There comes a time in every management scholar’s life when one attempts to make a generalized summary of the field and contemplates what we – as management scholars – might be able to offer others – like managers.
Now that I’m forced into that stage the thought of what we might have have to offer sometimes sounds a little bit like this :
- “It’s complicated” or “it depends” – The world is complicated so people, even scholars, would generally want relatively simple and straightforward models that help us understand it. Yet, looking at the integration of a whole field it’s surprising how little simple straight forward answers we have to offer.
- "It depends which management scholar you talk to" – Though it’s natural that this would be the case, it’s somewhat bewildering to see the contrasts between how different scholars view the world. This might be derived from an emphasis on a different unit of analysis (e.g. individual, group, unit, organization, organization type or organizational populations-forms), different assumptions regarding human nature (e.g. opportunistic/self-serving, good-natured/trust-worthy, socially embedded), different questions of interest (why do firms differ, why are firms so similar) and so forth.
- "We’re not entirely sure, but for now we think it’s… " – As scholars we’re extremely sensitive to our own limitations and weaknesses, we report those, we discuss those, we accept the weaknesses of the tools we use and our bounded view of the world, and we generally accept our inability to perfectly address a managerial question. Yet, at the end, it may leave us with the feeling that despite decades of research, we are still unable to even begin unfolding basic questions of interest not to mention providing “answers”.
- "We used to think X, then we thought it’s not-X, now it looks like Y" – It could be the development in statistical methods, it could be the discovery of a non-intuitive moderator or simply the natural evolution of theorizing (diversification literature is one good example, BTW), but no matter the cause this can make even the most devoted of people doubt the value of current state-of-the-art research.
To management’s defense, I perceive those issues as existing in other fields as well, including those we tend to think of as “exact sciences”. Yet, somehow, due to the somewhat stronger disconnect between the scholarly and practical worlds in management and the extent to which these prevail the young field, it just might make you wonder.