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!
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.
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.
» Initiated by professors from Durham University (UK), the Writing on writing series presents short texts written by seasoned researchers, where they reflect on their own experience of writing. As you can read on this page, “[i]n these pieces, scholars from a variety of social science disciplines share their thoughts, feelings, pearls of wisdom, anecdotes, theoretical musings and much else likely to give insight and inspiration to those in the later stages of doctoral writing.” Over twenty-five distinguished scholars have up to now posted a contribution, and they are worth a visit.
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.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love libraries. But I also find the concept of the writing studio quite appealing. A rather small but functional space dedicated to writing, with a minimalist design and big windows… Here a a few examples of these beautiful spaces, so you (and I!) can dream…
Stunning Writing Studios – Flavorwire.
Here are a few links I found interesting in the last few weeks. Do leave a comment if you have any thoughts on what these links present!
» What is paragraph re-planning?
I found this article via Twitter, directing to the Writing For Research site (highly recommended, by the way!). In fact, I saw it circulate many times before I actually clicked on the link to find out what “paragraph re-planning” meant. The first times I saw this mentioned, I’ll admit that wasn’t that interested, given its slightly boring title. But when I noticed that this link was tweeted and retweeted again and again, I grew curious. Don’t fall in the same trap as I did, and do not wait to go read about this strategy, also called reverse outlining. I have not tried it yet, but I plan to do so soon. This approach sounds relevant to avoid what can happen when you work on long texts: that the front-end and back-end of the paper are not well aligned and drift apart, or that the focus of your paper gets lost.
» A primer on the Pomodoro technique
You’ve heard about the famous Pomodoro technique, but are not quite sure what it is and how to use it? Follow this link, and all your questions will be answered! I’ve tried this approach, which is built on blocks of 20, 25 or 30 minutes of focused work, and it has its merits. I’ve found particularly useful when I felt stuck with a text, as a way to get going. Read more