Strategy Making and PowerPoint

14 April 2010 at 2:21 pm 3 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

We have blogged more than two dozen times on PowerPoint (here) and at least as many times on pomo (here), never realizing that the two themes are connected. In a recent paper, “Strategy and PowerPoint: An Inquiry into the Epistemic Culture and Machinery of Strategy Making” (forthcoming in Organization Science), the ever-interesting Sarah Kaplan poses the question, “How is PowerPoint engaged in the discursive practices that make up the epistemic culture of strategy making?”

Yes, this does smack of hardcore pomo, and would prima facie seem to be up for hard lashing under the O&M rubric of “Pomo Periscope.” However, upon reading, it turns out that this is highly reasonable, well executed, and meaningful pomo. In a nutshell, Sarah argues that PP is a privileged strategy-making support tool, and that it may usefully be analyzed as a genre. And it matters to strategy making, as suggested in this key passage in the paper:

I show how the affordances of PowerPoint enabled the difficult task of collaborating to negotiate meaning in a highly uncertain environment, creating a space for discussion, making combinations and recombinations possible, allowing for rapid adjustments as ideas evolved and providing access to a wide range of actors, no matter how dispersed over space or time. Yet, I found, these affordances also supported cartographic efforts to draw boundaries around the scope of a strategy, certifying certain ideas and not others, and allowing document owners to include or exclude certain slides or participants and control access to information. Cartography in the world of ideas is similar to cartography of the physical landscape: drawing maps and defining boundaries help people navigate otherwise uncertain terrain. These collaborative and cartographic practices shaped the strategic choices and actions taken in the organization.

And here is the abstract:

Strategy and PowerPoint: PowerPoint has come to dominate organizational life in general and strategy making in particular. The technology is lauded by its proponents as a powerful tool for communication and excoriated by its critics as dangerously simplifying. This study takes a deeper look into how PowerPoint is mobilized in strategy making through an ethnographic study inside one organization. It treats PowerPoint as a technology embedded in the discursive practices of strategic knowledge production and suggests that these practices make up the epistemic or knowledge culture of the organization. Conceptualizing culture as composed of practices foregrounds the “machineries” of knowing. Results from a genre analysis of PowerPoint use suggest that it should not be characterized simply as effective or ineffective as current PowerPoint controversies do. Instead, I show how the affordances of PowerPoint enabled the difficult task of collaborating to negotiate meaning in an uncertain environment, creating spaces for discussion, making recombinations possible, allowing for adjustments as ideas evolved and providing access to a wide range of actors. These affordances also facilitated cartographic efforts to draw boundaries around the scope of a strategy by certifying certain ideas and allowing document owners to include or exclude certain slides or participants. These discursive practices – collaboration and cartography – are part of the “epistemic machinery” of strategy culture. This analysis demonstrates that strategy making is not only about analysis of industry structure, competitive positioning or resources as assumed in content-based strategy research but also about the production and use of PowerPoint documents that embody these ideas.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joe Mahoney  |  14 April 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Is there a Power Point version of the paper that I could read?

  • 2. Arend  |  14 April 2010 at 4:59 pm

    All respect for research; but isn’t this paper just an effort to include PowerPoint into a preconceived framework in order to show that the framework can also include this piece of “reality” and to show that a paper can be written about it?

    I mean it’s just PowerPoint, a piece of software that can be used to communicate whatever can be communicated by old-fashioned slides as well.

  • [...] of this slide at O&M]. This ties into a recent paper published in OS and also discussed at O&M on how Powerpoint has structured business [...]

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).

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