Directions for a Troubled Discipline: Strategy Research, Teaching, and Practice

10 December 2008 at 10:46 am 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

That’s the title of a symposium in the new issue of the Journal of Management Inquiry, edited by Michael Lounsbury and Paul Hirsch.

Debates about relevance versus rigor in management research have only grown in intensity over the past decade (e.g., Pfeffer, 2008). The following dialog highlights how these concerns have become manifest in the field of strategy, in which there has been disquiet in some circles about the dominance of abstract theorization and a movement toward a re-engagement with practice and practitioners (e.g., Jarzabkowski, 2005; Kaplan, 2003; Whittington, 2006; Whittington et. al., 2003). After a brief introduction by Jarzabkowski and Whittington that situates the dialog, Bower’s article “The Teaching of Strategy: From General Manager to Analyst and Back Again?” defends the importance of a practitioner focus by highlighting the historical role of process research in the early development of the business policy field and the case-oriented teaching tradition at the Harvard Business School. In contradistinction, Grant’s article on “Why Strategy Teaching Should be Theory Based” emphasizes the importance of economic theory in both strategy teaching in research. Finally, in “A Strategy-as-Practice Approach to Strategy Research and Education,” Jarzabkowski and Whittington conclude with an argument hat aims to forge a truce between these often rhetorically opposed positions. They argue that a strategy-as-practice perspective can usefully bridge the divide between research and practice without sacrificing either rigor or relevance.

This issue of JMI also includes a 25-year retrospective on DiMaggio and Powell’s famous “Iron Cage Revisited” paper, for you institutional isomorphism types out there (we know who you are).

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Management Theory, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Teaching.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bill  |  10 December 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Mr. Klein, any comments on the recent Cato Unbound? It seems William K. Black’s articles are somewhat in your field. He’s already debating Lawrence White but he seems to be zeroing in on incentives in an organizational context as opposed to a more macro view.

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  10 December 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Bill, I haven’t had a chance to read Black’s comments though I did read some of the exchange between Larry White and Brad DeLong. Larry seems to have the upper hand at this point.

  • 3. Niklas Hallberg  |  11 December 2008 at 6:04 am

    After having surveyed some of the ”strategy as practice” research I can only conclude that this tradition does not constitute a movement towards more relevance in strategic management research. What the practice track does is to substitute economic theory with abstract sociological theory. As a consequence, strategy theory’s traditional interest in the economic outcomes of policy (i.e. performance) is substituted by an interest in sociological and anthropological outcomes (whatever they are?). What could possibly be gained by this? In my opinion, what strategy research needs is theoretically rigorous research on micro-foundations/behavioural assumptions coupled with a traditional interest in economic outcomes.

  • 4. bee  |  11 December 2008 at 11:22 pm

    As a strategy consultant who is academically trained I am always amazed at how valuable theory is in understanding management problems in ways that help management. The real challenge confronting the consultant is not to approach a problem with a single theory. For example, in dealing with a major financial services company that was trying to cope with its distribution channels many framed the problem as one of channel economics (simple efficiency). A closer look revealed that Williamson as well as Hart offered compelling ways to frame the problems as one of coordination and efficiency. Another problem where a broader set of strategy constructs offered insight was looking at a company rapidly adding new business units. The problem was initially cast as a diversification problem. Looking more carefully suggested that an option modeling logic offered a way of viewing projects within a capabilities model.

    I find that theory offers a clearer picture of the many ways a problem scan be understood. The challenge is finding which theory offers the most leverage to the management problem at hand. At times the lever works for a while until it morphs and another theory now provides managerial problem. This creates an intellectual question of why the same problem can be addressed successfully at one moment and then fail at the next.

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