Category Archives: organization studies

Small Brained Managers- Are They Out There? Porac and Tschang

So, my friend and collaborator, Ted Tshang, have this short essay in the Journal of Management Inquiry.

It is really good!

Unbounding the Managerial Mind : It’s Time to Abandon the Image of Managers As ”Small Brains”, is the title (link to pdf) and it comes in the section called “Provocations,” which is exactly the kind of creative format that makes me enjoy JMI so much.

In a nutshell, the essay points out that the idea of “bounded rationality,” so famous and groundbreaking for organization science (especially the “Carnegie School“) has run its course in part because it puts too restrictive of a model on our operating metaphor of cognition.  As the put it so eloquently, the boundedly rational manager ALWAYS faces a world more complex than his (poor little) brain can comprehend either because of limits on what we can know (capacity) or learn (acquisition).

However, recent work in cognition at the neurological level, or even in the more novel “cognitive archaelogy” which tries to study how brain and culture co-evolve, has shown that neither clear invariant limits to what we can know (capacity) or learn (acquisition) conclusively exist.  It is not that we can learn everything quickly!  Of course not.  Rather, the complex ways we think, consciously or unconsciously, in patterns, in distributed cognition (across networks or even organizations), with heuristics and symbols, and using various constructions like optimization math, all mean that managerial thinking, so much like human thinking ( 😉 ), can be AS complex as the complex environments that it emerged from and that now also turns its attention towards in the effort to live and organize, to decide and manage.

I enjoyed all the references to various scholars whose work supports this view of cognition as what they describe is certainly how I see human cognition.  And, of course, like any org scientist, I think we are always in the middle range between theories of the individual (microfoundations) and of society (macro stuff).  Hence, it is valuable to update our core ideas at those two levels that form the sandwich cookie goodness around our yummy oreo-org theory middle layer.

As they wrap up, Porac and Tschang point out that the urge for a more realistic model of rationality cna lead to enumerations of types of rationality (March had 14 at one point?)?  This reminds me a little of tow other conclusions by other scholars.  First, Howard Gardner‘s “multiple intelligence” work, love it or hate it, made the idea of a multidimensional intelligence more accepted.  Second, in some parts of Weber (yes, that one, the Economy and Society guy), I have  a hazy memory that he starts trying to get into various rationalities in addition to formal rationality.  One is value rationality- that is, letting your values shape which ends you will use- and this, in my idealist-pragmatist mode, can leave room for a Weberian sociology without the “CLANG” of the inescapable Iron Cage.   Is it useful to think through a typology of cognitive or Weberian rationalities?  I don’t know.

But the idea of rationality and institutional logics seems important to me.  I keep describing logics as an internalized set of criteria for legitimacy;  I think I am recycling parts of Weber here and what he called rationality where rationality is expected means-ends chains.  Praying to the sun god for sun is not irrational if you believe the one leads to the other.  From Weber, I inherited that we are no more or less “rational” in our prayers to technology or formal rationality.  We act “as if” we believe in a set of ends-means and the belief is legitimacy.  And, hence, various logics can provide other sets of legitimate criteria.  A manager in a virtual world, if she believes it is a play world, acts rationally in one way that is different than she acts if she believes it is legitimately a “profit” world.  Bottom line: I think there is some deep connections between Weber and legitimacy and what Porac and Tschang are pointing out about types of rationality that humans posses (or use).

Seeing how Ted linked “unbounding” cognition to appreciating how managers can think like designers was also helpful as the design idea pops up in some current work: to use a virtual world, for example  managers need to think of its design (and even how design structures a la Giddens- it constrains AND enables).

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Filed under organization studies, organization theory, Orgs Stuff (theory, science, studies), social theory

What I Don’t Like About Theory Writing I

Inspired in part by the idea of an on-going series at org, (grad skol rulz), and my own desire to blog more frequently, I would like to launch a semi-recurring series of what I don’t like in theory writing.

I am reviewing conference submissions for a conference, and I have come across an example of the kind of figure or image I don’t like.

The Curse of the Everything-Is-Connected Figure.

This type of figure is usually used in a conceptual article.  And, to make matters worse, it is usually in the kind of article I am quite sympathetic to.  The author wants to get past static or overly-reified depictions of organizations.  They talk about the need for multi-level analyses which means looking at process, and, more often than not, mixed types of data.  They probably cite Gareth Morgan’s Image sof organizaions of book, or Mar Jo Hatch’s Organization Theory or Joel Baum (and others?) use of the metaphor of a fish scale to discuss org studies as a multiscience.

But, when you look at the figure, you realize that it explains everything and hence nothing.

Full disclosure: I am probably guilty of this kind of figure and when I find one, I will poke fun at myself too.  Here is mock-up I made of the type of figure.

Mock-up of the Everything-Is-Connected Figure. Are You Guilty of Producing One?

One problem with these is that they don’t specify what is moving between cells/circles/whatever-other-shape-tickled-one’s-fancy-in-insert-shape-in-MS word..

A second problem is they don’t deal with time.  Does sequencing matter?  How do changes agglutinate or accumulate?

So, throwing caution to the wind, have you seen one of these in published work?  Do they drive you a little nuts too?

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Filed under higher education, humor, organization studies, organization theory, Orgs Stuff (theory, science, studies), Research, social theory, sociology, Uncategorized, visualization

What Is “Interesting”? What is the Half-Life of New Ideas?

I have been recently revising for submission an article about the filed of virtual worlds and why is was very turbulent from 2007-2009, (working title is “Code Rules” and this is a paper I presented at EGOS 2010 with my collaborator, F. Ted Tschang from Singapore Management University).

We have realized that the “interesting” contribution we can make is to discuss the emergence and change in the field.  Now, honestly, this insight came from looking at the data and the influence of the classic 1991 New Institutionalism book edited by DiMaggio and Powell, a chapter by Thornton and Ocasio from the Sage 2008 Handbook on Institutionalism, and the 2005 special forum in Organization Science on the future of Organization Science, especially Davis and Marquis article calling for a turn to studying fields and mechanisms as especially apt for reinvigorating a study of contemporary capitalism.    I am not doing full citations since this is really the level of familiarity for me of these pieces.  These are pieces of scholarship that I know backwards and forwards, have annotated, have re-read, and have grasped lovingly as I stoop over a desk peering deeply for the meaning behind meaning of words.  Old school scholarship.

I suspect, without having ever discussed it much with other scholars, that we have similar habits.

In fact, I feel a little confessional about this whole post.  Am I pulling back the curtain?  Am I exposing my inner workings too much?

Setting aside my trepidation, the story continues…

I know that these pieces of scholarship are not self contained and are like crests on waves or currents of thought, discourse, and scholarship.

And in the process of drafting our ideas, I stopped looking for scholarship.  I had found in the past that trying to read everything on a topic was a crutch.  Hence, I had stopped.

So, as I started to revise and look for more citations to improve the framing, it was with a mix of surprise and annoyance I found a whole special issue from 2002 in Academy of Management Journal on this very topic.

So, now I wonder if our argument is not nearly as “interesting” as I thought it was.  What is the half-life of an academic trend?  How long can institutional theorists say “up to now we have looked at stable fields but now we need to look at field dynamics and emergence” as if this is a new idea?

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Filed under higher education, organization studies, organization theory, social theory, sociology

User Creativity, Governance, and the New Media

Ted and I have a publication out in First Monday. I have enjoyed the broad scope of the journal, and the editing process for an on-line journal is interesting.  The article is part of a special issue called “User Creatviity, Governance and the NEw Media.”  The editors are Bonnie Nardi and Yong Ming  Kow.

Please surf over to the First Monday site to read the paper, “Developing Virtual Worlds: The Interplay of Design, Communities, and Rationality.”

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Filed under digital culture, higher education, organization studies, organization theory, Second Life, virtual worlds

What is the size of the Metaverse?

I am working on one of my papers about the institutionalization of virtual worlds and I once again want some sort of clear statement about the size or scope of virtual worlds to quickly convince a reviewer that this is a “real” issue worth studying and that the hypecycle boom and bust around Second Life was a distraction from the real growth trends.

There is the widely cited Gartner figure of 80% of active users having an avatar by 2011. Many missed the adjective “active.” Gartner rightly, I think, was focusing on innovators and early adopters. It is still an eye-opening number.

There are academic papers documenting the dozens of worlds, as well as attempts to classify them along some variation of the following axes: overt gameness, ownership model, user-generated content, focus, or demographic target.

There is Castronova’s estimates of 20-40 million active users and economies on the scale of mid-sized countries (although this includes all those pesky MMO games).

I need to source this post better, but at least I have identified a few leads.


Filed under organization studies, technology, virtual worlds

The Need for Social Science in Climate Change

A recurrent theme I find as I look out at the world and human affairs is that many problems are not wanting for technical or know-how fixes.  Moreover, large scale change or differences over time or place often seem to turn on small differences in application or implementation.  This is more than a generalized idea of tipping points.  More specifically, I mean that small scale points of interaction or articulation between components of human systems can matter.  This is especially true in the case of collective action problems.  I like to tell my students about how idiotic it seemed that at my kids’ school, no one ever pulled all the way up into the drop off zone effectively doubling the number of sets of cars that could pull up (since they would go to half way point and stop).  A crossing guard was even standing there.  A year later, new guard is in place who waves people forward.  Voila, problem solved.  My day starts with less fuming and cursing.

A recent article in Nature addresses the need to understand human systems, the stuff of social sciences (especially everything besides neo-classical economics since we have to deal with networks and aggregations of people.  Sorry about that.).  Ameliorating climate change is a massive collective action problem.  The article quotes a sociologist:

The answer, like the problem, has to be wide-ranging and global, says Jeffrey Broadbent of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who also studies how societies affect their environments. “Its only solution lies in a level of global cooperation that humanity has never seen before.”

This wake-up call will hopefully spur more activity around looking at how networks of interaction, influence, and collective identity formation, sucha s between cities, regions, or countries, are the substrate on whcih policy takes place.  Understanding this, a crucial task, is the goal of the COMPCON project.  Boradbent at UMN is one of the sociologists involved.  They are currently collecting cases studeis and network data to look at what happens to fill the gap between know how and implementation for climate policy.  Let’s hope the answers come soon enough to keep Champagne production in France and not closer to Wales.

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Filed under climate change, Network Society, Networks, organization studies, Research, sociology

Social Entrepreneurs, Networks, and Technology

I am revising a draft of a paper about social entrepreneurs to give at EGOS.

Here is the core idea:

Broadly, I am trying to connect what is known about the research into new forms of organizing with internet with innovation and networks studies

Some baseline assumptions:

1) Innovators and entrepreneurs of any flavor are in a brokerage position and they engage in brokering behavior.   (Research by Burt, Obstfeld, Gargiulo, Hargadon comes to mind… I need to find others).

2) New ICT changes make #1 different.  Easier in some ways, harder in others.

3) Social entrepreneurs face special circumstances due to value orientation they use.  Social entrepreneurs solve social problems or market failures.  They move towards a new equilibrium.  The “social” of what they do emerges from social change processes unfolding in networks organizations, and institutions of contested agendas (or, formerly contested and now newly legitimate.  These include poverty reduction, public health, green design, education access, rural development, climate change, and so on.  Looks like usual suspects of civil society concerns.  But of course, it should.)

4) The process is usually gradual (uniform)- incremental innovations and experiments accumulate into profound change.  The initial recognition can then lead to rapid scaling and diffusion.

5)  To fully conceptualize the problem, we need to draw on four research streams: 1) entrepreneurship, 2) networks and innovation, 3) social movements, and 4) technology and socity.

6) A research agenda based on the assumptions and findings includes three questions:

  • 1) Do new technologies, by lowering search and coordination costs for actors, spawn more emerging or possible social entrepreneurs (as in, that is their intention)?
  • 2) Do technologies, through their ability to foster relations and community, create new value propositions?  Transparency, memory, search, and interactivity mean that thick webs of relations, which people value, can create new opportunities for social innovation or entrepreneurship.
  • 3) The same properties that create more potential social entrepreneurs and opportunities will also pose new start-up challenges because soc entrepreneurswill be more tied to the necessary networks and institutions that create legitimacy for the social of social entrepreneurs.

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Filed under activism, innovation, organization studies, organization theory, participatory technology, social innovation, Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship [SiSe], technology

Indian Attacks Carried Out by Armed Teams

Armed Teams Sowed Chaos With Precision –
But from interviews with witnesses and survivors, it seems clear that the men on the boat were joining a larger terrorist force, which included some attackers who, unconfirmed local news reports say, had embedded themselves in Mumbai days before the attacks. Their synchronized assaults suggested a high level of training and preparation.

So I have a paper under review that argues that to understand terrorism as an organization, we have to see them as a blend of formal organization, social movement, and network.  This is an argument I want to refine.  The above passage about today’s tragic attacks captures the need to consider terrorism the result of formal organization and network.  A formal organization is necessary to deliver the training and operational sophistication of these attacks; a network allows them to move in and out of Mumbai, to recruit informants or new members.  To the extent that we discover that these terrorists are from an organization supported by the Pakistani intelligence agency, then the network lens helps us to see how nodes become activated on an as-needed basis allowing for loose elements to coalesce for momentary action.

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Filed under organization studies, organization theory, Orgs Stuff (theory, science, studies), Social Networks, Terrorism

PhD in Social Network Analysis

Maybe there are former students out there who check up on me…

Anyway, here is the skinny on a PhD program staffed with some pretty big names (and nice people to boot!).

LINKS, the International Center for Research on Social Networks in Business at the University of Kentucky, has openings for students in our Ph.D. program in business administration, with an emphasis on organizational research from a social network perspective. The openings are for Fall 2009.

Our research emphasizes examining organizational behavior and strategy from a network perspective, and our faculty and students publish extensively in the major management journals. Students are trained to become faculty at research-intensive business schools worldwide. Network-oriented faculty include Steve Borgatti (theory & methodology; knowledge management); Daniel J. Brass (power, ethics, innovation, technology), Giuseppe “Joe” Labianca (conflict, group social capital), Ajay Mehra ( individual differences; performance), Ikenna Uzuegbunam (strategy and innovation management; entrepreneurship), and Leslie Vincent (marketing and innovation),

The application deadline is February 1, 2008, but early applications are encouraged for full consideration. Please visit and contact Ajay Mehra (<>) to learn more about our Ph.D. program.

Steve Borgatti, Chellgren Chair & Professor LINKS Center<> for network analysis of organizations Dept of Management, Gatton College of Business & Economics University of Kentucky 550 S. Limestone St., Lexington, KY 40506-0034 Office tel: +1 859 257 2257, Mobile tel: +1 978 394 2787



Filed under higher education, organization studies, Orgs Stuff (theory, science, studies), Social Networks

The emergence of a new research paradigm: Relationalism?

I remember how excited I was to read Emirbayer’s 1997 “Manifesto for a Relational Sociology.”  I was in grad school, and I was eager for a manifesto to inspire me to academic arms.  The essay did just that.  But, as I tried to work it into PhD papers and a dissertation, I didn’t cite it as much as I might have.  It was too big, too bold, too general for a dissertation.  And I had the feeling that it was too “out there.”

One of the things I liked especially was the way it seemed to leave behind a debate about networks as method or networks as theory.  Network analysis is a method, of course, but to ask the right questions, to understand the implications, requires a relational perspective.  Borgatti and others have since started their power points on networks, I’ve noticed, with an intro to a “network perspective.”

Now I see this book over at Edward Elgar called :

Relational Perspectives In Organizational Studies

Not only that, but I was put onto it because of a review of the book in AMR.

Three quick observations

1) It seems that relationalism as a rallying point has emerged and my early reading of Emribayer was part of many schoalrs picking up on those ideas and beginning a process of importng them into org studies and management schoalrship.

2) The Above volume draws heavily form work done on identity, inequality, and feminist theory.  The influence of feminist theory on relationalism is new to me, but makes sense.

3) there was not much on the study of networks and relationalism in the TOC.  Maybe that is a niche that can continue to be exploited/developed? Or is network analysis simply a tool that is appropriated differently by scholars depending on your prior interest.  if you are focused on how to strategically manage alliances, you use networks one way, and if you are interested in the way interdependence leads to emergence of inequality, you use network analysis a different way.  The use of the suite of network analysis tools does not imbue the scholarship with a particularly relational and there fore challenging or radically different epistemology to normally static and atomistic social science.

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Filed under Books, organization studies, organization theory, social theory, sociology