrepreneurship scholars.* I am not an entrepreneurship scholar myself, but my work, which is related to collective action processes underlying radical organizational and legislative change, is of interest to entrepreneurship scholars. This is the second entrepreneurship workshop I’ve attended. I was struck that at both workshops the participants spent a lot of time discussing the question, what is entrepreneurship? What makes entrepreneurship a distinct concept? Just as was the case at the last workshop I attended, there is very little consensus about the definition. Not only was there no consensus, but there are stark differences in their definitions.

Why is entrepreneurship so hard to define?**  The discussions about this concept seem to be more than just your typical academic fretting over definitional issues; entrepreneurship seems genuinely difficult to nail down as a thing. One reason for this may be that entrepreneurship, as an area of study, brings together people who are actually interested in completely different, but related, phenomena. Entrepreneurship underlies new business start-ups, small businesses and self-employment, founding and failure rates, innovation and creativity, and new market emergence. People who are interested in any one of these topics find their way to the realm of entrepreneurship scholarship. (Someone who gets invited to enough of these conferences may start wondering if he actually is an entrepreneurship scholar.) But what motivates their interest in the topic is very different. And because there is no overarching theoretical framework, it’s easy to get lost in what is going on here.

I think the reason that entrepreneurship is such a slippery concept is because most scholars who study it are really interested in the manifestations of entrepreneurship and less in the thing that makes entrepreneurs really distinct –  identity. Some people self-identify as entrepreneurs, which motivates them to be innovative, found new businesses, or do other things that bring about change. However, the outcomes of being an entrepreneur vary quite a bit and so if you merely study the outcomes, you’re really just studying the manifestation of entrepreneurship (and not all of the people involved in the outcomes even see themselves as entrepreneurs).

That said, does it really matter how we define a field of research as long as we can agree on operationalization issues? As long as we can agree that the new venture start-up rate is a good measure of something related to entrepreneurship, then it shouldn’t matter at all what entrepreneurship is really about.

*If you’re interested, here are the slides to my presentation.

**Of course, entrepreneurship scholars have nowhere near the definitional problems that institutional scholars have, which is why the term “institutional entrepreneurship” is perhaps the most imprecise concept we have in organizational theory.

Written by brayden king

February 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm

what are we? we’re not an organization, we’re not a group, we’re a “gathering”

Yesterday “Anonymous” put out an official press release (pdf here).  It’s interesting how the group is wrestling with it’s collective self-definition, external framing, etc:

Anonymous is not a group, but rather an Internet gathering.

Then the group (sorry) gathering openly alludes to some internal issues and its structure (spelling mistake not mine):

Both Anonymous and the media that is covering it are aware of the percieved dissent between individuals in the gathering. This does not, however, mean that the command structure of Anonymous is failing for a simple reason: Anonymous has a very loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than directives.

Then some movement-ish language, physics metaphor and some claims about the novelty of the form:

We do not believe that a similar movement exists in the world today and as such we have to learn by trial and error. We are now in the process of better communicating some core values to the individual atoms that comprise Anonymous – we also want to take this opportunity to communicate a message to the media, so that the average Internet Citizen can get to know who we are and what we represent.

Good stuff!

Written by teppo

December 11, 2010 at 9:04 pm

ah, the little choices we make

Two years ago I did a radio interview about a company called “The Point”.  The name of the company came from Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”.  The idea was to use the web to facilitate collective action.

After the interview, I contacted the founder.  We had lunch.  He was brimming with ideas.  But he was also really interested in… well…  OrgTheory.  He wanted to take the ideas we talk about on this blog and try to turn them into a company.

We talked a few more times after that. He wanted to know if I wanted to get involved. I decided it would be better to focus on my writing.  But I did mention there were grad students who would love to spend time with his company; to mine it for data and hopefully help tweak the model too.  In the end though, I couldn’t find anyone willing to pull themselves away from studies of status rankings and categorization.

By the by, Andrew Mason and I lost contact and that company became Groupon which has, apparently, been sold for $6 billion to Google.

Oops.

Written by seansafford

December 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm

the george foreman grill

A recent topic in economic sociology is the effect of cultural schema on markets. The argument, put forward by multiple scholars, like our friend Ezra and Hannan/Hsu/Polos, is that buyers and sellers punish products/firms that don’t conform to type. That brings me to the George Foreman Grill (GFG).* A student and I got into a discussion of products like the GFG, which are sold through infomercials. We observed that the GFG seems to be an exception to the rule that products sold on informercials remain low status. Given the theory, you’d expect low status informercial products to be punished by consumers if it were to appear in mainstream venues. However, unlike its infomercial fellow travelers,  the GFG seems to have “migrated” from TV ghetto to mainstream product. So, when can a product can “jump” from the informercial category to “legitimate product?”

A few hypotheses:

  • The product resembles other high status products.
  • The product is obviously and clearly superior, which explains why the kind-of useful Shamwow remains in the informercial ghetto.
  • Endorsed by a high status celebrity.

Any other guesses? What other infomercial products have gone mainstream?

*Disclaimer: I own a GFG and use it frequently.

Written by fabiorojas

September 6, 2010 at 2:02 am