Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

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

orgtheory puzzle: steve jobs 1 vs. steve jobs 2

There is one part of the Apple story that has always puzzled me: what was the difference between Steve Jobs pre-NeXT and post-NeXT? For those who aren’t Appleologists, Steve Jobs was booted from Apple in 1985. He ran a company called NeXT and founded Pixar. NeXT flopped but Pixar succeeded. About ten years later, in 1996, Jobs returned to Apple and steered it into the forefront of computing.

Here’s the thing that puzzled me: What happened in those years? What did he learn or do differently upon his return? I read the Walter Isaacson biography. It is heavy on detail, but light on analysis. You don’t quite understand how he changed in a way that allowed him to reach new heights or resolve old problems. Here are my hypotheses:

  1. Steve was a little older and a little wiser. He also had more practice from running these two firms which gave him the ability to be more innovative upon returning to Apple. In other words, practice makes perfect. Old people mellow. he worked better with others.
  2. Nothing changed. Same Steve, but the big difference is that he was completely control of Apple. In Steve Jobs 1, he had other founders to deal with and a board that reflected different groups of stakeholders. In Steve Jobs 2, all the founders were gone and he fired all board members not aligned with him. Thus, his fights with people didn’t undermine the company in the same way Steve Jobs 1 almost ruined Apple. In other words, Apple 1 was a divided firm with different stakeholders and Jobs was not an optimal CEO for such a firm. Apple 2 was built around Jobs and he excelled in that type of environment.

The main evidence for #1 is that he learned a lot from running NeXT that allowed the later Macs to be very successful and his media experience was directly leveraged into the iTunes project. The evidence for #2 is simply that that there is no evidence that Jobs changed as a manager at all over his whole life. The brilliant, but insane, guy you get at Reed in the 1970s is the same guy you get in the 2000s. Your opinion? Show me your work!

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Written by fabiorojas

May 5, 2015 at 12:01 am

firing an entire university

The legislature of South Carolina has allowed a budget to pass that will shut down South Carolina State University for a single year. According to news reports, the legislature tabled debate on a motion that would defund SCSU and close it for a year while they work on the finances:

The Higher Education Subcommittee’s plan would shut down the university on July 1, 2015 for fiscal year 2015-2016 and reopen in 2017. That plan would suspend all athletics programs, fire President Thomas Elzey, dismiss faculty and state employees, terminate the Board of Trustees.

During that year of closure, a Blue Ribbon Committee would look at the school’s finances, rehire necessary staff, reconstitute the athletics programs, and set curriculum before reopening the doors.

The state would also foot the bill for the university’s debts and loans.


Satellite campuses of state schools are occasionally closed and/or merged for all kinds of reasons. But I think this is a first in that the legislature intends to continue funding SCSU at a later time, just with different management. This happens occasionally with private colleges who might close and then re-open, as has happened with Antioch College. An interesting question is (a) whether the South Carolina legislature will approve this policy and (b) if successful, how often legislatures will use this procedure to manage other state college campuses.

Higher ed geeks, use the comments.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 12, 2015 at 12:01 am

Posted in education, fabio, leadership

party in the street: the main idea

For the last eleven years, my friend Michael Heaney and I have conducted a longitudinal study of the American antiwar movement. Starting at the 2004 Republican National Convention protests in New York City, we have been interviewing activists, going to their meetings, and observing their direct actions in order to understand the genesis and evolution of social movements.  We’ve produced a detailed account of our research in a new book called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11. If the production process goes as planned, it should be available in February or early March.

In our book, we focused on how the antiwar movement is shaped by its larger political environment. The argument is that the fortunes of the Democratic party affect the antiwar movement’s mobilization. The peak of the movement occured when the Democratic party did not control either the White House or Congress. The movement demobilized as Democrats gained more control over the Federal government.

We argue that the the demobilization reflects two political identities that are sometimes in tension: the partisan and the activist. When partisan and activist goals converge, the movement grows as it draws in sympathetic partisans. If activism and partisanship demand different things, partisan identities might trump the goals of activist, leading to a decline of the movement. We track these shifting motivations and identities during the Bush and Obama administrations using data from over 10,000 surveys of street protestors, in depth interviews with activists, elected leaders, and rank and file demonstrators, content analysis of political speeches, legislative analysis, and ethnographic observations.

If you are interested in social movements, political parties and social change, please check it out. Over the next month and a half, I will write posts about the writing of the book and the arguments that are offered.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($1!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

January 6, 2015 at 12:01 am

computational sociology: from industry’s side

We discussed the tools computational sociologists should know and what soc departments should do. Now, we discuss what industry might do profitably engage with the field:

  • Hire sociologists: Seriously. Ask yourself this – how many times have you seen engineers and computer scientists come up with some cool graph using big data that really doesn’t make a dime’s worth of difference? You can create teams of engineers and sociologists, who tend to be a bit better finding the meaning of data. It’s like peanut butter and chocolate – different, but they taste great together.
  • Hire sociology departments: There was an older tradition where leading sociology programs would do consulting work with for-profit firms. Columbia used to be the leader here. Now that is mostly gone. Bring us some projects that you need help with.
  • Send us your nerds: If your company is developed enough, you might be able to give a semester sabbatical (3 months) as a reward. They can take a class and work on projects. Think of it in the same way that an executive might get a little time for MBA level training.
  • Academic github: Create a stable space for storing data and/or code derived from commerical work. In other words, make a space where people can continually consult data generated from industry  collaboration.

Add your ideas in the comments.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($1!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street!!

Written by fabiorojas

January 5, 2015 at 12:06 am

Posted in academia, fabio, leadership

organizing, mobilizing, and the people’s climate march – a guest post by hahrie han

Hahrie Han (@hahriehan) is an associate professor of political science at Wellesley College. She is a leading expert on political organizations, activism, and civic engagement. Her first book is Moved to Action: Motivation, Participation, and Inequality in American Politics. Her new books discuss the Obama campaign organization and the cultivation of leadership. This guest post draws from her recent work.


On Sunday, somewhere between 300,000 and 600,000 people gathered in New York City for the People’s Climate March—the largest march for climate justice in history and, as Bill McKibben pointed out in one of his tweets following the march, “the largest political gathering about anything in the US in a very very long time. About anything!” How were march organizers able to get so many people engaged in this moment of collective action?

The #PeoplesClimateMarch created a flurry of activity online—a number of different organizations reached out via social media, organizers created and distributed a short movie called “Disruption” to advertise the march, and organizations themselves reached their members via multiple online tools. Although some media has focused on this online activity to explain the success of the march, the real story lies behind the tweets and online posts.

In my recent book, How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century, I asked what explains the difference between organizations that are really good at getting people involved in civic and political action around health and environmental issues and those that are not as good. I found that what differentiated the highest engagement organizations was their ability to blend mobilizing (transactional actions, including many online actions, designed to get as many people as possible to do something) with organizing (transformational work designed to transform people’s capacities for action). Many organizations confuse mobilizing and organizing, but I argue that they are quite different, and have many different implications for activism, democratic theory, and civic engagement (see here and here for a description of the difference between the two).

The highest engagement organizations in my study used mobilizing strategies to reach people at scale, and organizing strategies to develop the leaders they needed who could do that outreach. The math is simple: the more people there are mobilizing their own personal networks to take action, the more likely the organization is to achieve scale. How do you develop leaders who have the willingness and skills to mobilize their networks? Organizing. Distributing leadership through organizing, in other words, was their secret to mobilizing at scale, and achieving wins like what we saw with the People’s Climate March.

Consider Phil, for instance, an environmental organizer profiled in my book (note that all the names used here are pseudonyms). He was responsible for organizing a statewide conference with the goal of bringing several thousand people together around a campaign to pressure the state legislature. At first, he tried to do the work alone—but quickly realized there was no way he could generate the kind of attendance they wanted if he worked alone. So he recruited a group of volunteer leaders to be part of the steering committee of the conference. Each of those volunteers recruited their friends to head up committees and subcommittees. Each committee chair was responsible for recruiting people to be part of her team. In the end, there was a group of about 100 volunteers responsible for planning the conference. Phil’s job was not to mobilize several thousand people, but instead to support and coach the volunteer leaders who were doing the mobilizing. By using organizing to build a structure of distributed leadership, Phil was able to mobilize at scale.

Despite evidence demonstrating the power of community organizing, many organizations choose not to do it because it’s too hard. Unlike mobilizing, organizing can be extremely time-consuming and resource intensive. It is always easier to craft a well-target email to send to a wide network than it is to have an agitational conversation with a new volunteer. The thing that organizations making this choice miss, however, is the fact that mobilizing becomes easier if they organize. This is a lesson that climate justice organizers learned over the years and put to good use in planning the People’s Climate March.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 24, 2014 at 12:01 am

soviet deep battle doctrine: policy so bad it’s good

A while back, I got into reading about Soviet “Deep Battle” doctrine. Here’s the Wiki summary:

Deep battle encompassed manoeuvre by multiple Soviet Army front-size formations simultaneously. It was not meant to deliver a victory in a single operation; instead, multiple operations, which might be conducted in parallel or successively, would induce a catastrophic failure in the enemy’s defensive system. Each operation served to divert enemy attention and keep the defender guessing about where the main effort, and main objective, lay. In doing so, it prevented the enemy from dispatching powerful mobile reserves to this area. The Army could then overrun vast regions before the defender could recover. The diversion operations also frustrated an opponent trying to conduct an elastic defence. The supporting operations had significant strategic objectives themselves and supporting units were to continue their offensive actions until they were unable to progress any further. However, they were still subordinated to the main/decisive strategic objective determined by the Stavka.

In other words, if you’re big, sit on the enemy.

Now, this is interesting for a number of reasons. First, most modern armies, starting after WWI, have not relied much on raw size. Instead, most Western states field armies that have strived for mobility. The German blitzkrieg is an example. Today, the US armed forces are striving toward smaller groups that have multiple capabilities (air support combined with infantry). Second, the Soviet military sector was not known for its innovative theory. In fact, Soviet deep battle theory is so odd that it has inspired its own cottage industry of commentators.

The most interesting take on Soviet deep battle is by Earl Ziemke, in a 1983 issue of Parameters, a journal of the War College. Ziemke makes the following arguments:

  • SDB was not really implemented since its creators were killed in the purges of the 1930s.
  • The USSR’s biggest victory, the battle of Stalingrad, was actually a case of modern maneuver warfare. The Red Army won by encircling the Nazi army and essentially starving it to death.
  • SDB was only implemented (barely) in late WW2 when a massive Red Army was steamrolling through Eastern Europe.
  • After WW2, SDB was dropped as the Red Army retooled for nuclear war.

So here’s my take on deep battle. At first, you have a theory that is shaped by contingency. You have a big massive army, so you build a theory about drowning the enemy. Then, the the theory fails early in WW2. It’s proponents are murdered and what’s left is useless. Then, by chance, a situation arises where SDB makes sense. Once that passes, SDB is praised in order to make the victory homegrown and logical rather than accidental. Once history moves on, the theory is quietly dropped and SDB becomes the province of military historians in needs of something to say about the cryptic Soviet military. Bottom line: Zombie policies keep historians employed.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 28, 2014 at 12:00 am

book announcement: party in the street – the antiwar movement and the democratic party after 9/11

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It is my pleasure to announce the forthcoming publication of a book by Michael Heaney and myself. It is called Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11. It will be available from Cambridge University Press starting in early 2015.

The book is an in-depth examination of the relationship between the major social movement of the early 2000s and the Democratic Party. We begin with a puzzle. In 2006, the antiwar movement began to decline, a time when the US government escalated the war and at least five years before US combat troops completely left Iraq. Normally, one would expect that an escalation of war and favorable public opinion would lead to heightened  activism. Instead, we see the reverse.

We answer this question with a theory of movement-party intersections – the “Party in the Street.” Inspired by modern intersectionality scholarship, we argue that people embody multiple identities that can reinforce, or undermine, each other. In American politics, people can approach a policy issue as an activist or a partisan. We argue that the antiwar movement demobilized not because of an abrupt change in policy, but because partisan identities trumped movement identities. The demobilization of the antiwar movement was triggered, and concurrent with, Democratic victories in Congress and the White House. When push comes to shove, party politics trumps movement activism.

The book is the culmination of ten years of field work, starting with a survey of antiwar protesters at the Republican National Convention in August 2004. The book examines street protest, public opinion, antiwar legislation, and Iraq war policy to makes its case. If you are interested in American politics, political parties, peace studies, political organizations, or social movements, please check this book out. During the fall, I’ll write a series of posts that will explain the argument in some more detail.

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higher education and the “new economy”


Wired recently produced a nifty graphic that showed were the major tech firms recruit their employees. The messages are obvious:

  • Physical proximity – this is West Coast/Canada intensive.
  • Engineering.

IBM is the exception, in that it recruits from India. But still, it recruits from the big Indian engineering programs.

The other message that I get is from the absences. 1. The Midwest engineering powerhouses (Ohio, Kansas, Michigan, Illinois) are under represented due to geography. Path dependence is cruel. 2. The Ivy League and elite liberal arts are sparsely represented, probably due to a lot recruitment by finance and smaller engineering departments. So in terms of the upper strata of the economy, West Coast is for innovation, East Coast is elite training, and the Midwest is for building cars and stuff.

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

Written by fabiorojas

June 3, 2014 at 12:03 am

gender quotas and boards of directors

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

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

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Written by fabiorojas

February 12, 2014 at 12:01 am

mentors vs. sponsors in labor markets

A lot of sociologists buy into the theory of “sponsored mobility,” which means that elites pick who gets the mobility. So I think there should be a lot of sympathy for  recent research showing that mentorship (communicating with more advanced people) does not have an effect on career advancement but sponsors (people who pick you, push you, and get benefit from it) do have an effect. Robin Hanson reviews a book by economist Sylvia Ann Hewett that makes this claim:

In a new book, economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett uses data to show that mentorship, in its classic wise-elder-advises-younger-employee form, doesn’t produce statistically significant career gains. What does however, her research found, is something she has termed “sponsorship”—a type of strategic workplace partnering between those with potential and those with power. … –

And there is an important implication for the study of gender and inequality:

Women are only half as likely as men to have a sponsor—a senior champion at work who will basically take a bet on them, tap them on the shoulder, and really give them a shot at leadership. Women have always had mentors, friendly figures who give lots of advice. They’re great. They’re good for your self-esteem; they’re good for your personal development. But no one’s ever been able to show that they do anything to help you actually move up. …

We find that women in particular often choose the wrong people. … They seek out a senior person they’re very comfortable with. … For a sponsor, you should go after the person with power, because you need someone who has a voice at those decision-making tables. You need to respect that person, you need to believe that person is a fabulous leader and going places, but you don’t need to like them. You don’t need to want to emulate them.

If true, this forces me to modify my views. I have always believed that sponsored mobility is important in academia, but I believe that mentorship matters as well. If Hewett is right, my belief is misplaced. It’s really about sponsored mobility. So, if you care about women or minorities advancing in some career track (like academia), then forget the nice lunches. Administrators should double down on matching people with power players. A bit rude, but it might be one concrete way to chip away at inequality in the leadership of the academy.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 18, 2013 at 3:47 am

dumping your organizational identity

Dissertation topic for up and coming orgheads: Facebook’s complete dominance over the field of friendship based social networking creates an interesting opportunity for the study of organizational identity. Usually, when a firm comes to completely rule an industry, a few firms pick up the scraps and the rest just go under.

But there is another, less explored path. Losers can change their identity. Social networking is a great example. Friendster just gave up its original business model and is now marketed as a gaming web site. MySpace also abandoned its role as a serious player in social networking and reverted to its original goal of serving musicians that reach out to their fans.

Here’s some questions I would ask: 1. What % of loser firms change identity? 2. What conditions enable identity change in firms? 3. What conditions enable successful identity change, in the sense that the firm now accomplishes its goal because of its new identity? My hunch is that corporate culture is going to be a big factor. To pull this off, you’ll need  a group of people who can be managed in a way that they won’t bail on the org as it redefines, or have management that won’t just sell the firm for spare parts rather than find a new home for it. Please use the comments to prove/disprove the hypothesis.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 15, 2013 at 12:11 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

theories of great social actors

When I visited Millsaps College a few weeks ago, I got into a discussion about international relations theory with my host, political scientist Michael Reinhard. I asked him why we (social scientists) needed to study famous political leaders, like Julius Caesar or Winston Churchill. His argument was intriguing. He said that highly successful social actors have often spent a lot of time understanding their social world. They are good at what they do – international relations in this case – because, at the very least, they have an intuition about the world that is important and correct. Some, like Churchill, will even explain their views to others. In other words, political scientists should study great leaders because great leaders actually understand power fairly well.

In sociology, we have no such argument, but it is worth thinking about. We are resistant to great leader stories and for good reason. Great man stories often devolve into hero worship, or they rely on “Whig” history. But that doesn’t mean Great people scholarship is not without use. For example, what did Steve Jobs understand about markets that management scholars should learn? Or, a more sociological example, what does a great religious leader understand about religion that sociologists of religion should know? Taking a turn from Bourdieu, we could look at any social field, identify the “masters,” and then use them as research sites where we can understand how the field is put together.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 8, 2013 at 12:17 am

J. Richard Hackman and his legacy

Over a week ago, a colleague called to let me know that our advisor, Harvard Prof. J. Richard Hackman, had passed. For months, I knew that this news would eventually come, but it’s still painful to accept. I will miss hearing Richard’s booming voice, having my eyeglasses crushed to my face from a bear hug (Richard was well over 6 feet tall), or being gleefully gifted with a funny hand-written note imparting his sage advice on a matter.

Here is Richard preparing his introductory remarks for HackFest 2011 at HBS:

Richard was a greatly respected work redesign and teams researcher. At Harvard, his classes included a highly regular and popular (despite its “early” morning time slot) course on teamwork. For those undergraduate and graduate students who have been lucky enough to take Richard’s course on teams, the course interweaves concept and practice as students must work in teams, something that most of us get very little practice with outside of organized sports or music.

In July 2012, Richard emailed several of his former teaching fellows asking us to join him in Cambridge and help him rework this course. On short notice, we assembled at the top floor of William James Hall and went over the materials, with Richard expertly leading us as a team, with clearly designated boundaries (those of us assembled for the task), a compelling direction (revising the material to attract students across disciplines), enabling structure (norms that valued contributions of team members, no matter their place in the academic hierarchy), and a supportive context (reward = tasty food, an incentive that always works on former graduate students, and good fellowship).

During this last meeting, Richard asked us about how we thought his course on teamwork could most impact individuals. I opined that his biggest impact wouldn’t be through just the students who took his course, but via those of us who would continue to teach teamwork and conduct research in other settings. This question may have been Richard’s gentle way of telling us that he was passing on the baton.

Here are several ways that I think Richard’s legacy lives on.
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Written by katherinechen

January 19, 2013 at 4:30 am

routine charisma in organizations

Guest blogger emeritus and burning lady Katherine Chen has a new article out in Qualitative Sociology on the issue of charisma in organizations: “Charismatizing the Routine: Storytelling for Meaning and Agency in the Burning Man Organization.” The idea is simple – story telling is a mechanism in organizations for sustaining interest:

Expanding organizations face the routinization of charisma dilemma in which rationalization, or everyday organizing activities, drains meaning and depresses agency. Using an ethnographic study of the organization behind the annual Burning Man event, I show how storytelling can combat disenchantment by promoting consideration of agency and meaning-making. This research demonstrates how storytelling infuses organizational rationality with meaning and agency, thereby “charismatizing the routine.” Through storytelling, people can derive meaning from even the most mundane routines and inspire listeners to imagine possibilities not covered by rules or conventions. Stories also stave off bureaucratic ritualism by clarifying the boundaries between appropriate and inappropriate activities, encouraging a range of actions over coercive restrictions.

More on Katherine’s Burning Man project can be read here – and buy her book!

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Written by fabiorojas

June 30, 2012 at 12:03 am

Posted in culture, fabio, leadership

beauty queen politicians

Guest blogger emerita Hilary Levey Friedman has a nice article in Slate today about beauty contest winners who go into politics. The take home point? The pageants now focus on scholarship, which attracts a very different type of contestant:

Navigating the reign of reality television, the female athlete-turned-superstar, televised Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, and the soaring  rates of women in higher education, Miss America has increasingly become more serious, emphasizing scholarship money and advocacy (though, yes, to win, a woman still needs to wear a bathing suit on national television). In 2012 the broadcast enjoyed its best ratings in eight years. As the Miss America brand evolves, the American political system/media circus continues to devolve. One world gets more serious, one gets less, and the two collide somewhere in the middle: The time seems right for the beauty-queen politician.

Makes sense: free publicity + social skill + strong intellect = political career. I’d also add that in other parts of the world, the beauty queen politician is already common. Imelda Marcos was a pageant winner and model, before going into politics.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Posted in culture, fabio, leadership

it hits the fan in virignia

Last week, Brayden asked about the firing of Teresa Sullivan, the former president of the University of Virginia. Brayden wondered if it was about an argument about the pace of change at Virignia. I thought it was about the conflicts between conservative trustees and the culture of academia.

Turns out that we’re both wrong. Details are emerging about Sullivan’s firing and they aren’t flattering to the Visitors (Viriginia’s name for its trustees). A number of sources argue that it wasn’t merely a dispute over costs, such as cutting small programs. Based on leaked emails, journalists have speculated that a policy about online education was really about letting Goldman Sachs use UVa to promote the online education business.

And it gets worse. A Chronicle of Higher Education reporter posted a PDF of a letter from the governor to the Board. It’s somewhat ambiguous about what should be done about Teresa Sullivan, but the message is clear – resolve this dispute by Tuesday (tommorrow) or the entire Board will hand in its resignation.

Use the comments to predict what will happen, or provide updates.

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Written by fabiorojas

June 25, 2012 at 5:01 am

Posted in education, fabio, leadership

Enter the Vortex of Vibrating TEDnergy

The next time your Dean starts giving you a hard time because you’ve never given a TEDx talk, just have them watch this.

To be honest, I think this talk justifies and redeems the entire TED brand.

Written by Kieran

June 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm

organizations and credibility

In a conversation with guest blogger emeritus Tim Bartley, we got into a discussion of when organizations join associations and when they are expelled. E.g., a firm being expelled from a “fair trade” group for bad labor practices. Other examples: colleges losing accreditation, or churches being expelled from their league for apostasy. A few issues came up:

  • These associations rarely expel organizations. It seems to be hard. Partly, if you expel too many people, you lose your audience.
  • A decent chance of expulsion of censure may discourage people from trying. If you know that your firm has a 30% of triggering a labor violation to start with, why join?
  • Tim brought up state sanctions, there is no way to dodge.
  • Upon reflection, states are complicated as well. There is capture, when the regulated gain influence over the state. There is also repeal, firms may successfully lobby to have certain rules revoked (e.g., the repeal of Glass-Steagall).
  • In the case of higher ed, for example, accreditation standards (e.g., law schools need law review journals) often appear to be make work, rather than genuine quality signals.

Overall, I remain skeptical of these associations and their attempts to provide a seal of approval for businesses.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 14, 2012 at 12:01 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

steve jobs and the no @$$hole rule

Bob Sutton teaches us that @$$holes are a bad thing. They take up our time, they decrease our productivity. But what do we make of the Steve Jobs biography? According to one headline, it shows that Jobs was a “jerk and a genius.” What gives? Was Sutton wrong?

Here’s my take. Yes, in general, jerks are a bad thing. Research and personal experience show that they are. For every mean boss who succeeds, there’s a legion that just make their co-workers miserable and unproductive. Early in his career, Jobs was the paragon of the jerk who pulled everyone down with him. One of the reasons he was run out from Apple was that he constantly fought with other factions within Apple.

So how did Jobs break out of this trap? A few ways. First, he became better at his job over time. Even though there were some problem products later in his career, nothing compared to the bomb that was the Lisa computer. It’s easier to command respect and compliance when your batting average goes up, way up. The benefits of working with Jobs now outweighed his negatives.

Second, Jobs restructured the organization and eliminated people who didn’t buy into his personal style.  Early in his career, he had to work with people who were older than him and knew him before he became famous. They might not always buy into the “reality distortion field.” Later, Apple leaders were mainly people groomed by him. All the old leadership had retired or were fired upon Jobs’ return.

Third, Jobs was fairly interactive. Yes, he was a bit of an @$$hole, but the biography shows many cases of where he built strong bonds with people.  A lot of @$$holes never balance the aggression with positive reinforcement.

Bottom line: I still believe in Sutton’s rule, but Jobs was exceptional. Almost no one had his deep knowledge of the high tech business or such an acute sense of style and design. Few can build an organization tailored to their personality. Most @$$holes will never be in Jobs’ league and will merely make our lives miserable. Long live the no @$$hole rule!

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Written by fabiorojas

October 31, 2011 at 12:05 am

a sociology of Steve Jobs

Hosted over on my own blog, mostly because it’s a little long, here’s A Sociology of Steve Jobs.

Written by Kieran

October 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm

amj is orgtheorytastic!!!

If you love organization theory and institutional analysis, you’ll find the most recent edition of the Academy of Management Journal very interesting. December 2010 is dedicated to exploring new directions in the study of organizational environments. Here’s the table of contents.

A few highlights: Mukti Khaire, one of the very first orgtheory guest bloggers, has  an article, co-written with R. Daniel Wadhwani,  on the development of the Indian art market:

Changing Landscapes: The Construction of Meaning and Value in a New Market Category—Modern Indian Art

Stable category meanings act as institutions that facilitate market exchange by providing bases for comparison and valuation. Yet little is known about meaning construction in new categories or how meaning translates into valuation criteria. We address this gap in a descriptive study of these processes in an emerging category: modern Indian art. Discourse analysis revealed how market actors shaped the construction of meaning in the new category by reinterpreting historical constructs in ways that enhanced commensurability and enabled aesthetic comparisons and valuation. Analysis of auction transactions indicated greater intersubjective agreement about valuation over time as the new category institutionalized.

Matt Kraatz, also a guest, analyzes the adoption of new practices with a study of enrollment management practices, written with institional theory guru Marc Ventresca and Lina Deng.

Precarious Values and Mundane Innovations: Enrollment Management in American Liberal Arts Colleges

Drawing primarily from Selznick’s institutionalism, we make a general case for renewed attention to the “mundane administrative arrangements” that underlie the organizational capacity for value realization and a particular case for the study of value-subverting management innovations. An empirical study of “enrollment management” in liberal arts colleges reveals this ostensibly innocuous innovation’s value-undermining effects and identifies the organizational and environmental factors that have made these venerable organizations more or less susceptible to its adoption.

Lots of other goodies: Lok on organizational identity; Battilana and Dorado address organizational identity with a study of micro-finance groups; Marquis and Huang discuss founding conditions and path dependence in the banking industry; McClean and Benham discuss corporate misconduct. And there’s tons more!

Finally, if you’d like to read my latest thinking on institutions, movements and organizational change, I have an article about how organizational leaders can expand their power through manipulating institutions (“Power Through Institutional Work”). I explain how one college president used the institutional disruption associated with the Black Student movement to redefine his powers and repress the movement (sort of!).

Written by fabiorojas

January 20, 2011 at 2:42 am

what happened to apple university?

A while back, we reported that Yale b-school dean and network sociologist Joel Podolny was hired to head the new “Apple University.” Anyone know the status of that project? Or even what Apple U is supposed to be? Is it in house training, like Hamburger U (for fast food managers at MacDonalds), or is it an external school like the GM Institute/Kettering? Inquiring minds want to know.

Written by fabiorojas

October 6, 2010 at 3:41 pm

Posted in education, fabio, leadership

institutionalism and public policy

Two weeks ago, I reviewed Between Movement and Establishment, an institutional analysis of youth advocacy groups. My big complaint was that institutional scholars needed to get up to speed and work on policy. Lots of good work on describing youth advocacy organizations, not enough on the outcomes. So what can institutionalists add to debates over organizational outcomes and policy? A few suggestions:

  1. Institutionalism is pretty useful for coming up with hypotheses about the creation and adoption of policies. The movement/institutional literature has good descriptions of how interest groups affect the policy environment. For example, one hypothesis is that movement generated policies usually have to be watered down to be accepted. Another hypothesis is that policy adoption waves are like management fads. There’s already a decent literature on this in org studies and public policy.
  2. Institutional theory has promise on the issue of implementation. Once the organization adopts policy, how does it get translated into practice? The new research on institutional work I think has promise. You have to consider what organizational leaders do to make something acceptable, or to reframe the rules so that new policy is possible.
  3. Outcomes – here the link is less obvious. One way that institutionalism could contribute is to discuss how culture affects the definition and monitoring of outcomes. Another insight, drawing from our former guest Michael Sauder, is that the ranking/rating of outcomes creates new incentives for organizational behavior, “teaching to the test.” I wonder if there’s an interesting story about how institutional processes change the behavior of people targeted by policy (performativity strikes again!!!!). It’s a stretch, but worth considering.

#1 isn’t bad and #2 is a straight forward application of current institutional theory. Doing #3 for real would be a home run.

Written by fabiorojas

September 27, 2010 at 1:48 am

great (untested) propositions from org. theory

Today I ran across this beautiful paragraph from an American Political Science Review article (1963) by Peter Blau:

In general, a situation of collective dependence is fertile soil for the development of authority, but its development is contingent on judicious restraint by the superior in the use of his power. If he alienates subordinates by imposing his will upon them against their resistance, they will obey only under duress and not freely follow his lead. If, on the other hand, he uses some of his power to further their collective interests, the common experience of dependence on and obligation to the superior is apt to give rise to shared beliefs that it is right and in the common interest to submit to his command, and these social values and the corresponding social norms of compliance legitimate and enforce his authority over them, as has been noted. In brief, coercive power and authority are alternative forms of social control, which are incompatible, but which both have their roots in conditions of collective dependence (313).

Blau is in fine form here. The paragraph is rich with testable propositions about authority, none of which he actually investigates empirically in the article. I identified the following implied propositions, but there may be more.

  • Groups with greater member interdependence will have higher levels of authority legitimacy (i.e., shared beliefs of the rightness of a superior’s command).
  • Superiors who exercise power against the will of group members will lose the legitimacy of their authority.
  • Superiors who sacrifice to provide collective benefits for the group will enhance the legitimacy of their authority.
  • Both of the above effects are moderated by group member interdependence.

Written by brayden king

August 31, 2010 at 9:15 pm

“lab in the field” experiments, behavioral games and real life outcomes.

Lab in the field setting... (Uganda, summer 2009)

Behavioral games are abstract situations in which individuals have to allocate resources between themselves and other players and allow to study strategic interdependence in decision making: participants have to take into account the objectives and strategies of the other players. For instance, in the Public Goods game each player is allocated an endowment (i.e., 10 coins, generally corresponding to a consistent proportion of a daily wage), and must decide how much of his endowment to keep in his personal pocket and how much to put in a group pot. The total amount donated to the group pot is then doubled and redistributed evenly among all the players. For the individual, the optimal strategy is to give nothing and “free-ride” on other players’ contributions to the collective fund, while the most profitable outcome for the group is that all players contribute everything.

Differently from what a rational choice model would predict, experimental results have shown that in the first round of a public goods game players contribute, on average, between 40 to 60% of their endowment. Although cooperation in real life occurs more often than a rational choice approach would suggest, most economists did not consider observational evidence sufficient to assess between egoistic and altruistic models of human behavior, because in real life (seemingly) altruistic/non-selfish behavior can always be explained as covertly oriented to increase one’s reputation, psychological well-being or being enforced by internalized social norms and fear of social sanctions. Indeed, it was experimental evidence coming from behavioral games to put in jeopardy the micro-foundation of the rational choice approach by documenting people’s predisposition to reciprocity, cooperation, and altruism in completely anonymous settings.

I have to admit that my first reaction to experimental literature was: “only an economist would need laboratory experiments to realize that selfish motives are not the only drive in human behavior.” Nonetheless, I am grateful that these games have been developed, since they represent an extremely useful tool for social science research, as I had the chance to experience first-hand in my current research on farmer organizations in rural Uganda.

In collaboration with Guy Grossman, a graduate student in political science at Columbia University, I conducted a quite innovative research that combines experimental evidence from behavioral games played in the field with social networks information and observational data. The research involved more than 3,000 farmers and local leaders from 50 farmer cooperatives through Uganda. Goal of the research was to understand how producer organizations in development countries solve classic problems of collective action. The study focuses on the role of social and spatial networks, associational capital, and leadership accountability in affecting economic and social outcomes.

To give you a sense of how behavioral games added to our study consider the following example. One of our hypotheses was that leaders’ accountability and their willingness to monitor and sanction non-cooperative behavior greatly influences group outcomes. Unfortunately, this hypothesis is hard to test relying exclusively on observational data, because of selection and measurement issues. Thus, to capture the role of legitimacy and the effects of a centralized sanctioning system we designed a novel adaptation of the public goods game in which players were randomly assigned to three different conditions. The first condition (baseline), simply replicates 6 rounds of a conventional public goods game. In the two other conditions, after two preliminary rounds of play, one of the players was selected out of the session to become a monitor endowed with sanctioning power. The monitor could spend 1 coin to take away 3 coins from players whose contribution level he disapproves. In the second condition (random monitor), the monitor was selected through a random lottery, while in the third condition (elected monitor) the monitor was elected by the players using a secret ballot. Results, reported in the figure below, suggest that in the presence of a centralized sanctioning system, players significantly increase their contribution to the public good: in both elected and random monitor conditions players contribute more, on average, than in the baseline. Moreover, the process of monitor selection is consequential: elected monitors are perceived as more legitimate and thus exert a greater authority.

Average contribution in the Public Goods game

Interestingly, we find that behavior in games is related to real life economic performance: the more productive members of the farmer organizations (namely, those who sell their crop in bulk through the organization) give higher contributions in the elected monitor condition, thus suggesting that centralized sanctioning and leader legitimacy are relevant factors in explaining organizational outcomes. This finding shows that behavioral games can be used not only to capture underlying behavioral tendencies common to all human beings (or profound cultural differences across societies) but also to measure differences between individuals (or groups) that derive from their individual and group experiences. In this respect I think lab in the field experiments that incorporate behavioral games into socially meaningful settings are an interesting addition to the social science research (out of the lab) tool-kit.

Written by deliabalda

July 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm

leading through failure

Erika Summers Effler’s new book, Laughing Saints and Righteous Heroes: Emotional Rhythms in Social Movement Groups, delves deeply into the inner lives of social movement organizations. One of the things I like about the book is the rich description of interpersonal interactions that sustain movement organizations facing perpetual failure. The big idea is that emotions are the fuel that keep social movement groups moving, especially in situations where the group is struggling to meet expectations. Here is a great example, in which Summers Effler demonstrates how leaders of movement groups use failure to build a narrative about the organization and cement their own leadership.

Leaders were made and reaffirmed in the recovery of the groups following collapse. To recover, leaders had to pull themselves up by their emotional bootstraps, evoke the emotions associated with success and expansion, and craft the stories that made sense of the groups’ failure….Both of the groups rode emotional roller coasters, but the leaders rode more extreme ones, benefiting the most from success but also losing the most and feeling the most drained and stuck when the group failed. They had all of their proverbial eggs – in this case, identity, expectations, and interaction tools and strategies – in one interaction basket. they stood to gain more when they were able to pull a group back from the edge of disintegration, but they also stood to lose more if the group disintegrated. Charismatic leaders were like emotional batteries. These emotional batteries keep the scenes together through maintaining the focus of attention and the positive emotions associated with this focus (125-6).

I’d say this is true of all kinds of leaders. As I mentioned last week, middle managers, an understudied type of leader, are in many ways the emotional core of their organizations. They keep their teams moving forward by setting the emotional tone of the group. The costs of motivating people certainly go up when the group experiences failure, but the rewards for getting the group through that crisis situation are high. This is, I think, what Summers Effler is getting at in her cases. Leaders have to expend more of their emotional energy when a group is in decline, but if the group is able to recover the leader gains charisma and other sorts of political capital. Moreover, skillful leaders can use those moments of failure to sharpen the identity of the organization. In the face of failure, key questions about organizational identity – “who are we? what is unique about this organization?” – matter much more than during times of abundance. Only an organization that can offer positive, affirmative answers to those questions can make the case that it is worth saving (or at least worth expending emotional energy for).

Written by brayden king

June 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Posted in books, brayden, leadership

party political broadcast

Hogarth, Canvassing for Votes

I’m running for a position on the Publications Committee in this year’s ASA Elections, and voting has just opened. So, naturally, I am hereby soliciting your vote. This may seem like an impersonal broadcast post, but if you look closer you’ll see it’s really directed at you alone. Just think of those good times we spent together. (You know, before that unfortunate incident, which absolutely was not my fault.)

Sadly, election to the Publications Committee does not empower me to hand out free ASR articles to people. Nevertheless, if it will secure your support I will probably go ahead and promise to do that anyway.

Written by Kieran

April 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm

exalted professional syndrome: on expert driven dysfunction

A few days ago, we got into a good discussion about the organizational culture of hospitals. The professional identity of many doctors is tied up with a need to assert authority and treat subordinates as inferiors rather than team members. This, it turns out, has severe consequences for patient safety. A surgeon or a physician can routinely ignore vital information about patients that may improve their care or even save their lives.

The orgheads noted that the stubborness of medical professionals is tied to professional identity and authority. Then, Katherine raised an important point – toxic culture is not limited to hospitals. All kinds of organizations eschew team work in favor of the exalted professional. Universities are full of professors who answer to no one, police departments have officers who are treated as ultimate authorities on certain cases, etc.To tease out this insight, let me state it more directly:

 Exalted Professional Syndrome: An organization suffers from EPS when it is based on a culture that values professional autonomy over everything else. EPS is characterized by the following traits:

  • The organization is a college of experts who answer to no one.
  • The experts value their own autonomy over task completion, cost-benefit analysis, and performance.
  • The experts operate in a strictly hierarchical fashion, ignoring the input of subordinates, rather than work as a team. The experts don’t trust information by qualified outsiders.
  • Managers have difficulties monitoring or controlling expert work.
  • Customers and clients are treated as problems to be solved rather participants in a process. In other words, work is problem oriented rather than people oriented.

This isn’t to say that EPS totally disables organizations. If you have talented experts, they will ensure that much gets accomplished. But routine improvements in performance are delayed or obstructed because it may result in a distribution of authority. For example, doctors don’t want nurses to tell them to wash their hands because nurses aren’t supposed to tell doctors what to do – even if washing hands can save live and millions of dollars! So, what do you think?


Written by fabiorojas

April 19, 2010 at 12:25 am

obama as state builder, not foreign policy leader

The essence of Obama is that he’s a master of rules, possesses extreme patience, and is all about big picture thinking. If you look at his greatest moments, they stem from these traits. Obama’s first electoral victory, for Illinois State Senate, came from eliminating Alice Palmer by showing she didn’t have enough valid signatures. Later, he bumped Hillary through an extremely complex strategy that focused on peeling off enough delegates so that he didn’t need need the constituencies that would be tied to the Clintons, such as older women and white Southern Democrats. This weekend, health care legislation passed through an even more complicated strategy that involved neutralizing insurance companies, limiting Democratic defectors, and understanding the more arcane Congressional rules. The result? The fist health care legislation to make it out of committee in decades, and the first major social reform since the 1960s.

These traits have proven time and time again to be  of extreme importance. They will make Obama one of the most consequential presidents. They will allow him to continue to expand the American welfare state and pick up on the work of the Johnson, and to some extent, the Nixon administrations.

However, I do have a suspicion that the same traits won’t be as effective in foreign policy issues. Obama recognizes that some people can’t be moved and then he devises a way around them using his institutional  mastery. This is way harder to do foreign policy. Example: closing the Guantanamo prison. In principle, this should be easy. As commander in chief, he could, through executive order, demand a review of the prison and then administration officials would then come up with a plan to move prisoners to other locations. And this is exactly the administration’s approach.

The problem? Once you move someone to American soil, they have legal rights, which triggers trials and political problem. One plan to build a maximum security prison in Illinois to house prisoners got shot down, which might be the first state to ever reject a prison in modern times. You can’t drop them back where they belong – their native government isn’t hot to accept someone who is either a genuine threat, or who might have been radicalized because they were in prison. At best, a few prisoners have been sent to various nations, such as Palau and Bermuda, often in secrecy or cover of darkness.

The point that I am trying to make is that foreign policy is not an arena with well defined rules that can be mastered and deployed against enemies.  The international system is the opposite, it’s been called a global anarchy. States do what they can get away with and global institutions are of limited help. If you have a hunch that there’s enough frustration with the current party leader, you can devise a primary strategy to pull these folks together and limit the opposition. In contrast, there are no rules in foreign affairs, just balances of power. Guantanamo remains open because Obama can’t, or won’t, make a person’s right to a trial disappear, nor has he been able to get many states to accept these prisoners. You can’t “work around” the problem. You have to either force the issue or persuade people. A number of commentators have come to a similar conclusion in Middle east policy. His policy appears disjointed and reactive, probably because their isn’t a concrete goal that can be achieved nor a clear institutional framework to be manipulated.

This isn’t to claim that Obama will be a foreign policy disaster. Quite the contrary. He doesn’t appear eager to start wars, intentionally anger allies, or abandon global institutions just to show his toughness. By itself, not making things worse is a phenomenal improvement over his predecessor. There’s a lot to be said for that. Instead, what I am claiming is that the brilliant legislative moments of this weekend emerge from a specific way of doing politics that doesn’t translate well into international relations.

Written by fabiorojas

March 23, 2010 at 5:12 am

jim march’s passion and discipline

OK, I did not know that Jim March’s movie on Don Quixote’s Lessons for Leadership, Passion and Discipline, is posted online.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet — highly recommended: the movie has some thoughtful insights related to imagination and reality, consequentialist versus identity-based logic, learning from failure, joy, etc.

Written by teppo

February 1, 2010 at 6:59 am

Posted in leadership

orgtheory quiz #3: andorran politics

This one goes out to “Jerry” in Ann Arbor, a very special orgtheorist…

What form of executive leadership does Andorra have? Who is the head of state?

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

January 20, 2010 at 4:39 am

did obama cross the johnson line?

On Tuesday night, President Obama announced that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to continue the fight against al-Qaeda. This is not surprising to anyone who has followed Obama. Even though he opposed the Iraq war, he’s always  supported the war in Afghanistan.

The question I have is whether Obama has crossed the “Johnson line.” In my thinking on foreign affairs, I’ve always thought that there is a point in every conflict where massive escalation becomes the only option. It’s not pre-determined, but usually there’s some point where leaders decide that they can’t fend off critics who demand complete war against the enemy. The logic of “just send some more troops” becomes too hard to resist. I call it the Johnson line, after Johnson’s decision in 1965 to increase troops in Vietnam. Once Johnson crossed that line, people demanded that the job be done, no matter the cost. At one point, Johnson was sending 35,000 soldiers per *month* to Vietnam. By the end of the conflict, 2.5 million Americans had served in Vietnam.

So far, that has not been the case in either Afghanistan and Iraq. Both the Bush II and Obama administrations have consciously made an effort to sharply curtail troop levels. Much hated at the time, Rumsfeld intentionally allocated far fewer troops in Iraq than what the Pentagon thought was appropriate. It may have been a poor strategy motivated by bad ideas, but it had the unintended consequence of setting bounds on troop levels. Thus, the Bush adminsitration has never really gotten close to the Johnson line.

Obama’s speech also made it clear that he’s steering away from the Johnson line. First, he made it clear that he’s using a time table. He setting a sort of focal point for the conflict so the actors on the American side can get their act together. Second, he invoked a cost/benefit analysis in his speech. He made it clear that anti-terrorism will not trump other economic and political priorities. Thus, endless war is off the table.

I think even opponents of the war can appreciate what’s happening here,  even if they are dismayed overall. There were those in the GOP who demanded that conditions “on the ground” drive the war. It’s reasonable, but, in a sense, this is allowing that US actions be determined by the willingness of the enemy to create havoc. It’s also a strategy that assumes that physical security must preceded political stability, while there’s much evidence to believe that they have to happen simultaneously. Instead, Obama’s plan is to create some short term breathing space so that indigenous institutions can emerge.

Overall, I’m still worried. I do believe in punishing criminal terrorist groups. And Obama’s contained “surge-plus” strategy makes sense to a non-military person like me, but I do worry that he’ll be dragged into a longer, more escalated conflict. My worry is that terrorist groups will retreat to Pakistan and wait it out, which creates an incentive to prolong the conflict even further. I just hope that this doesn’t edge Obama closer to the Johnson line.

Written by fabiorojas

December 3, 2009 at 12:23 am