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.
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.
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.
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!