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Two boxes and an arrow: An interview with Tom Lawrence

Tom Lawrence
Professor, W.J. VanDusen Professor of Management
Beedie Schools of Business, Simon Fraser University

Tom taught me as a Master’s student back in 2001 or 2002 and we’ve stayed in touch on and off over the years. I’ve always loved everything Tom writes, in part because it is so interesting and readable, but also because I can see its importance and relevance for the “real world”, which is not something we can say about a lot of the stuff academia spews out on a day-to-day basis. Somehow Tom manages, again and again, to bring together an intriguing and inherently interesting empirical setting with a compelling theoretical question or problem that has real implications for practicioners. How I wish I could do the same! And if all these qualities weren’t enough, anyone who knows him will tell you that Tom is also a really funny guy. Fits of laughter are the norm every time we meet up. This interview, which took place over lunch, sitting on a square of grass outside of the Hanken School of Economics during EGOS 2012, is no exception.

The first question I’ve been asking everybody is how do you come up with ideas for writing your papers?

That’s a good question. For me there are two sets of papers that I work on. My papers and everybody else’s papers. And the process is quite different. I think I looked at it a while ago and it was about a 50/50 split in terms of papers that came from something I had done in the past or was doing versus papers that came from someone saying, “I have some data, would you like to work on it?” And so for the papers that are mine, I’ve only ever had one idea and it’s just the same paper over and over again since my dissertation.

Which is?

How do people change the world? Framed as how do actors change institutions or maybe more broadly, how do they affect institutions? My dissertation was on institutional entrepreneurship. The first couple papers were from that. And everything has kind of revolved around this sort of central question of: People are constrained in many, many ways, socially, culturally, economically, but they also seem to have an impact on the world, but not everybody, and not all the time. So how does that work? And so all the stuff I’ve done on institutions and power and change and institutional entrepreneurship has all been really kind of circling around that question, just finding different ways in, basically.

How important is it then to have a kind of identity in terms of the work and research that you do?

It’s funny, you know, I had this conversation with Royston (Greenwood) about eight years ago and we were discussing programmatic versus non-programmatic research. And this idea that some people are dilettantes and do a bit of everything and are just kind of blown by the wind, and that other people have a sustained interest in something. And what was interesting to me was I said, in reaction to that, that I was the latter, that I had a sustained interest. And he laughed and laughed and he thought it was just a complete joke because he thought I was just completely dilettante. That I just, you know, was blown around by the wind. I studied whales one day, accountants another day, whatever. And so what he meant was that programmatic research involved a focus on an empirical context that you got to know really, really well over a long period of time. Some industry, some phenomenon. And for me that was so secondary, it had never occurred to me that that’s what programmatic research would involve. Because for me it was all about: Do you have a central question that over the course of your whole life you want to answer? Or at least make some progress toward answering? And for me that’s just completely central. I find that when I’m working on papers, anytime I’m working on a paper that’s connected to that central question, I have no motivation problems. It’s easy. Because it’s a topic that I care about and that I’m fundamentally interested in. And it’s kind of rolling the rock forward.

So where does that interest come from? Did you have some sort of activist background?

No, not at all. I’m anything but an activist. I’m a not a doer. I’m not entrepreneurial. I’m not even a joiner. I don’t belong to Greenpeace, for example. I believe in those things, I just don’t do them. So where did it come from? I don’t know. I mean, the best I could offer you as an answer would be that I did my PhD during an era when there was a very, very strong interest in sociology. I mean, I guess there always has been, but in particular about the relationship between structure and agency. And so Giddens’ book was relatively recent. Foucault was being discovered by the English-speaking community. Institutional theory was going strong, but also in that period it was changing. Lynne Zucker’s book, the one Paul DiMaggio has a chapter in, came out in ’88. And I started my PhD in ’88, I guess, maybe, or ’87. So there was this really strong sense of that’s the question, structure or agency? Or what’s the relationship between them? And I was — maybe because I was optimist– in many ways I’m optimistic as a sort of core personality trait. I believe that change is possible. Not always, not all the time, but sometimes.

What about specific ideas for papers? Where do those come from?

It’s probably about running into ideas elsewhere, usually through reading, and then somehow having the time and space to bring them back to my central question. So for example, I have a paper, that’s not published, on institutional immunity. All ideas take forever. So that one really came from one phrase that I think Roy used in our institutional work paper and he used the term “immunity” in a very – not casual way – but not in a developed way. He just kind of made this reference to this idea of immunity. And my PhD student at the time picked up on it. He really liked this idea because he was interested in activists and how they can both cognitively and socially dis-embed themselves from their environments and trigger change. And so this idea of, well maybe there’s a sense of heterogeneous kinds of relationships to institutions and one dimension of that heterogeneity is the degree to which institutions are directly constraining a person. So the degree to which there is surveillance, the degree to which there are constraints, the degree to which there are costs for noncompliance and so on. And then, like many, many papers, there’s an empirical piece. But the inspiration came really from this collaborative organization we were studying called KDO, Keeping the Doors Open, which is a group of individuals, all who have other jobs in the city, in health care, in foundations and so on and off the side of their desks they were meeting once a month or so to talk about how to do drug policy reform through educational events. And they did large scale, several-hundred-people-roundtable kind of events in Vancouver. And it was not part of their jobs. They weren’t really rewarded for it. It wasn’t secret, but it was quite public either. And we were interested in this group because it seemed like what they were doing was that they were providing themselves with a certain amount of immunity from their normal constraints. So, for instance, the mayor was involved at one point in a way that you just wouldn’t really do as a mayor, if it was a more public space. And so he was sort of gaining a certain amount of immunity from the structures that they had to put in place around this semiformal collaboration. So for me ideas tend to take a long time and they tend to come out of some long gestation that often involves somebody else’s data because I don’t collect my own. And some reading, because I do read.

How do you organize your ideas?

If I had my computer, I’d show you my hard drive. Under My Documents folder there are numbered folders and the first one is 1-Research. And under 1-Research, it’s all people’s names.

All the people that you’re working with?

Yes. It was not a thoughtful process at the beginning, it’s just what I did. But now it’s fascinating in a way because there are so many names. Everyone I have ever worked with. I’m a hoarder when it comes to digital stuff. So I don’t delete anything. And so every paper I’ve ever worked on, every draft of every paper, all organized by who I was with. And it’s just first names. Nelson (Phillips) has seen the folders and I can’t remember if it was Cynthia (Hardy) or Nelson who was a bit offended because I have one folder called “Cynthia or Nelson.” Everyone has their own individual folder except for them. Because everything was together, so it didn’t make any difference.

When you get an idea, do you take a note of it? Or is it only when you actually begin working on something that you create a file?

I don’t have any file drawer of ideas. It’s only when it becomes much more concrete that I create this file and dump everything in there. And it becomes a paper. Everything starts with a title for me. It’s all very linear.

Linear in what sense?

Well, linear. If you said to me, “I’ve got this data”, we would talk about it, but we’d talk about it in terms of — because I always come into projects late, the data is collected, and sometimes a lot of the analysis is done, and somebody is frustrated. I’m like a plumber. And so there’s shit in the pipes and they want to get it cleaned out. And so I come in and I help them clean it out. And it’s almost always at that point. And so I don’t end up looking at the data even very much. I end up talking to you about your data and we talk and talk and talk, and then we go to a white board and we talk about — what are the kind of two boxes and an arrow that this paper is about? And that’s probably only in the last 10 years, but that’s how I conceptualise everything in terms of a paper. It’s often two boxes and an arrow. And sometimes when I start to work with people, they only have one of the boxes. So they’re writing a paper about power, about whatever, inequality, about discourse, but they don’t have a relationship. So the idea probably first becomes conceptualised in terms of a figure of a very loose kind and then a title. And the title is often just the figure turned into a title, the impact of x on y sort of thing, colon: a study of some context.

How many projects do you work on at any given time?

A lot. Fewer than I used to. It ebbs and flows. I probably have four or five papers that are kind of active right now.

So there were times where you had more than that?

Oh, yeah. Two or three years ago it got to the worst point ever I think and I had 10 papers that were truly active and 17 coauthors across those 10 papers. It was a nightmare. I was just continuously letting people down, doing crappy work. And so three years ago, I made a list of those papers and I said to myself I’m not going to add to this list until I get down to a reasonable number. Mostly they’ve been finished but they took forever. So I think I got it down to, of the original 10, maybe three are left and I’ve since added a couple more. And they are at different stages of development. Lately, I’ve been working with people less and doing more stuff on my own. And that’s horrible in that case to have multiple papers because you’re just making trade-offs with yourself, right? Of the papers that are mine, I spent a whole year working on this paper. And I got it to a point where I couldn’t get it any further, which is where it is now. Because I don’t have a coauthor, I don’t know what to do. I’m totally stuck. So it’s just sitting there. If I was my own doctoral student, I would just, you know, chastise myself for letting it sit because I’ve got 60 pages written, I’ve got all the analysis done, I’ve got a front end, but I don’t have a point. And so I don’t know what to do with it. So I probably have to find someone, which I’ve never had to do before because everyone finds me. Except this time I do. I mean, that was my mistake, I collected my own data.

You view that as a mistake?

Well, in this case, yeah, because everything else has worked fine until I started to collect my own data again. And so I’ve got this data. And everyone loves the data. It’s the injection site paper I presented. And it’s advanced enough to give presentations, it’s written, but it’s not ready to be submitted because it doesn’t have a point. If it was somebody else’s stuff, I feel like I could probably help them find the point. But because I’m on my own, I can’t. Co-authors force you to do the work. They allow you to ship off the work when you’re tired with it. It’s not the same talking to yourself. Talking with others helps you articulate what you’re thinking.

So how important is that? To be part of a community?

I think it’s really important. I think that as a writer you cannot not be in a community and have any level of success because audiences are fragmented, interests are heterogeneous. They’re not individualistic. Interests are rooted in people’s lives and positions and communities. And so if you want to have someone read you, then you can’t write for yourself and you can’t write for the public at large, and you can’t write for the academy at large. You have to write to a scholarly community, and you have to be a part of that conversation. You have to respect the people in that conversation or at least what they’re saying. They have to be interested in it. You have to find a way to empathize with their perspectives on the world even if you don’t agree with them because otherwise you can’t write in a way that they can understand or accept. I don’t travel much at all. I don’t go to conferences. I mean, this is an exception. I haven’t been to EGOS in four years. I haven’t been to the Academy in a dozen years. So for me the community is not literally people having a beer. Not usually anyway. It’s more about people’s papers. And when I think about a community, I think about it in terms of an intellectual community that’s represented, and not even just represented, that is embodied in a set of papers, books, whatever, through intellectual references and citations or whatever establishes this discursive community.

Tell me a bit about your actual writing process?

At the very beginning of a paper — well, it probably depends on whether it’s an empirical paper or a theory paper. About half the papers I write are theory papers. And so for those — and they have similar patterns — it tends to be very linear. Starting with the title or sometimes an abstract. And then Nelson (Phillips) taught me what I now call “the Nelson introduction”.

Okay. What’s that?

It’s just four paragraphs. The first paragraph is the topic and why it’s important. The second paragraph is the lens or angle on the topic and why it’s interesting or useful. The third paragraph is the contributions to a specific literature. And the fourth paragraph is the map of the paper. Then I know how many sections are in the paper, what they are going to be and what the point of it is. And then it’s often pretty linear from there on out.

So you actually write it in that order?

For most papers I’ll write that section first. Title, abstract if I can and the introduction I’ll always try to write first. I try to write those four paragraphs no matter what the paper is about, who it’s with, anything. I have a sort of fairly compulsive need to do that. And so I tend to volunteer to write the introduction in collaborations and people are often relieved because many people hate writing introductions. But I’m paralyzed otherwise. And it’s still fairly linear after that. So the qualitative papers or the empirical papers I do are often pretty standard now in terms of structure. There’s a theory section that ends up with a research question. And then there’s a methods section, there’s a findings section, discussion, whatever. And all of those are written, except for the methods. I never write the methods. I never did the data, so somebody else writes the method section. The theory sections are similarly very linear. What’s interesting is that you interviewed Nelson, and he still writes the way I used to write. I still would write that way if I could.

What, you mean collectively?

Yeah. We wrote all over the world. Collectively, sitting on couches often, because then it’d be easier to see the laptop on somebody else’s lap, rather than on a table. And we just sat and physically wrote words together. And we had rules around if you were typing, that means another person was dictating. So if we were writing together right now, you would have the laptop on your lap and I would be dictating, but you wouldn’t be writing what I’m dictating. You would be adapting it as you went. But you would have to go with me to a certain extent, you couldn’t just race away, otherwise I’d be excluded from the process. But I couldn’t get mad when you changed the words, otherwise you would be excluded from the process. And so it has to be literally an ongoing and collective creation of the text. And what we would do when there were three of us was we would have two laptops going and two people would be writing in that way, and then the third person would be editing. So whatever they were working on, they would give it to that third person and they’d work on refining it.

But when you’re on your own, where do you write?

Now I work at my office at work. And I go in. I have a very kind of boring routine. Kids do that to you, plus I have a partner who likes to work at home. So initially we had a shared office. And I think somewhat to her chagrin I moved out of it into my office at work because I found it too distracting to actually be in the same office as somebody else. So now I’m a 9:00 to 5:00 office guy. I go in. I go to Starbucks before I get in. I get, you know, the same drink every day. I have the same routine every day. It’s amazing. I’m, like, old! And then the writing is the same way. When I write, I’m very mono-focused. I’m either writing or doing everything else. And when I’m writing, I don’t answer e-mails.

You shut it off?

No, I just ignore it. Sometimes I’ll check it out. But I tend not to reply. And a lot of people will tell you I never reply anyway. But often it’s because I’m writing. So I either have a writing day or a not-writing day. I mean, every day is a writing day. I try to write every day. A little bit at least. I try to write at least an hour every day. Half an hour would probably be the smallest increment of real writing time that I can manage. Half an hour to an hour is not super unusual for me. Those are usually the “everything else” days. I’ve spent the morning doing e-mail and admin, having meetings. I’ve done something at lunch, I come back, and I’m just sick of everything about my job except for the writing. And so my default is writing, because for me, it’s the easiest thing to do. Everything else is harder. The admin is harder, the teaching is harder, the dealing with people is harder. So when I’m working on a paper, I tend to work on it almost to the exclusion of everything else.

On one paper?

Yeah. When I am writing, tends to be one paper at a time. And I don’t bounce back and forth very much, at least within, say, a two-week period. So for a couple weeks I’ll go in most days and write for much of the day, and then sometimes at night if it’s really going well. And I can tell whether I’m doing real work, meaning writing or not, by the music. So if I’m not listening to music, I’m not writing. If I’m writing, the very first thing I do is put on music. And I work standing up. I have a standing desk.

Oh yeah? Why?

Because I think better standing up. I had a flip chart in my office and whenever I needed to work something out, I would stand up and go to the flip chart. So I put a big black Ikea coffee table on my desk. It’s exactly the same size as my desk, in terms of horizontal space. And I’m lucky because it’s exactly the right height for me. I also have a sit down desk for meetings. I have a pretty big office and so I’m lucky because when I get to a certain point with a paper I always print it out to do editing, and then I need a big space because I tend to want to have at least 10 pages visible so I can edit. I mean, I do edit a lot online, 90%, 99% probably, but there’s always a point usually — well, there’s two points for papers with me when they turn into “paper” papers. One is when they are 15 pages too long and I need to cut them down. And I find I can do that really quickly on paper. I can just stroke stuff out and I can say, well, it’s a 45-page paper, they need it to be 30 pages, so I need to lose one out of every three pages. And I’ll just go through it and a third of each page has to go.

Literally? Like, you don’t look at sections or anything?

No, no, a third of each page. I’ll go right from the beginning and try to cut out a third of each page. It doesn’t always work that way of course, but that happens fairly regularly given that most papers need to be cut down at some point. It’s natural to write more and then have to cut back. And then the other time I print something out is right at the end. I always go through two or three rounds of really close editing on paper because I just find it looks different and I see different things. I mean, all the writing I do is on screen, but, at the end, I’ll move stuff around or do really close editing that way.

What happens when you work with co-authors?

It’s hard to say in a way because there tends to be so many rounds. I keep every draft and number the drafts. So some people change their drafts with the dates on them. It drives me crazy because I have too many drafts. And so I just start at 01 and work my way up. And I’ll often end up with — a normal number would be, say, 20 to 40 versions before it gets submitted.

When do you know a paper is ready?

Oh, wow. I think it’s ready for me when I’ve gone through that process — when I get to a point where it’s the right length and I’ve done the really close editing several times and it just looks right and I’m sick of it. Or there’s just something else — now it feels like diminishing returns or there’s something else really pressing I need to get to. So in some ways it’s not much different from a special issue. It’s just that when there’s a special issue there’s a time pressure that means it’s time to let it go. I don’t tend to do a lot of getting feedback from other people on papers. When I’ve done it, I’ve sometimes regretted it. Because I send it to people and they have their own idiosyncratic reactions to it. They’re not the same as the reviewers. They take me off in a direction informed by their own views and backgrounds. I listen to them, I incorporate their stuff and it hurts the paper as much as it helps it. And that’s going to happen anyway with reviewers. They’re going to have their own idiosyncratic reactions. So instead I tend to work on papers for a long time. And I sometimes present them. Not a lot because I don’t do conferences a lot. And I don’t find that very helpful anyway. I mean, it’s helpful as a mechanism to force you to get somewhere with something, because of the deadlines. So I trotted this paper around this year to four different places. Was the feedback helpful? I don’t know. A little bit, across all four, but only a little bit. What was helpful was giving the presentation myself, listening to myself, forcing myself to think, “how interesting or not is this?” And so I think social mechanisms are important. But I find, because almost everything I do is with somebody else, that’s good enough. And so you have two or three people who really get what you’re trying to do because they’re doing it with you, and they’re the best reviewers.

When you write a paper, do you have a journal in mind?

Pretty much always, although the journals I tend to write to are kind of a kind anyway. So whether I was going to go for an AMJ (Academy of Management Journal) paper or an Organization Science paper, whatever, they’re not very different and the people are relatively similar. You know, if it was work studies, it might be a little different, but not that much different anymore. JMS (Journal of Management Studies) isn’t very different anymore. And I tend to be pretty narrow in my journal choices. I’m only comfortable with certain journals because that’s where the community that I’m writing to is. That’s who I understand. You know, I would be terrified to write for a sociology journal because I don’t get it. I don’t know who those people are. They know all kinds of stuff, I don’t know about all the sociological stuff and they read different things and they speak differently and they cite differently. So for me, it mostly starts out as a paper aimed at AMR (Academy of Management Review) or AMJ because that’s what I understand. And then it gets rejected and it goes somewhere else.

So you’ve submitted your paper and now you’ve received your response. How do you react?

They don’t bother me at all. I think this is true. It might be fantasy, but I’ve never had a big emotional reaction to reviews. If it’s a rejection, the rejection is disappointing and I could have a big emotional reaction to that, especially if I really liked the paper. Certainly earlier in my career, if I really needed it and, you know, everyone gets discouraged when they really need stuff, and I did, and I got a ton of rejections. And it was very disheartening. But it wasn’t the reviews so much. It wasn’t people’s comments on the papers, it was the outcome and what it means in terms of the work ahead of you. And what it means in terms of my life. You know, will I get tenure? Will I not get tenure? And I came very, very, close to not getting tenure at UVic. I didn’t publish anything. There was good reason that they were not going to give me tenure. We had a five-year tenure clock, but you went up at the end of your fourth year. You needed four papers and I had zero. But I got lucky. I had stuff under review and things hit that summer. So I got four papers, two decent papers and two pretty weak papers. They were not so weak that they wouldn’t actually count, but they were border line. In those days I just got a ton of rejections.

What do you mean by “a ton”?

At any stage, R&R, first submission, whatever, it seems like there’s always about a 50 percent chance it’s going to get rejected. So initial submissions, about half of them get rejected. R&R about half of them get rejected. Probably not fourth round R&Rs, but I mean, I’ve certainly had multiple R&Rs rejected. It sucks. I’ve even had a fifth round R&R rejected. So initial submissions, I must have, I don’t know, lots.

Some people say “never let a paper die.”

I agree. Never let a paper die. Any paper, you don’t let it die. But that’s not entirely true. So the Dick-Willy paper went through something like seven journals with comments like, “This is a joke.” “The writing is very nice, but I suspect there’s nothing to this paper.” They were, horrible, horrible comments. And that was an interesting process which probably shows more about our delusions than anything else because we would get these often scathing rejections and we would hardly change the paper at all. Because we would read it, and we’d think, “This is a great paper.” And we’d send it off again and we’d get killed again. And it would come back, and we’d still think “This is a great paper.”

But isn’t that risky, though?

It’s stupid is what it is. I don’t think we realized that at the time. I mean, it’s not a strategy I would highly recommend, especially given that it took so long. You know, we spent years submitting that paper. But it was a paper we really liked: “From Moby Dick to Free Willy.” And the idea for that paper came to us on the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. We went to the Aquarium in Vancouver to talk to the whale guy there because we were talking to whale researchers. And he was very nice and he gave us a tour. And there was a baby beluga that had just been born, so we got to see it before anybody else had. And it was really interesting because he was a research scientist, but he also thought of about whales conceptually, as well as being involved in his more biological stuff. And the problem for him as a whale researcher was this conceptualisation of the whale in public discourse as a sort of deity. And it actually created problems for them in terms of what they could do, what they couldn’t do, the level of surveillance they were under as researchers because they were dealing with this special, special animal. And that was when we were both, and particularly Nelson (Phillips), very involved in developing ideas around discourse and institutions. And we were just on the ferry and talking about this idea of the whale as a concept and how interesting it was that people talked about it in such different ways. And that was it: “That’s the paper.” It was pretty early in the project when we realized that that was the paper. And then it took sort of, you know, many, many years.

So beginning to end, roughly, how long for that paper?

A long time. Let’s see. It was published in 2004. And I think we did the data collection in about ’93/94. So probably 10 years.

Do you have other stories like that?

Well for example, Charlene Zietsma came to me, with her forestry data.

That’s the ASQ (Administrative Science Quarterly) paper?

Yeah. And it made it there only after it got rejected at AMJ, after four or five rounds. I can’t remember if it was two or three rounds for the special issue and then it got bumped into the main thing and it went through another round there and got rejected. And then we went to ASQ because we thought, “It’s pretty good now. We’ve polished this sucker up pretty well, let’s go for it.” It was exciting. And I had never worked with her before. It was, you know, in many ways sort of higher risk for her because it was such a big investment in that data. And it was her dissertation data she had worked and worked and worked and worked at. And I kind of came on super late in the process. And it was really a classic: just her talking about the data, going back, working with it. I mean, I don’t have any embarrassment about my role in these papers, only in terms of, you know, do I do research or not? Was that research? Was writing that paper research? Lots of people would say it’s not really.

So last question: What are your recommendations for people who are starting out?

I was just talking to a friend who is very, very smart and very good and was struggling with not being as productive as he thought he was going to be in his career. And what we were talking about was the social side of writing. And there are two parts to that, I suppose. One is the part we already talked about in terms of writing and thinking of yourself as part of a community. And getting away from thinking about what your distinctive identity will be. So a doctoral student I was talking to was talking about who he wants to be in the field. And I was saying that that’s not the way to go. You want to think about what field you want to be in. What community do you want to write to, what conversations do you want to be part of? Because if you’re trying to establish an identity, you’re a really boring person. It’s like someone at a party who just talks about themselves. And it’s similar in an academic context. Interesting people are people who join conversations and enliven and enrich those conversations. And you do that by having empathy for the people who are your readers. And you get that by putting yourself outside of your box and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. And so that empathetic step, I think, is critical. And in some ways, qualitative researchers are naturally predisposed to do that anyway because they go in the field and they have to earn the trust of the people they talk to. That’s why they’re there: because they’re interested in other people.

Then the other piece of the social side that is critical is forming, especially early on, long-term collaborative relationships with people at a relatively similar stage to you. Or with a mentor. I had great mentors, but I didn’t write with them. So I’ve never written with Bob (Hinings) or Royston (Greenwood) or any of those people. But the advantage of the Nelson (Phillips), me, Cynthia (Hardy) model was we all had aligned interests and timetables. We all wanted to get stuff out then. Sometimes we tried to get something in the mail every month. And that could be an abstract to a conference. But we tried to produce something every month. And it didn’t always happen, but that was the idea. It gave us a real sense of, you know, okay, you cannot sit on this stuff, you’ve got to get it out. Because it actually works out that if you submit about a paper a month, you only get about two publications a year anyways because of the number of rejections and the number of rounds. Now, if you look at my CV, I don’t have any big journals for quite a long time in it. But that’s how I learned to write, by not going for big journals. I mean, I did go for big journals, but I got rejected.

So to me finding people you like and people you trust and who you want to work with for years at a time is the single biggest positive thing you can do. People who have a shared passion, who get good at working together, who get good at trusting each other. I think that’s how — for me that was how the craft became a craft, by figuring it out with somebody else and being able to reflect together over and over and over again why our papers got rejected. So it wasn’t, “I worked with this person, got it rejected, then I worked with another person, got it rejected and so on.” Because learning is so hard. And so for us, working together for an extended period of time allowed us to actually learn and really see what we were doing differently, what worked last time, what didn’t work last time. We developed a shared discourse, a kind of meta-language around the work itself. And I think that we probably implicitly learned that from Bob (Hinings) and Royston (Greenwood) because they work that way. And have been for 30 years. So long-term collaborative relationships. That’s my strongest advice. Because even if you don’t publish anything, it’s still fun. And you learn — and you get better at everything. And all the stuff that’s hard is so much easier hard when you’re part of a team.

Interviewed and edited by Charlotte Cloutier.

Selected publications:

Zietsma, C., & Lawrence, T. B. (2010) Institutional work in the transformation of an organizational field: The interplay of boundary work and practice work. Administrative Science Quarterly, 55(2): 189-221.

Hardy, Cynthia, Thomas B. Lawrence and David Grant (2005) Discourse and collaboration: The role of conversations and collective identity. Academy of Management Review, 30(1): 1-20.

Lawrence, Thomas B. and Nelson Phillips. (2004) From Moby Dick to Free Willy: Macro-cultural discourse and institutional entrepreneurship in emerging institutional fields. Organization, 11(5): 689-711.

Maguire, Steve, Cynthia Hardy and Thomas B. Lawrence (2004) Institutional entrepreneurship in emerging fields: HIV/AIDS treatment advocacy in Canada. Academy of Management Journal, 47(5): 657-679.

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