I have created a number blogs to publish useful information. One is a Teaching Blog dedicated to providing past, present and future students useful information. I have also created a blog for the Courses I am teaching.
My Research Blog is dedicated to disseminating useful information to other researchers and scholars.
There is also a blog that has collected all of Charles Tilly’s Writings on Methodology.
Below you find every entry across all my Blogs.
The Guardian reports on the problems of the existing business model:
Australia Post has warned its losses will amount to $6bn over the next 10 years unless the government allows it to change the price of sending letters.
The national carrier is forecasting its first full-year loss in 30 years, or since before it was corporatised.
Its chief executive, Ahmed Fahour, said Australia Post had a competitive parcel business, but losses from its letters business were swallowing up profits.
Fahour said the government understood the scale of the problem. “They either fund the next 10 years of losses, which could amount to $6bn, or we’re out of business,” he told Fairfax radio on Monday.
Australia Post reported a first-half profit after tax of $98m, down 56% on the first-half result of the previous year.
The letters business lost $151m, 57% worse than the loss in the first half of last financial year.
Fahour said Australia Post had never been subsidised and had always paid dividends to the government, but the world had changed.
“Either we get a massive injection from the government to keep the business going, or they give us the permission to manage the business and therefore no subsidy is required and the business can continue,” he said.
Letter volume decline accelerated to 8.2% year-on-year, the largest fall recorded since Australia Post’s letter volumes started falling in 2008.
In this context this quote by Jim March also is relevant:
“Leadership involves plumbing as well as poetry.”
The Guardian provides an update on how Fairfax, a company we features in our course 7 years ago, is doing:
Hywood counters by claiming that readership has never been higher – Fairfax’s website is the most popular news site in the country, and a barely-believable 5.1 million visitors access it every month. However, this is missing the point.
It is not readers, it is revenue that is needed to run those great full-service newsrooms. And cut-throat competition has driven online advertising through the floor – for every dollar a newspaper loses in print advertising it is lucky to recoup 10 cents online. Few newspapers are lucky enough to be owned by a trust, rather than accountable to shareholders, like the Guardian, or to attract a fairy-godfather like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who has adopted the Washington Post.
Hywood’s solution has been to diversify into a dozen different fields. Fairfax’s metropolitan newspapers now produce less than half its revenue. The company has morphed into selling baby goods, organising fun runs and ocean swims, a dating service, a real estate site. It has partnered with Channel Nine to launch a video-to-the-home service, though many fear this will end in tears. Apart from its unlikely name of Stan, it is about to face formidable competition from the world’s largest and most aggressive player in video-streaming, the US giant Netflix, which launches in Australia next month.
But many fear these ventures are just postponing the inevitable demise of the newspapers that have chronicled the country since the earliest days of white settlement, leaving Murdoch, at least for now, with a monopoly on everything Australians read in print. “They’ve saved the company, but f——d the papers,” as one analyst told me.
I just read the editorial statement of the current editor of AMJ. If you would like to write about big problems that managers are facing in a scholarly way, AMJ may be a great outlet.
Gerry George writes:
A compelling way to frame a study for theoretical contribution is by asking questions on important anomalies or patterns that are intriguing, useful, and nonintuitive. In an earlier editorial with Jason Colquitt, I suggested that we need to explore “Grand Challenges” in management (see the June 2011 “From the Editors” [vol. 54: 432–435]). The principle is to pursue bold ideas and adopt less conventional approaches to address significant, unresolved problems. Not all our studies understandably will be grand, nor will they all challenge conventional wisdom, but considering the relative importance and scale of a problem will likely make a study more relevant to managers, and make it more interesting for our readers. There are multiple ways by which manuscripts can be better positioned for a theoretical and empirical contribution using a problem focus (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2011; Pillutla & Thau, 2013; also see the October 2011 “From the Editors” [vol. 54: 873–879]). What is important to recognize is that this team places emphasis on how a central research problem or question is articulated. Bringing organizational problems to the forefront would ease the burden on vaguely scripted “Managerial Implications” sections of manuscripts (Bartunek & Rynes, 2010).
My editorial team will look for clearly articulated problem statements or research questions motivated by managerial challenges. This problem-based focus shifts the emphasis away from motivating articles using pure theories to tackling important problems through an enriched theoretical lens. For example, Hekman and colleagues (Hekman, Aquino, Owens, Mitchell, Schilpzand, & Leavitt, 2010) motivate their study on gender and racial biases in customer satisfaction surveys by emphasizing the importance of the managerial problem that a 1 percent change in customer satisfaction creates a 5 percent change in return on investment. Understanding the scale and scope of the problem and asking the right question takes primacy over the deftness of theoretical manipulation using constructs, moderators, and moderated mediators. We prefer manuscripts that emphasize how constructs provide a coherent explanation of the phenomenon rather than framing and motivating studies by adding untested moderators and mediators. Such an effort would rightly dissuade authors from identifying smaller “gaps” in the literature and shift the discussion to managerial, organizational, and societal problems that need to be addressed.
I just read a fantastic research paper that I recommend highly to anyone who is interested in strategy process research.
Mirabeau, L., & Maguire, S. 2014. From autonomous strategic behavior to emergent strategy. Strategic Management Journal, 35(8): 1202-1229.
The authors do wonderful job first summarizing the different strands in strategy process research. Then they present new findings on how autonomous strategic initiatives become emergent strategy. They introduce the new idea of Ephemeral Autonomous Behavior to balance out the traditional Mintzberg model of emergent strategies. I have added the paper to my list of exemplary case studies worthy of imitation.
The core of the paper is nicely summarized in these two figures.
(Right click on each figure to open it in a larger format on a new page.)
1. The Strategic Process and Competitive Dynamics of Industry Convergence
Date: Sunday, September 21, 2014
Time: 11:15 – 12:30
Samina Karim, Boston University
John Prescott, University of Pittsburgh
* Alfonso Gambardella, Bocconi University
* Anita McGahan, University of Toronto
* Johann Peter Murmann, University of New South Wales
* Fernando Suarez, Boston University
Understanding how industries change has attracted considerable attention because it blurs industry boundaries, redefines the competitive landscape, creates opportunities for new strategies to emerge, destroys competitive advantages while solidifying others, challenges cognitive maps and establishes new institutional arrangements. In this session, expert panelists will bring us up-to-date on the phenomenon of industry convergence (IC) by sharing their perspectives regarding (1) the antecedents, dynamics, and consequences of IC; (2) how to conceptualize strategic management processes and how they may inform the dynamics of IC; (3) how scholars should evaluate the attractiveness of, and rivalry within, IC industries; and (4) promising research directions including theory development and empirical studies.
Do some top executives matter more than others? Integrating insights from upper echelons and executive mobility research, we suggest that the functional roles performed by top executives shape their value to the firm. We examine the effects of inter-firm executive mobility on firm survival for New York City advertising firms from 1924 to 1996. We find that, while losing any top executive is damaging, the loss of a top executive whose functional role focuses on internal firm processes is more detrimental to firm survival than losing a top executive whose functional role focuses on managing external exchange relationships. Additionally, in situations when multiple executives leave simultaneously, firms are more negatively affected when the group departing is functionally heterogeneous.
Bermiss, Y. S., & Murmann, J. P. 2014. Who Matters More? The Impact Of Functional Background And Top Executive Mobility On Firm Survival. Strategic Management Journal:
An earlier version that placed more emphasis on heterogeneity of top management teams influencing firm survival is available at SSRN.
I am inconsistent. I some contexts I have banned computers and more importantly smartphone use in classrooms because it became apparent that large number of students were distracted by it. It others I have allowed it because I myself like to take notes on a laptop. Here is the evidence why at least internet connections need to be turned off in classrooms.
Over time, a wealth of studies on students’ use of computers in the classroom has accumulated [...]. Among the most famous is a landmark Cornell University study from 2003 called “The Laptop and the Lecture,” wherein half of a class was allowed unfettered access to their computers during a lecture while the other half was asked to keep their laptops closed. The experiment showed that, regardless of the kind or duration of the computer use, the disconnected students performed better on a post-lecture quiz. The message of the study aligns pretty well with the evidence that multitasking degrades task performance across the board.
Pop quizzes, of course, are not the best measure of learning, which is an iterative and reflective process. Recent Princeton University and University of California studies took this into account while investigating the differences between note-taking on a laptop and note-taking by hand. While more words were recorded, with more precision, by laptop typists, more ended up being less: regardless of whether a quiz on the material immediately followed the lecture or took place after a week, the pen-and-paper students performed better. The act of typing effectively turns the note-taker into a transcription zombie, while the imperfect recordings of the pencil-pusher reflect and excite a process of integration, creating more textured and effective modes of recall.
Abstract: Building on recent research on dynamic, high-growth firms—so-called “gazelles”—this paper explores a simple question that is important in both theoretical and practical terms: What is the fastest rate at which firms can grow? Based on a sample of seven high-growth firms (Cisco, GM, IBM, Microsoft, Sears, Starbucks, and US Steel), we find that 162% is the maximum sales growth rate in any one year that an established company can grow without mergers and acquisitions, while the maximum rate of employee growth is approximately 115% even including some mergers and acquisitions. All of the companies in our sample attained a maximum sales growth rate of above 50%, with most hovering around 75%. Furthermore, the firms’ growth rates exhibit similar patterns. No company experienced its maximum sales growth rate toward the latter part of its history. Every company experienced its slowest employee growth rate after attaining its maximum employee growth rate, usually within a decade of one another. Most importantly, all firms show an average sales growth that exceeds the average employee growth. This finding is an indication that successful growing firms have a superior capability to continuously improve employment efficiency and adjust organizational structures to suit an increasing workforce.
Murmann, J. P., Korn, J., & Worch, H. 2014. How Fast Can Firms Grow? Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), 234(2-3): 210-233. Download Article
The digital revolution is devouring printed travel guides. Lonely planet is a case in point. The BBC bought the company forf $210 in 2007 and sold it last year for roughly $121 million. Here is a instructive figure charting the decline in printed guide sales.
This if one of the most interesting open letter I have ever read by a CEO. Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, closes his open letter:
Dear Eric Schmidt, you do not need my advice, and of course I am writing here from the perspective of those concerned. As a profiteer from Google’s traffic. As a profiteer from Google’s automated marketing of advertising. And as a potential victim of Google’s data and market power. Nevertheless – less is sometimes more. And you can also win yourself to death.
Historically, monopolies have never survived in the long term. Either they have failed as a result of their complacency, which breeds its own success, or they have been weakened by competition – both unlikely scenarios in Google’s case. Or they have been restricted by political initiatives. IBM and Microsoft are the most recent examples.
Read full letter in FAZ: Why we fear Google
A recent survey of CEOs reveals what they are looking for in today’s MBA graduates:
Cross-Cultural Competency (57%)
Team Skills (49%)
Critical Thinking (48%)
Comfort with Ambiguity and Uncertainty (41%)
People underestimate that scientists often make progress by chance. Here is the story of researchers studying a species that has invaded Florida’s Everglades made an unanticipated discovery: deadly Florida pythons have internal GPS.
“We found that Burmese pythons have navigational map and compass senses,” said Shannon Pitman of North Carolina’s Davidson College, the lead researcher of a team of scientists that released six captured snakes back into the wild, then tracked them through the Everglades National Park for up to nine months.
“It wasn’t what we expected. We thought we’d see a kind of aimless, wandering behaviour, but the pythons made their way pretty quickly back to where to where they were captured. It was more sophisticated in terms of movement than we’ve seen in other species of snake.”
What makes the discovery more remarkable is that it was completely accidental. Pitman’s team originally wanted to release the snakes closer to their capture points within the Everglades, as they were more interested in studying the habitat through which they were moving than the actual distances they travelled.
But wildlife officials, whose efforts to eradicate or contain the up to 100,000 non-native snakes estimated to have spread through the park’s 1.5m acres, refused permission.
That led to the team releasing the snakes at more remote locations between 13 and 23 miles away, outside the National Park’s boundaries, and then watching in amazement as one python after another made its way back “home”.
Each snake was fitted with a radio tracker and its position monitored by GPS one to three times per week. All six moved in a near-straight line towards their capture points and five ended up within a couple of miles. The snake with the longest journey took nine months to reach its destination.
Full Story: Guardian
Click on “More” to play the video animation.
Hasso Platter co-founded SAP. For the past two decades he has been involved in trying to adopt the SAP to area of internet and cheap clout computing.
When asked whether it is harder to set up a new company or to steer an existing company in a new direction, he does not hesitate with his reply.
“The bigger challenge, I’d say, is the latter one.”
To reinvent a successful company such as SAP is much more difficult. “You have to convince people that change has to come, and that is difficult,” he says, noting that it is easier to convince Americans about the future than people in Switzerland or Germany. “We are more conservative. We are a little bit afraid of the future. Americans are not afraid of the future.”
Source: Financial Times
In their new book, The Three Rules: How Exceptional Companies Think, Michael E. Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed carefully identified from all publicly listed American firms those firms that performed very highly over long periods of time. When they tried to find out what they had in common, they could not identify concrete behavior. What made the companies different, according to the authors, where their mindsets. This leads Raynor and Ahmed to articulate three rules for success.
Better before cheaper: Compete on differentiators other than price.
Revenue before cost: Drive superior profitability with higher prices or higher volumes, not lower cost.
There are no other rules: Change anything/everything in order to abide by the first two rules.
The Economist wrote a very thoughtful review about the entire genre of business books that tries to glean lessons from studying successful players. I agree with their assessment that in the end,
The difficult question is how to find that profitable niche and protect it. There, The Three Rules is less useful.
In a wide-ranging interview with the NY Times, Nadella explained his views on how to organize for innovation.
Q. Your company has acknowledged that it needs to create much more of a unified “one Microsoft” culture. How are you going to do that?
A. One thing we’ve talked a lot about, even in the first leadership meeting, was, what’s the purpose of our leadership team? The framework we came up with is the notion that our purpose is to bring clarity, alignment and intensity. What is it that we want to get done? Are we aligned in order to be able to get it done? And are we pursuing that with intensity? That’s really the job.
Culturally, I think we have operated as if we had the formula figured out, and it was all about optimizing, in its various constituent parts, the formula. Now it is about discovering the new formula. So the question is: How do we take the intellectual capital of 130,000 people and innovate where none of the category definitions of the past will matter? Any organizational structure you have today is irrelevant because no competition or innovation is going to respect those boundaries. Everything now is going to have to be much more compressed in terms of both cycle times and response times.
So how do you create that self-organizing capability to drive innovation and be focused? And the high-tech business is perhaps one of the toughest ones, because something can be a real failure until it’s not. It’s just an absolute dud until it’s a hit. So you have to be able to sense those early indicators of success, and the leadership has to really lean in and not let things die on the vine. When you have a $70 billion business, something that’s $1 million can feel irrelevant. But that $1 million business might be the most relevant thing we are doing.
To me, that is perhaps the big culture change — recognizing innovation and fostering its growth. It’s not going to come because of an org chart or the organizational boundaries. Most people have a very strong sense of organizational ownership, but I think what people have to own is an innovation agenda, and everything is shared in terms of the implementation.
Source: NY Times
The founders of Whatsapp were very clear that did not not what to sell advertisement through the messaging app. (See their 2012 statement.They did not even want to collect data on their users. So why did they sell themselves to Facebook, which is all about collecting more data on us to sell it to advertisers? Here is a clue in their blog. Maybe they were tired of having to manage a business rather than just design a product.
Mokyr points out the modern GDP measures are not accounting for improvements in quality of products and life.
He sees no end to innovation. Basic science needs to be funded by governments because private individuals and corporations cannot appropriate the returns from these investments. He sees culture that encourages natural skepticism of students as a key ingredient for furthering innovation of a country.
The philosopher and polymath Michael Scriven has written extensively on the logic of explanations. Here are two of his most valuable pieces. The first one is how one can make good inferences from single cases studies and the second one one explanations in history.
1. Scriven, M. (1974). Maximizing the Power of Causal Investigations: The Modus Operandi Method. In W. J. Popham (Ed.), Evaluation in education: Current applications: 68-84: McCutchan Pub Corp. Download
2. Scriven, M. (1966). Causes, Connections, and Conditions in History. Philosophical Analysis and History. W. H. Dray, Harper & Row: 238-264. Download
This chapter reviews the ideas that have been developed to describe the emergence and change of structures in three fields: Economics, Management, and Design of Technologies. The chapter focuses on one empirical setting, the economy, and more specifically how firms, industries, and technologies change over time. Today’s industrialized economies are very different from the economies before the industrial revolution. The chapter presents key theoretical ideas from evolutionary economics, management, and technology that try to explain why and how economy has been so dramatically transformed over the past 400 years. You can download a draft of chapter here or find the book in your library or buy it at Amazon.com or MIT Press.
Ten years ago I read Stinchcombe’s “Theoretical Methods in Social History”. I recently reread the parts that I had highlighted and I thought it useful to share some key passages.
One does not apply theory to history; rather ones uses history to develop theory. 
It is rather that the fashion in quantitative history has come to be that one must agree to be voluntarily ignorant of the any evidence other than numbers. 
As the argument develops, it will become clear why I am unenthusiastic about most quantitative history. Let me state the argument in capsule form.
For a number, say a count, to be theoretically interesting, it has to be a count of a comparable instance. What instances comparable for a scientist is that those instances have identical causal impact. Thus a count is more illuminating, the more theory and the more detailed examination of the facts went into making the instances counted comparable. But this ordinarily means that making a count should be the last stage of a scientific enterprise, a stage reached only after an extensive development of theory on what makes instances comparable. Is the proletarian in the Vyborg district of Petersburg or in the Baltic Sea Fleet equivalent in impact on the Russian Revolution to a proletarian in Moscow? Trotsky convinces me he was not (and if the proletarian was a she, in either place, she was not equivalent to a male proletarian either). Consequently, a count of proletarians in Russia in 1917 is fact of relatively little interest. 
In early June, I visited Beijing for the first time. The Chinese capital is breathtaking in every sense of the word. The city has gone through an amazing development and is more glitzy than many American and European large cities. It definitely feels more modern and dynamic than Philadelphia, whose neighborhoods I explored while living there for most of 2012.
As a teenager in the early 1980s, I visited a number of communist countries: East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia. So I find it easy to imagine what Beijing would have looked like before 1978. In mere 30 years, a run-down and crumbling place was transformed into a modern city, which is far better developed than any city I have seen during my visits to formerly communist Ukraine in 2004 and 2009. Also in relation to Rio De Janeiro, Beijing seems newer, and lot cleaner especially compared to the outskirts of Rio.