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Focusing on what really matters: An interview with Steve Barley

Stephen Barley 2

 

 

 

 

    Interview with Stephen R. Barley
    Weiland Professor
    School of Engineering
    Stanford University

Every field in the academic world has its roster of celebrities, and if anyone fits that bill in organization studies, it’s Steve Barley. I doubt there is anyone in our field who has NOT read something that Steve wrote – evidence of how frequently cited his collected works are. And if that weren’t enough fame for one person, in a 2006 survey of the Academy of Management Journal’s editorial board on “interesting management research,” Steve’s 1986 article on CT scanners “Technology as an Occasion for Structuring” came out on top, alongside Jane Dutton and Janet Dukerich’s study of the New York Port Authority.  There is no question that for the vast majority of us, Steve is a tough act to follow. When I found out that he would be visiting HEC, I hesitated before asking whether he’d agree to be interviewed for this blog, as I thought he’d turn me down!  And although he can certainly be pretty direct about his opinions (during his visit, he claimed that there was no such thing as “auto-ethnography” which sparked considerable debate among the ethnographers in our midst!), we discovered that Steve is also a super friendly, down to earth and very approachable kind of guy. He was all graciousness about the interview. So here you have it: Steve on his writing habits, on reviewers who ask him to read his own work, and on the publishing process not getting any easier. I hope you enjoy it.

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How to Write a Lot – Paul Silvia

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First published in 2007.

This book comes up a lot, in various fora for academics looking for ways to improve their productivity.  A few months ago I decided to buy it. First observation: this is a short book. You can read through it in one sitting (and that sitting need not be very long). I must say that I was little put off when I received it – is this it? I thought. There is that to be said about ordering books online – you can browse through some of the contents (“Look Inside!” on Amazon) but you can’t get a feel for the size, shape and feel of a book. How bulky or fat it is, how thin the pages are, how stiff the spine is or how tight the writing. So when this book arrived, thin, with thick pages and sparse writing, I was a tad put off. But I did want to review it for the blog, so I sat myself down to read it anyway (astonishing how we academics can sit ourselves down to read anything, no matter how boring). But boring this book is not.

Written by an academic psychologist, this book blends straightforward and practical advice, with touches of humor laced throughout which makes it fun to read. Although primarily targeted at writers who do psychological research, a big chunk of Paul Silvia’s tell-it-like-it-is advice can be directed at academic writers in general. Here are a few of my own takeaways: Read more

My personal colour-coded system: An interview with Davide Ravasi

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Interview with Davide Ravasi
Professor of Management
Cass Business School
City University London

It is one thing to interview acquaintances and strangers, it is quite another to interview your friends.  This particular interview was a bit weird because Davide and I have been friends for quite a number of years now. When we did the interview my impression was that our conversation sounded stilted and contrived.  Here are things that we have discussed at length on multiple occasions. Davide is part of that inner circle of academic friends to whom I’ll send my drafts for friendly reviews and who will not waste time with niceties or hesitate even one second before tearing apart every sentence. I remember him telling me once, “You mustn’t give anything to your reviewers that they might grip onto to criticize you. Nothing. Keep it totally smooth and to the point.” And this on the revision of a paper I rewrote I don’t know how many times and in which he still found something to fault. As frustrating as these interactions were (and I admit there have been times when I questioned whether he was truly a friend or not!) I learned a tremendous amount, and I can’t deny that my writing in general has improved as a result.  We all need a circle of friends who are willing to be brutally honest with us. We gain resilience from it (something we need a lot of in this field) and our writing gets better.  I decided to interview Davide so that others can benefit from the very good advice he’s given me over the years. As a lot of this advice has come to me via his harsh readings of my papers, at least you get to benefit without the criticism that usually goes along with it!!

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Bibliotek

Detail of a painting by Nina Sten-Knudsen (2001), at the CBS library – seen when I visited it in January 2014.

 

Bibliotek - Nina Sten-Knudsen 2001

Just do it: An interview with Paula Jarzabkowski

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Interview with Paula Jarzabkowski
Professor Strategic Management
Cass Business School

City University London

I’ve known Paula for quite some years now and she never ceases to impress me.  I recall a visit to Aston some years ago where she and Jane Lê, with whom she’s collaborated over the years and who is now at the University of Sydney, showed me how they organized the data they had collected for a big study they were doing at the time.  They had these endless, cross-referenced Excel files in which they had rigorously documented every meeting, every note, and every interview by date, by theme, by research site and by God knows what else.  I was a PhD student at the time and I came back from that meeting thinking that I really needed to up my game if I was to come anywhere close to that level of rigour in my own research. Paula is also very devoted to her graduate students, working very hard to ensure that they all do well throughout their studies and beyond.  So in those and many other ways, Paula has been quite an inspiration.  And last, but far from least, Paula is easily one of the most productive people I know.  How she does it is completely beyond me.  I thought that through our interview I might be able to figure out where her magic comes from, but really, there doesn’t seem to be any. As you will see for yourself, it’s the same for Paula as for the rest of us. You just have to keep at it!

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“Stream of consciousness” writing: An interview with Bob Hinings

Interview with Bob Hinings
Professor, University of Alberta

Here is a delightful interview with someone who is not only supremely charming, he also happens to have quite a few years of very successful writing tucked under his belt. Bob has visited HEC Montreal on a couple of occasions (he was even awarded an honorary doctorate from us!), and on one of those, agreed to be interviewed for this blog.  Unfortunately, I was not in town at the time, so my colleague, friend and fellow blogger Viviane, agreed to do the interview.  It was then my job to edit through the twenty odd pages of verbatim transcript to give you this little gem of insights.  Enjoy.

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Writing advice from Henry Miller

Advice that can easily inspire how I approach my own writing practice! Maybe I should print it and tape it to my wall…

Henry Miller

via swissmiss & Brain Pickings

Helen Sword on stylish academic writing

Helen Sword is the author of a book on academic writing, Stylish Academic Writing (Harvard Press, 2012), and she recently gave a talk on this topic. She starts from an observation that many of us share: academic writing is rarely stylish – and by stylish, she not only means elegant, but also engaging and effective. In fact, she describes writing – especially research journal writing – as “wooden and dry” (at best) or “spongy and soggy”. In her talk, based on research she has conducted, she describes what stylish writers do.

If her conclusions may come as no surprise to anyone who has read on writing, it’s always good to be reminded of them. For example, stylish academic writers are deeply concerned with communicating complex ideas in a clear way, they find pleasure in crafting their text, and they display creativity in their work. It’s also interesting to hear her on the reasons why so much of academic writing is bad (let’s not be afraid of the word!). Helen Sword suggests that many academics feel that they need to impress other academics with their writing… and that they are ruled by conventions and fear. Instead, she invites us to strive for elegant and personal writing that serves to illuminate our topics of inquiry and to push the boundaries of knowledge. So here’s her talk:

Information on her book can be found here: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674064485

Explorations of Style – A blog about academic writing

Here’s an enlightening and hugely practical source of tips on academic writing.  The “reverse outline” idea is brilliant (thank you to Jennifer Howard-Grenville for pointing it out). I also enjoyed Rachael Cayley’s blog entry on the “imposter syndrome”, in particular her suggestion that we should be cautious about “the idea that there is something wrong with us if we find academic writing deeply challenging.”  Amen.

Check it out here:  http://explorationsofstyle.com/

The good-enough mother concept: An interview with Tammar Zilber

Tammar Zilber

Interview with Tammar Zilber, Senior Lecturer, School of Business Administration, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Tammar and I first met in 2007, when she graciously accepted to participate in a Symposium I organized with Ann Langley at the Academy of Management that year, on the theme “Competing Rationalities in Organizations.” When she visited HEC last year, it seemed only natural that I should interview her for this blog. As many of the scholars I’ve approached in this way, Tammar was initially unsure whether she would have anything interesting to say about her writing: “I have no idea how I write.” But (thankfully!) she agreed to be interviewed anyway. Our conversation took place over breakfast, in the student cafeteria at HEC. It turns out that despite her initial misgivings, Tammar had a lot to say! We were so taken in by our conversation that we lost track of time, and the person who was scheduled to meet with Tammar after me had to come find us in the cafeteria to say “my turn!”

What I like about this interview is its transparency – it really shows what writing qualitative research is like – messy, iterative, back and forth between theory and data until a coherent story emerges. Yes, it’s like this, even for those who have been doing it for a long while. Read on to find out more…
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