Post AoM: Are Management Types Too Spoiled?

17 August 2013 at 10:11 am 17 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

So, this year’s version of the Academy of Management Meetings, the major association of management researchers, took place in Orlando, Fl. The conference theme was “Capitalism in Question,” a theme with decidedly “lefty” connotations (see the official description of the theme here).  The politization of the event was discussed in a Business Week blog that was dripping with irony. 

Strikingly, however, I heard relatively few complain about the politization of the Academy implied by the theme (at least one very prominent scholar, however, erased “Capitalism in Question” from his badge, and so did I), but I heard lots of moaning, whining, and bickering about the location itself. In fact, I have never heard anything like it.  So, there were complaints about the lack of decent restaurants, there not being enough coffee outlets, too many queques, sub-standard hotels, annoying American families, comments about Americans in general that, had the same thing been said about Europeans would …well … , and so on and so forth.  Here is a pretty pathetic blog on the subject. And here is a lame and self-righteous letter to “Dear Minnie.”

Yes, Disney World may perhaps clash with the refined and elevated tastes of many a management professor (I didn’t myself particularly fancy those plastic baroque carpes (aka “dolphins”)), but, hey, this is a conference. You are supposed to be at work. To be sure, the Academy of Management is about hand-shaking and meeting friends, and building and maintaining networks are obviously productive input in any academic’s work process. And yet, 99% of the participants had their travel and stay and fee paid for by someone else (in many cases, the taxpayers). The sessions, PDWs, symposia, and so on were no worse than usual. No one presumably had to go hungry to bed. It was certainly possible to get the beers you wanted. The receptions were well-attended, noisy and alcoholic. In short, pretty much business as usual. So, perhaps it is time to cut the whining which fundamentally signals that you think of the AoM meetings as mainly about your own on-the-job consumption.  It would have been much better to use energy spent on whining about diminished the consumption potential of Orlando on  critique of the conference theme.

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17 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ram Mudambi  |  17 August 2013 at 10:39 am

    Nicolai – hear, hear. As you note the conference itself was no different than any other AOM and the theme was rather odious, given that most management professors attending the conference are coddled by the capitalist system. I always amused by the leftist faculty that equate capitalism with monopoly, precisely what classical liberal economists have always railed AGAINST. Ironically, it is the leftist’ socialist utopia that is actually characterized by monopolies in all aspects of life.

  • 2. PATRICIA GONCALVES VIDAL  |  17 August 2013 at 11:19 am

    You are completely right! The AoM this year was another AoM where we were able to find your peers (if you were in the same track as you), good discussions, good food, and tones of mosquitoes. One day, I really felt overwhelmed because I wanted to attend several sessions that would need star treck devices for me to get there on time. This is the problem of not having focus on one theme! But overall, it was a good one! Let´s hope the next one in Phillie will be even better! Just didn´t get the theme: words!

  • 3. Carsten B  |  17 August 2013 at 12:23 pm

    True, and agree on criticism of the blogs you reference to. We are very spoiled!
    I would say though that 1) Lack of access to food cost me half an hour pr. day, which equals quite a few presentations. Think people have just been confused about how such a firm like Disney can be so incompetent in that respect – I certainly am. 2) AOMs in such a stay has a (very) lower attendance rate, and I am not sure we should argue that we only want people that come regardless of location.
    But sure, I’d go to again next year if it was in the same location.

  • 4. Melissa Schilling  |  17 August 2013 at 12:36 pm

    My sentiments exactly Nicolai! Yes, it was awkward if you needed to get between two venues that weren’t co-located, but that happens fairly often at our conferences, and it didn’t merit a condemnation of Disney World. Disney World serves its chosen purpose exceptionally well, and though it is not optimized for our type of conference, I for one, appreciated the opportunity to bring my kids along and make a holiday of it.

  • 5. Rafe Champion  |  17 August 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Re the Crane and Mattern blog, what do you expect from a Professor of Business Ethics and a Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility:)

  • 6. Randy  |  18 August 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I don’t find AoM members too spoiled. There was less whining than I anticipated. Attendees seemed engaged in the sessions at a level at or above recent years. After all, escape wasn’t easy. Three times I drove 16 miles one way to eat dinner at a place with high quality food and no lines; once I drove all the way to Tampa. One doesn’t have such high transaction costs in Boston, San Francisco, Montréal, Copenhagen,…

    With all due respect, I couldn’t find enough good coffee, good beer, and seating when I needed. But I did get excellent discourse.

    As to the theme, I offer the observation that, like every other year, less than 3% of the attendees pay any attention to it. Conference themes, like presidential addresses, tend to be all about social themes and “things we should be doing”. This is a symptom of the self-consciousness of the Academy of Management with respect to how “the world” views a professional society that is populated by running dogs of the capitalist machine. Another symptom is the ease with which (if you will permit me…) radicalized and post-modernist polemics are accepted into AoM publications. I would argue the same for papers festooned with classical allusions and poorly understood philosophical language — easier to get accepted than what the running dogs are growling about.

  • 7. Peter Klein  |  18 August 2013 at 10:24 pm

    I almost prefer a cliché like “Capitalism in Question” to next year’s banality, “The Power of Words” ( Please, can’t we just get rid of themes altogether?

  • 8. Randy  |  19 August 2013 at 2:36 am

    @Peter, here is your big chance! Prepare a paper submission under an assumed name on the power of spoken vulgarity in inter-generational, cross-gender, and cross-cultural workplace communication and submit as an all-academy theme piece. Fabricate everything except the delicious verbiage, which can be lifted from contemporary literature. Pepper the theory section with references to your “favorite” pomo jargon. If accepted, drinks on me for the O&M team at Village Whiskey in Philly.

  • 9. JC  |  19 August 2013 at 5:49 am

    @Peter, I can’t believe it! At last! It may be banality to those who worship numbers, but it is right up my alley, given my forthcoming book on management as a rhetorical practice that embraces the business model as an idiosyncratic language.

    @Nicolai, good comments. Given I pay for myself these days I think it was wise for me to skip this year’s AoM. But I intend to be in Philadelphia. Perhaps you could be tempted to support my proposing a theory of the managed firm (TMF) as a demonstration of the power of words?

  • 10. Peter Klein  |  19 August 2013 at 9:35 am

    @Randy, perhaps Alan Sokal will coauthor!

    @JC, what’s next, “The Power of Breathing Oxygen”?

  • 11. JC  |  19 August 2013 at 10:15 am


    What’s next – well, more talk of course. That’s what conferences are for, not simply meeting and shaking hands. Talk can produce clarification, disseminate important ideas, and so on.

    Perhaps the answer to Coase’s question – why are there firms? – lies in understanding them as contexts of productive talk, which requires words.

    Economists’ talk seems unable to see them this way. But there are other words. Maybe it is time for their (re)appearance?

    Oxygen – of course, and welcome at any (and all) time. But a public good that cannot be source of profit?

  • 12. Nicolai Foss  |  19 August 2013 at 10:19 am

    JC: “Perhaps the answer to Coase’s question – why are there firms? – lies in understanding them as contexts of productive talk, which requires words.

    Economists’ talk seems unable to see them this way. But there are other words. Maybe it is time for their (re)appearance?”

    Check this:;jsessionid=A2E63493D483FE108707061094AF4F54.d02t02?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

    and particularly this one:

  • 13. Peter Klein  |  19 August 2013 at 10:33 am

    Right, isn’t modern information economics, especially mechanism design, essentially about language?

  • 14. JC  |  19 August 2013 at 10:40 am

    @Nicolai – Absolutely!

    Of course I was guilty of hideous over-generalising with my comment on ‘economists’ talk’ – economists are as varied as any other kind of being.

    Many of you (?) have really worked hard to cross back from the aridity of rigorous formulae to the talk that real people use to negotiate their way through the world. Applause to all.

    But I fear their message has not been adequately promulgated and institutionalized. Perhaps next year’s AoM will be a good step towards helping our discipline recapture some relevance lost?

  • 15. JC  |  19 August 2013 at 10:52 am


    Design presupposes language that is somewhat general.

    Human action is necessarily in the particular, guided perhaps by the generalities of language but never fully encompassed. So there is a tradeoff between using language that can inform many designs and that which deals with the unique.

    What lies outside language is not knowable in the same way as that which has been brought into language. Tacit knowledge and so on is known as skilled practice. Beyond what can be explicated and what can be demonstrated as practice lies the void.

    In which case the firm cannot ever be completely known even when its inventory of demonstrable skills (organizational routines perhaps) is summed with its explicated design and operating procedures.

    But in this unknown-ness lies the value-creating magic that Knight (among others) sensed, no?

    Shifting our attention from the theory and design languages that seem to bear on the firm towards its particular jargon and language brings us closer to the magic, but like all the best tricks, it cannot ever be fully unveiled.

  • 16. JC  |  19 August 2013 at 11:10 am

    All of which reminds me of the occasion of Zvi’s comment over a decade ago – interesting, JC, but it’s not economics!

  • 17. andrew  |  26 August 2013 at 4:45 am

    My main problem with such a title is that they use “capitalism” with a big “C.” Political scientists, political economists, sociologists etc., will talk about the many different variants of capitalism (“varieties of capitalism”) until they get red in the face, because they have a valid point!

    Many times, people complaining about “capitalism” just mean “American capitalism,” and the policy prescriptions they point to as superior to “capitalism” are usually not “socialism” but rather “European-style capitalism.”

    I think that’s why I generally don’t use the word “capitalism,” but instead “East Asian model” or “Anglo liberal model” or something like that. Economies (and associated institutions) are much too varied and heterogenous (this is what makes political economy interesting!) to be so lazily labeled under such a term.

    I have a lot of problems with the American economic model as it exists right now, but I’m not under any delusions about the alternatives or the trade-offs they each face.

    Orwell’s point about how certain words and phrases cause us to turn our brains off, to the effect that letters, essays, etc. start to write themselves in a torrent of cliche, is quite apt.

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