In the early days of this blog, I had prepared an initial list of scholars who I wanted to interview, and as many can well imagine, Kathleen Eisenhardt was high on that list. However, our paths never crossed, and I never dared write to her directly, held back by a fear of rejection or by unexpected shyness – can’t say which for sure – and so this interview stayed where it was: on my wish list. It took the pandemic, and my own need to “walk the talk” with students to make it happen. Indeed, to maintain community among our local PhD students during the pandemic, I had begun a series of student-led, online talks with well-known scholars on various aspects of qualitative research. To those who offered to help me with organizing, I had said: “Invite whomever you like.” They answered: “Anyone?” And I said, “Yes, anyone”. In my qualitative methods class, I encourage students never to be shy about reaching out to potential informants, regardless of whether they know them or not, whether they are famous or not, whether they are the CEO, a VP or someone working on an assembly line. It doesn’t matter. I tell them, “Try reaching out. What is the worse than can happen?” So, when the students said they wanted to invite Kathleen Eisenhardt, what could I say? We wrote to her, and she wrote back almost immediately! How amazing was that? We had a brilliant and wonderfully informal group discussion about case study method, and some time after that, Kathleen graciously took time to let me interview her for this blog. And here you have it: an informal discussion with Kathleen about the ups, downs and practicalities of conducting, writing and publishing case study research. Enjoy!Read more
Interview with Ann Langley
Emerita Professor of Management
It’s a daunting task to write the introduction to an interview with someone who needs no introduction. It’s even more challenging when you have had the privilege of not only knowing this person, but of working – and learning a great deal – with her over the years. Maybe this explains why several weeks have passed between the moment when this interview was ready to be published, and today, when I actually share it on the blog. In spite of a few attempts, I hadn’t found the way I was looking for to present this interview with Ann Langley. Acknowledging Ann’s multiple contributions to our field and expressing my gratitude for all she taught me, intellectually, professionally and personally, felt near-impossible in a few sentences. A first version of this introduction was scribbled down in the notebook I keep on my nightstand, late one evening – only to be discarded the next morning. A second one lingered on my mind as I went on walks in my neighborhood; I mentally played with a few sentences for a while, but again, something in this opening did not work. I put the writing of this introduction on my to-do list… week after week. Then, I reached the point when I just could not stand the thought of waiting any longer, and felt that this introduction had to materialize. It just had. This feeling did not make it any easier. I forced myself to sit and stay in front of my computer. Staring at the blinking line in the document I just created, my mind started to wander. I revisited moments when I worked with Ann. I remembered the joy she always seemed to feel when considering empirical material. I smiled thinking about the fun and intellectual stimulation I had in meetings with her and other collaborators. I recalled the times when I witnessed her compose, live, perfect sentences as we were working on a text – a real master class in writing with clarity and elegance. And then my interview with her came back into my mind, echoing something I had already heard her say: just how fundamental the introduction and a good title are for her practice of writing. Then I knew that my introduction had to be about introducing Ann’s interview, but also about introductions in themselves. How for some, it’s the last thing that they write, while for others, like Ann, it is where it all starts. How difficult it can be to find that beginning, but how liberating it can be when you feel that you have nailed it, at least for a while.
Of course, there is much more in Ann’s interview than musings on the importance of introductions. Among the many reflections that I hope will stay with you and inspire you after reading this interview, one advice has resonated deeply with me: just how our writing represents us. Ann reminds us that caring about the quality of our writing and working at crafting our style are well worth the effort, and that it goes beyond good communication of our ideas. Writing may be difficult, but it can be a source of joy and an expression of who we are.
The list of interviews available on this site is now quite long. To make it easier for you to find the ones you are most interested in reading, here is an alphabetical list:
Interview with Wendy Smith
Professor of Management
Alfred Lerner School of Business at the University of Delaware
I am recently back from our field’s main annual conference (every discipline has one, you all know what I’m talking about – David Lodge’s Campus Trilogy might have only been a monograph if there hadn’t been academic conferences he could satirize!) Ours is hosted by the Academy of Management (AOM), and it’s a very big affair, attracting 10 000+ attendees. It’s the place to see and be seen, as most of our field’s heavy hitters attend. First-timers are routinely overwhelmed, and the organisers have to organise special activities just to help them navigate 100+ concurrent sessions, endless “off” and “on” social activities, and too-many-to-count “unmissable” events. FOMO is ubiquitous, as is a generalized feeling that everyone else is a million times more productive than you are. The AOM conference is our field’s annual beauty pageant, an opportunity for everyone to showcase their best work, and by the same token, the opportunity to hide just how painful producing that best work actually was.
Step in Wendy. I met Wendy when she visited at HEC Montreal. I interviewed her over breakfast at her hotel, the venue proved to be a bit too noisy, and so we resumed our conversation over the phone a few weeks later. What impressed me most about Wendy was her brutal honesty about the very real pain she went through in the early years of her career, trying to get her first single-authored paper out in one of barely a handful journals that actually seem to matter anymore in our field. By all accounts, today, Wendy is one of AOM’s “heavy hitters”. She has an impressive pedigree, an impressive publications list and as Associate Editor at one of our field’s most prestigious journals (Academy of Management Journal), she also acts as a judge of what our field considers is outstanding work. But as she shares here so forthrightly, getting to where she is today was anything but a walk in the park. So all I can say is, “Thank you.” Thank you, Wendy, for humanizing this process, and sharing the good AND the bad. The blood, sweat and tears; the moments of self-doubt and the feelings of utter discouragement that inevitably rise up when yet another paper did not “make it”. You help anyone and everyone who has ever felt deflated after AOM realize that everything is relative. One person’s high is another person’s low. Focus on subjects you are passionate about, work hard, persist: it will come together in the end.
Five years already! ProjectScrib was created in 2012, and I started posting interviews with academics on “How I Write” in January 2013. Earlier this week I posted our 25th interview (an interview with Hari Tsoukas). When we started this blog, we were still new to academia, pre-tenure, not entirely sure about what we were doing, prepping courses and teaching, writing and submitting papers to journals, sometimes successfully, often not. So much stress! So much emotion! I look back and wonder, “Where did all that energy came from?” I did get tenure in the end – yeay! That was two years ago. It was such an enormous relief. At the time I thought, “This is what ultra-marathoners must feel like when they cross the finish line.”
In retrospect, there is no question that the stories posted here were a big part of what kept me going throughout the tenure process. Anytime I hit a rough patch, it was always a relief and deeply encouraging to hear that even seasoned academics, who have been doing this work 15, 20, 25 years, still struggle, still get angry or frustrated with reviewers and still get their papers rejected. And yet, they persevere. It gave me the confidence to believe in myself – in this field, it is too easy to question your abilities, your ideas, even your career choice when things are not going as well as you’d like. When you get rejected on a third round review. When your teachings evaluations tank. To know that others have gone through the same thing, to recognize that it isn’t “me”, but the system, or the “game” as some like to call it. Because it is a kind of game: the game of science. When I’m frustrated, I call it “the criticism game” and when I’m feeling somewhat more generous, I call it “the convincing game” (because ultimately, this is what we do – we seek to convince a group of very smart and very skeptical others about something we think, or have found). There are rules, some of which are explicit, others less so. There is skill involved, which you need to learn and hone. There is craft, and creativity. And there’s also, let us not forget, nor underestimate it… luck. Because luck plays out in this process as well. Sometimes, having a great idea, sound methods, great data, a cool story, an intriguing insight doesn’t cut it. It could be that you’re ahead of the curve, or your timing is off (the journal just published three articles on this topic the month before), or you land on three reviewers who don’t like your topic, or your approach, or they are just in a crappy mood because they got rejected the day before and are not feeling particularly generous right now, thank you very much. Sh@!# happens. And because of this, you have to persevere, persevere, persevere. Or as Hari said it: never give up. It will come together in the end. But remember also – as a great many of the authors featured here have mentioned – to have the courage and the stamina to do this, you have to LOVE your topic. And I mean really love it. Because you will never find the energy to persevere when the going gets tough if you don’t.
What else have I learned? In addition to inspiration, these interviews also provided me with a wellspring of ideas on how I could be more productive about writing. Whenever I’d get stuck, often without even realizing it, I’d think, “This is what Steve does” or “This is what Martha would do” or “This is how Paula deals with that”. Ideas, tricks, and strategies that I might have never come up with on my own – all kinds of ways of getting yourself out of a rut. Learning all of this by trial and error would have taken forever. I won’t elaborate on these here, as I’ve already done so in an article I wrote which was published in the Journal of Management Inquiry in 2016. So do check it out if you want to find out more! (full reference is below).
A few people have asked me how I’ve gone about pulling these interviews together – how and why I chose the people featured here, how different the edited versions are from the verbatims, and so on. As I’ve already indicated in our “about” section (see About here), there is little (if any!) science to my sampling method. It is wholly, and entirely opportunistic. I’ve interviewed people who have visited at HEC Montreal, people I’ve met, people I’ve been introduced to, people who are friends and even co-authors. I’ve interviewed people early in their careers (relatively speaking) and people on the cusp of retirement. I’ve interviewed qualitative and quantitative scholars (although with a noted and rather clear bias towards the former!). I’ve interviewed both men and women (although as of today, this has not turned out to be as balanced as I would like – 9 women and 16 men).
In terms of editing, here too the process is also somewhat improvised. As a starting point, all the interviews are recorded and transcribed – what you are reading on the blog is an edited version of the verbatim transcript. As these can easily run to 30 pages or more, they obviously need to be pared back. I usually aim for 8-12 pages for the final, edited transcript. How do I edit? It’s a good question, and I don’t have a straightforward answer. I suppose it is a bit like giving someone a haircut. You get a sense of the final, overall style you are looking for and you start to trim. A bit here, and bit there, and a little bit more over there. I’ll will reword certain passages, cut and paste bits and pieces and bring them together to keep things fluid (informal conversations do tend to jump around a lot), but in doing this I always try my best to stay “true” to the spirit of what people are saying. I also try to tease out what I think are novel insights, so that each interview comes across as somewhat different and unique from the others already posted online. It takes several hours to edit an interview – and I’ll usually re-read and revise the transcript a few times before I send it back to my interviewees. This partly explains why I don’t post them all that often! All interviewees receive a copy of their verbatim transcript alongside the edited version, and are offered the opportunity to edit it as they see fit. I’ve been lucky in that all the people who have participated in this initiative to date have seemed quite happy with the end result, and any editing they have suggested has been minor – a clarification here, a typo there. They do not get to read their introduction ahead of time, this is always a surprise! They read it at the same time as everyone else, after the interview has been posted online.
And that’s about it! Will I be doing more interviews in future? A few more, I expect. But at 25 and counting, I think I am getting quite close to saturation. Some have asked for more interviews with quantitative scholars, and have suggested I do an analysis to see if and how qualitative and quantitative scholars might differ in the way they write. Others have suggested I focus on different angles – interviewing co-authors independently on a well-known article, interviewing an emerging scholar about their first publication, interviewing editors specifically on their editorial experience. A topic I’ve become quite interested in of late is in the visual representation of qualitative data. So there is certainly any number of ways forward. I have yet to make up my mind on which path to take. In the meantime, please enjoy the material that is already on the site. Twenty-five individuals took the time out of their very busy schedules to offer their stories and insights – hard earned! – so that others may avoid common pitfalls and learn a bit quicker, in what is becoming quite a competitive field. I cannot thank them enough for their time. If you’d like to offer ideas, suggestions or comments – please email me: email@example.com. .
I wish all of you who follow this blog the best of luck as you take your own personal projects and journeys forward!
Cloutier, Charlotte. 2016. How I Write: An Inquiry Into the Writing Practices of Academics. Journal of Management Inquiry, 25(1): 69-84.
From our friends at PhD Comics:
Columbia Ship Management Professor of Strategic Management, University of Cyprus and Distinguished Research Environment Professor of Organization Studies, Warwick Business School
What can I say about Hari? First off, I should say that I loved this interview. It’s so… well… Hari. It comes at you from the side, a bit unexpectedly. It is profoundly philosophical, but that is perhaps to be expected, given who we’re talking about. It reminds us of why we do this. It is grounded, and yet aspirational. It is real, but perhaps also a bit unreal (Oh my! Look at this! Here I am unwittingly finding myself using Hari’s conjunctive theorizing to try and explain my sense of this interview and the man behind it! How did he do that?!?). This interview gives a fresh perspective, a new way to look and think about organizations. Perhaps it will inspire you to pull down one of those philosophy books sitting on your bookshelf… you know, the one you’ve been “meaning to read” since… forever. Who knows? It may very well trigger that “ah-ha!” you’ve been so desperately waiting for, as you struggle yet again to try and figure out what your next “contribution” will be.
Distinguished Research Professor, Emeritus, University of California, Santa Barbara
This interview was conducted some time ago when Linda came to visit us at HEC in Montreal. Linda is one of those people we all love to have as friend: kind, enthusiastic and funny. The life of the party. It was such a pleasure to have her, and we hope she comes again! One of the reasons it took me so long to edit this interview was its length: we talked and talked, about stuff related to writing, to research, to teaching, to politics, to life in general. Time just flew by! Linda is such a delightful conversationalist, she made me feel as if we’d been friends forever. She had me completely under her spell. I expect that when she interviews people, they tell her everything. But not to worry: we’ve spared you the small talk. What follows is the condensed and edited version of our conversation – filled to the brim with interesting thoughts and ideas, for you to borrow and use as you please.
Ann Cunliffe, Professor of Organization Studies, FGV-EAESP, Sao Paulo, Brazil
When Ann visited HEC and we sat down for this interview, I must admit that I was not very familiar with her writing. I was however quite familiar with her writing style. Indeed, while I had read only one of her papers – Managers as Practical Authors – which had been required reading in one of my PhD courses, talk among PhD students and others about her unconventional writing style was frequent. Such discussions tended to follow a familiar arc. They would often start with someone asking, “How did Karl Weick ever get away with publishing his Mann Gulch paper in ASQ?” To which someone else might answer, “Well you know (emphasis on “you know”), it’s Karl Weick,” this said with a tone of deference only academic groupies in social psychology or organization theory might get, and with the implication that the rest of us ordinary scholars were stuck with the IMRAD template. Then someone would say, “Well, Ann Cunliffe has also managed to publish unconventional stuff in pretty good journals” which gave some of us hope that we were not doomed to reproduce the excruciatingly dry writing we struggled so hard to read as newbies to the field, at least not forever or all of the time. Funny how we forget. Occasionally, a student will comment on how tiresome they find reading in-text citations – I used to think that as well, until I got used to them. The quest for efficiency in scientific production has brought us to this – straightjacket formats, limited pages, lots and lots of tables. These are practical, no doubt, but oh-so-boring to read (no wonder speed reading has become such a useful academic skill). The idea of an academic article that is savoured, that is so engaging to read you cannot put it down until you are done is nonsensical almost, a joke. But why is this so? Why is it that good science cannot go hand-in-hand with writing that is engaging and fun to read? In this light, it is rather refreshing to talk to someone who, for her entire career, has deliberately pursued a different path and who, despite the risks, succeeded at making a name for herself. It gives hope and inspiration to the rest of us.
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!
O’Connor Family Professor
Phd Director, Management and Organization Department
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.