Skip to content

Build yourself a network of people that you trust: An interview with Beth Bechky

Beth Bechky

Beth A. Bechky, Jacob B. Melnick Term Professor, Professor of Management and Organizations and Professor of Sociology; NYU Stern

Apologies for this long silence!  It has been an eventful year, time was tight and sadly, try as I may, I was not able to post new interviews on the site for a long while.  But I’m thrilled to be back with this great interview with Beth Bechky.  I first met Beth back in 2009 at an AOM annual meeting.  At the time, I was a freshly minted PhD graduate, attending the very popular “Being There/Being Them” ethnography PDW (Professional Development Workshop) at the meeting and it happened that I was assigned to Beth’s table.  I was experimenting with video-ethnography at the time and was fishing for ideas.  Beth could not have been more helpful and encouraging.  In fact, to this date, Beth stands out as one of the friendliest and most genuine persons I came across as a graduate student, a time where most of us are very much under the radar. She’s generously gave time for this no-nonsense interview – read it, I’m sure you’ll learn a lot!

Read more

Find your question: An interview with Mike Pratt

Mike PrattMike Pratt
O’Connor Family Professor
Phd Director, Management and Organization Department
Boston College
Carroll School of Management

I first asked Mike whether he’d be open to doing an interview for the blog almost two years ago.  It was hard to nail a time, but we finally managed it when I found out, quite by coincidence, that we would both be in London (UK) at the same time (for totally different reasons!).  Mike was a bit jet-lagged, as he’d landed at Heathrow that very morning, but you can’t tell that from the transcript. Mike’s a practical guy, and this comes through quite clearly in the interview.  How to write with others, how to manage your pipeline, how to approach the review process – no nonsense, practical stuff. No wonder he’s as productive as he is!  I need to change my ways… perhaps I’ll start by installing a whiteboard in my office.

Read more

What is this a case of? An interview with Jerry Davis


Interview with Jerry Davis
Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management
Professor of Sociology
Co-Director, ICOS (Interdisciplinary Committee on Organization Studies)
University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business      

Tim Pollock is the one who suggested that I interview Jerry Davis.  Tim and I had been talking about the fact that most of my interviews for Project Scrib had been with qualitative researchers (Tim and Danny Miller being two exceptions). Tim had asked me whether I had noticed any significant differences between the way qualitative and quantitative researchers wrote, and I said that based on my super limited sample of two, I hadn’t noticed anything significant. Tim suggested I should interview more quant scholars and I said, “Sure, where do I start?” to which Tim replied “Jerry.” Some months later I happened to attend a small conference at which Jerry had been one of the keynotes.  I thought, “It’s now or never.”  I joined the throng that surrounded him after his talk, waiting for a chance to make my pitch. And to my great surprise (and relief!), he immediately said, “Yes, I’d love to!”  We met at AOM in Vancouver, on the lovely outdoor terrace of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Jerry went for something healthy, and I for something much less healthy, namely a very strong expresso. Funny thing – despite having done hundreds of interviews at this stage of my career, and some twenty for the blog, I’m still nervous each time I go in:  Will I connect with this person?  Will they be comfortable enough to share interesting tidbits with me rather than platitudes?  But none of that should have worried me in this case.  Jerry was super enthusiastic, and totally engaged in the process.  He has the most incredible energy!  He is passionate about his work, and it is totally infectious.  I left the interview all geared up, thinking, “I can write a book, maybe two… I’ll start right now…”

Read more

Shop your ideas early: An interview with Roy Suddaby

Roy Suddaby2

Interview with Roy Suddaby
Professor and Winspear Chair
Peter B. Gustavson School of Business
University of Victoria

I had heard a lot about Roy prior to interviewing him, but had never had the chance to meet him (at least not properly) prior to our interview. I was quite keen to do so though as in 2014, at an Academy PDW (Professional Development Workshop) on writing for the Academy of Management Review (at which Roy was editor for several years) Roy mentioned something rather unusual for an academic: he suggested that academics could improve their writing by taking inspiration from other genres. And the genre that he thought was potentially the most generative was… screenwriting! (And here I was thinking, really?? how far away from academic writing can you get?). He suggested that we all read a classic in this genre, namely Syd Field’s book “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting,” first published in 1979.  Needless to say, I wanted to find out more about what he meant by this, and so was thrilled when I learned that he would be giving a talk at HEC.  Here was my chance! Sadly though (and not entirely surprisingly – any interviewer will tell you that this has happened to them before), we got to talking about so many interesting things, including researcher identity and John Steinbeck as a source of inspiration, that I totally forgot to bring it up! Such it is… perhaps another time!

Read more

And what if we “thought differently” about academic writing?

In large measure, academic writing is two-dimensional and, short of the odd figure here and there, composed almost exclusively of text. Add to that the fact that academic writing is highly formalized – think IMRAD – and what you end up with is hardly any room to maneuver when it comes to creatively sharing the results of our research. What you also end up with are texts that, for the most part are – dare I say it? – extremely boring to read. But what if we thought differently about academic writing? More and more academics are reading journal articles on their tablets and Ipads (some even on their phones!). I think it’s been two years now since I’ve actually printed up a journal article to read. Before long, this will probably be the norm across academia. We might deplore this innovation and long for the printed page, but at the same time, can we not see in this trend an opportunity? A way to better communicate our findings to our readers – in ways that are more evocative, memorable, and… transparent? Technology now allows us to do this, but academic journals (and their readers!) have been slow in incorporating what new technologies make possible.

Recently, I wrote an article on academic writing based on the interviews featured on this blog (see here:  How I Write). In the original version of the accepted article, and with the encouragement of Journal of Management Inquiry editor Nelson Phillips, I attached live hyperlinks to each quote featured in the text so that readers could access (if they wished) the original transcript from which a quote had been extracted, bringing a new level of transparency to my work. Readers could judge for themselves whether a quote was taken out of context, or they could come to their own conclusions about how “accurate” they judged my interpretation of these accounts to be. Of course, offering up my analysis and interpretations in this way put me in a vulnerable position, but it also provided a potentially interesting forum for reflection, debate and deeper thinking about a subject. Think of all the discussion and debate that has taken place in the wake of Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” partly fueled by his rendering the data upon which he based his analysis and arguments openly accessible (see here Piketty – DATA1 and Piketty – DATA2). Such debate is exactly what science is all about, and we need to seek and support ways in which to encourage it. I recognize that for confidentiality purposes, such a high degree of technology-enabled transparency is not always practical nor desirable – but these concerns notwithstanding, can we not make at least some room within our publication outlets for more novel ways of presenting our data?

In looking for ideas in this regard, we can turn (once again!) to what the innovators in new media communication have been experimenting with. In this, I refer to authors and publishers of long-form journalism. Our readers will recall that it was interviews with renowned long-form journalists that sparked the idea for this blog (see here: Project Scrib – About and here: The New New Journalism). And here again, we turn to them for inspiration. What might our work look like if we could let readers not only read about, but also get a feel for – thanks to visuals and sound – the empirical settings we study? What if we could truly “show” and not just “tell” readers about our data?

If you wish to get a sense of what is possible, check this story out: Tunnel Creek. And if you wish to experiment with this form of writing, there are tools available to do so:

Sadly, despite our efforts (mine and Nelson’s), my article was published without the hyperlinks, which I think is unfortunate. Perhaps next time!

Many thanks to Katharina Dittrich, a friend and colleague who is based at the University of Zurich for pointing me in the direction of several of these links.

Accounting for words: An interview with Richard Whittington

Richard Whittington

Interview with Richard Whittington
Professor of Strategic Management, Saïd Business School, and Millman Fellow in Management at New College, Oxford University

It was my good fortune to be Richard’s post-doctoral student in 2009-2010. I had applied a strategy as practice lens to my dissertation work, and here I was, working with THE guy whose work was critical to building the field itself. I viewed it as such a privilege. I was also a little bit in awe, feeling rather intimidated and out of place amongst the many Oxford over-achievers I met while living there (my flat neighbor was a concert pianist AND a prize-winning math PhD guy who did advanced geometry calculations to figure out how to get a new sofa through the very narrow entrance of our building). Perhaps because of this, it never occurred to me to ask him about his writing habits.  I was probably too worried that I’d be discovered for being the imposter that I felt I was (doesn’t she know how to do this already?). Fortunately (mostly for me, I expect!), we’ve stayed on good terms since (we are still working on a joint project) and when Richard visited in Montreal last Fall, I figured it was time to remedy this oversight. I like this interview as it goes into a bit more depth about the genesis of ideas by showing how our ideas are so often connected to our experiences, beliefs and the circumstances we find ourselves in. We also discover that while he is a self-proclaimed “word accountant,” Richard is a keen supporter of a bit more daring and creativity in the way we write. Read on to find out more!

Read more

Keep calm and carry on: An interview with Royston Greenwood

Royston GreenwoodInterview with Royston Greenwood
Telus Professor of Strategic Management
School of Business, University of Alberta

I had heard of Royston Greenwood long before I met him. I had heard stories of him “tearing students apart” at conferences, and always wondered whether there was any truth to them. It wasn’t until I was a post-doc that I got to see him give feedback to someone first hand. It was at a paper development workshop. And yes, he was pretty harsh and direct. But he was also crystal clear about what this person needed to do to get their paper at a level that would substantially improve its chances at getting published. I was thoroughly impressed. There was no sugar coating here, but there was some astute, concrete and very practical advice about “where to from here” which was very much worth swallowing one’s ego for. The whole time, I couldn’t help thinking: “Wow! That must be so hard for that person!” but also, “Wow! That is amazing feedback!” And I began to think that I could seriously use a mentor like that for my own work… When I did finally meet Royston, he proved to be gracious, super friendly and genuinely committed to helping students and newly minted PhDs (and others, I’m sure!) navigate the treacherous roads of academia, which is not something we can say about everyone we meet. Do read on as there is lots to learn from someone who has been sailing these rough waters for quite some time already!
Read more

Writing Groups: Harnessing the Power of Groups to Improve Your Writing

Last August at the Academy of Management annual conference, I was invited to talk about writing at a PDW (professional development workshop) entitled: “Empowering Words: Achieving High Quality Writing in Management and Organizational Studies” which was organized by Otilia Obodaru and Erik Dane, both at Rice University. After the presentations, the organizers asked that participants break out into small groups and each panelist was invited to join a group and answer any questions that participants had about writing. All of the other invited panelists were current or former editors of top journals, and so were in an ideal position to answer questions about the publishing process, which, given the turn our field has taken of late, is what people are usually most interested in. I’m sure the people at the table I was assigned were a bit disappointed to not “get” Kevin Corley or Tim Pollock at their table. All they got was the blog lady. This of course put me in a bit of a bind. What could I possibly talk about?

I decided to ask whether anyone had experience with writing groups. To my surprise, no one had. So we talked about that. Our conversation was an animated one, so I like to think (maintain the illusion?) that it compensated participants for not being able to ask Belle Ragins what it takes to get published in AMR (Academy of Management Review, where he is currently editor).

So what is a writing group? A writing group is a group of authors with similar interests who get together on a regular basis to discuss their writing projects. Meetings can be done on a weekly, monthly or ad hoc basis; they can be more or less formal; they can take place face to face (in an office, cafeteria or coffee shop) or virtually over Skype, but the key is to have a group of people with whom to share your writing: a group of people who will carefully read what you write and who will give you honest feedback on how good/bad they think it is.

Read more

Take ownership of your ideas: An interview with Tim Pollock

Tim_and_dogs_Ricketts_2014 CROP

Tim Pollock
Farrell Professor of Entrepreneurship
Smeal College of Business
Penn State University

Last year, Otilia Obodaru and Erik Dane from Rice University contacted me to ask whether I’d be willing to present at a PDW (Professional Development Workshop) they were organizing for AOM (Academy of Management Annual Conference) on the topic of “What constitutes high-quality writing in our field?” Otilia had read our blog, and thought it would be great if I could talk about it at the PDW. I was so excited that someone from outside our network had actually read our blog that I didn’t think to ask who the other speakers were going to be and I immediately said yes. Oh no! It turned out that they had rounded up a pretty impressive panel of people who were or had been associate editors in top journals, and who all had first-hand and extensive (rather than second-hand and fleeting, like me!) experience on the topic at hand. So here I was presenting side by side with the likes of Belle Rose Ragins, Joyce Bono, Kevin Corley and Tim Pollock. The word “intimidating” seems understated under such circumstances. It turns out that everyone was more than gracious. Kevin, of course, I knew (you can read his interview on this blog) and Tim turned out to be this super friendly guy with whom I was able to chat a bit longer after the workshop. He loved the premise of the blog, which prompted me to ask (it’s practically automatic now!), “So, would you like to be interviewed for it?” And so here you have it. This is one of two interviews I’ve done with primarily quantitative researchers (the other is Danny Miller). Differences anyone? Do you see any?

Read more

Go where the energy is: An interview with Martha Feldman

Martha Feldman

Martha Feldman
Professor of Planning, Policy & Design, Management, Sociology, Political Science and Nursing Science
Johnson Chair for Civic Governance and Public Management
University of California, Irvine

Given our overlapping research interests, Martha and I gravitate around similar circles and our paths have crossed on several occasions. But until quite recently, none of those occasions ever gave rise to anything that went beyond the rather impersonal “Oh! It’s such a pleasure to meet you!” Not that Martha is unapproachable (quite the contrary), or that I’m shy (I can already hear people laugh about that one), but rather that circumstances were such that the opportunity to get into a more substantive conversation simply never arose. That changed last summer at the AOM meeting in Philadelphia, where quite by chance, Martha and I were staying at the same hotel. One morning at breakfast, I was alone, and Martha came right up to my table and asked whether I minded our having breakfast together. Would I mind?!?!! (if one of your favourite athletes or artists came up to you in a hotel lobby and asked: “Would you mind if I sat down here and had breakfast with you?” what would you say??) Obviously, I was delighted. And our conversation in Philadelphia gave rise, not so long afterwards, to this one. In this interview we delve a little more deeply into the more intuitive aspects of academic writing. I hope you like it.

Read more