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.
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…”
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!
Interview 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!
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?
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.
Interview with Jennifer Howard-Grenville
Associate professor of Management
University of Oregon
I had the good fortune of meeting Jen at an Oikos conference in 2011. The conference took place in that lovely part of Switzerland known as Appenzell. Included in the program were half-day hikes in the mountains (amazing!) and it was on one of those hikes that Jen and I started talking. We discovered then that we had a lot in common and we’ve been talking and bumping into each other pretty regularly ever since. I view this as a real privilege.
On my post about the genesis of this blog, and in particular on this series of interviews on how academics write, I mentioned that one of my goals was to obtain interviews from writers at different stages of your typical academic career. So my idea was that over time, our roster of interviews would include early career researchers, mid-career researchers and researchers with 30+ years of writing under their belts. Jen fits that middle category, where several years of hard, slogging work have begun to reap big dividends, and you’ve (finally! some might add) got the wind blowing in your sails. The work doesn’t get any easier, as several of the people interviewed on this blog have mentioned. But at least now you know what you’re doing, and you know how to keep things in perspective. Jen is at that stage where those early years are not so far behind her that she’s forgotten what it’s like, but she’s also gained a lot of experience such that she now has a clear sense of what it takes to succeed in this highly competitive environment that academic publishing has become – experience that she is articulate about, and very happy to share with others. This is a thoughtful, clear, and very insightful interview. I hope you learn as much from it as I did.
Interview with Stephen R. Barley
School of Engineering
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.