23 Chapters
Medium 9781605096001

Two: Crossing Boundaries to Investigate Problems in the Field: An Approach to Useful Research

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

AMY C. EDMONDSON

FOR MOST SCHOLARS in organizational behavior, the importance of advancing theory is obvious. In a field that arose in response to management challenges (Miner, 2002), one might argue that research advancing practice should be highly valued as well. Indeed, the need for strategies to manage the challenges faced by the organizations that inspire and fund our work creates an obvious imperative for research that helps those who manage and work in them.

We are told that the norms and demands of academic careers limit our ability to be useful (e.g., Fox, 2003). As the scholars in this book illustrate, however, the hurdles are far from insurmountable. Perhaps the dichotomy between theory and practice need not be so pronounced. Indeed, many of us draw inspiration from Kurt Lewin (1945, p. 129), who argued, over a half century ago, “Nothing is as practical as a good theory.” In this well-known statement, Lewin was not claiming that theory, by its very existence, is practical and should be respected as such, but rather that a good theory is one that can demonstrate its claim. As Lewin’s student Chris Argyris (e.g., 1980, 1982, 1993) has argued tirelessly, this is a tall order, but one that management researchers must embrace if we are to make a difference in the world. Though few journals appear to seek out or publish work with a practical component, the tradition of action research has remained vital and inspiring over the intervening decades (e.g., Argyris, Putnam, & Smith, 1988; Clark, 1980; Fox, 2003; Schein, 1987; Schwarz, 1994).

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Nine: On Knowing and Doing: A Perspective on the Synergies between Research and Practice

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

MICHAEL L. TUSHMAN

My career has been one of deliberately linking research (knowing) and practice (doing). As an undergraduate student at Northeastern University, I worked for five years as a co-op student at General Radio. This distinguished electronics firm was one of the first of its kind and was, at the time, the leading test equipment firm in the industry. However, during this period, the company began to fail in the face of technological change and the entrance of new competition (HP, among others). My carpool friends were about to be laid off. They faced the trauma associated with a historically dominant firm floundering in the face of a rapidly shifting competitive arena. As it turned out, making the same products better simply drove the firm more quickly out of business. I observed General Radio’s inertial responses to these competitive shifts and the disastrous consequences for its employees and stakeholders.

These experiences at General Radio led me to leave an electrical engineering career and move to graduate school to try to understand just what happened. For 30 years now, I have been working to answer the questions my carpool colleagues asked so many years ago. Just why do successful firms often fail at technological transitions? Why were seasoned executives rendered so incompetent at this particular transition? While my specific research questions have evolved over time, the central theme of my research has been rooted in this General Radio experience; that is, on trying to better understand how and why firms fail to adapt in the context of technological transitions.

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Seventeen: Practitioner Perspectives: Comments from a Panel Discussion

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

DAVID NADLER
IAN ZISKIN
EDWARD E. LAWLER III
MICHAEL BEER
SUSAN ALBERS MOHRMAN

THE FOLLOWING COMMENTS come from a discussion at the December 2009 book workshop. David Nadler and Ian Ziskin, both of whom are long-term supporters of and participants in the research of the Center for Effective Organizations, were asked to provide a practitioner’s perspective.

David Nadler has been an academic, a consultant, and a senior executive. He served on the faculty at the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University. In 1980, he founded the Delta Consulting Group and was CEO of the firm for 20 years. In 2000, he managed the acquisition of Delta by Mercer, a Marsh & McLennan Company, and continued to run Mercer Delta through 2005. In 2007, he was appointed vice chairman of the Marsh and McLennan Companies, a global professional services firm.

Ian Ziskin is president of EXec EXcel Group LLC, a consulting firm he founded after a highly successful 28-year career as a business executive. He is the former corporate vice president, chief human resources and administrative officer for Northrop Grumman Corporation.

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Fifteen: Popular and Influential Management Books

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

GEORGE S. BENSON *

A QUICK TRIP through any bookstore shows that the public’s interest in reading business books might only be exceeded by the willingness of gurus, academics, and executives to write them. Amazon currently sells more than 250,000 books categorized as “Management and Leadership.” Simply based on sales, a number of these books appear to have captured the attention of managers in the United States and around the world. There are also numerous examples of books without seven-figure sales whose ideas have helped shape business practice. This chapter investigates whether popular and influential management books are written by university-based researchers and addresses the prospect of translating organizational research to managerial practice through management books.

The degree to which popular management books are based on sound research has been hotly debated. Over the past several decades academics and other commentators have regularly criticized popular business books for presenting unsupported conclusions and poor quality research (e.g., Pierce, Newstrom, & Cummings, 2002). Despite their sales, popular business books in general have been widely panned by academic researchers as presenting simple prescriptions, promoting trademarked phrases, and repackaging common wisdom (Argyris, 2000; Rosenweig, 2009). Popular business books are often viewed as advertisements for seminars or consulting rather than as actual prescriptive ideas based on theory and research.

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Nineteen: Counterpoint: Now Is a Great Time for Conducting Relevant Research!

Mohrman, Susan Albers Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

SARA L. RYNES *

ALTHOUGH I DO NOT WISH to minimize the challenges for researchers who wish to create research that is useful to both theory and practice (as outlined by Cummings in Chapter 18, How Business Schools Shape (Misshape) Management Research), I would like to take a slightly different tack by offering several pieces of evidence suggesting that the type of research championed in this book is not only highly valued now, but is likely to become increasingly valued in the future.

I first got interested in the usefulness of research for practice through my interaction with a (then) graduate student, Brian McNatt. Brian was motivated to get a PhD because after several years of working in public accounting firms, he had observed and experienced many dysfunctional management practices and thought there just had to be a “better way.” He wanted to discover something about this better way through study and research, and then to disseminate what he had learned to managers and students through teaching. He was also highly motivated to examine his ideas in field settings (e.g., McNatt & Judge, 2004; McNatt, 2010) despite the challenges of doing so.

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