— Cultural Sources of Newness

Februar 2012 Monthly archive

Can an old electric power transformation building be a cultural source of newness? Yes, if, like the Ewerk in Berlin,  it transforms itself into an incredibly cool techno club—then retransforms itself into a venue for more bourgeois events like a gathering of European academics seeking research funding. And that brings me to my second question: Can speed dating be a cultural source of newness? Maybe. This was the idea of the organizers of the HERA matchmaking event I attended today.  

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Another weekend of article-writing draws to an end, and before closing the computer a quick twitter check pointed me to an article a friend (thank you Gio!) had just read in the New York Times—“The Art of Distraction”. Somehow I leave so little time in my week right now, including the weekends, to get distracted, why not read about it? The article is by a novelist I have enjoyed, Hanif Kureishi. After discussing the problem with Ritalin in society today, he captures the essence of his argument well in the last paragraph:

“There might be more to our distractions than we realized we knew. We might need to be irresponsible. But to follow a distraction requires independence and disobedience; there will be anxiety in not completing something, in looking away, or in not looking where others prefer you to. This may be why most art is either collaborative — the cinema, pop, theater, opera — or is made by individual artists supporting one another in various forms of loose arrangement, where people might find the solidarity and backing they need.”

What if we academics learned from theses kinds of artists and rediscovered how to cultivate the art of distraction rather than refining the art of working through the weekend?

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The Journal of Management Inquiry (JMI) is one of the academic publications I particularly like—both to read and to publish in because the articles address themes that matter to me; they are grounded in organizational practice; and the editors encourage the authors’ voice to come through the text. The December 2011 issue marks the 20th anniversary of the journal by reprinting a selection of articles from past years, and pairing each of them with a new contribution that comments on the origin and the impact on the field since the article was published.

The JMI was launched essentially as a cultural source of newness, offering a platform for research that was not getting recognized in the established journals. The combination of the first four “old” articles and their new companion pieces spoke to me particularly strongly:

James March’s short article from 2003 “A scholar’s quest” & companion piece by Rakesh Khurana & Scott Snook;

Scott Cook and Dvora Yanow, 1993 “Culture and organizational learning” & companion piece by William Starbuck on learning to write about organizational learning;

Janice Beyer, 1997 “Research utilization: Bridging a culture gap between communities” & companion piece by Jean Bartunek;

Peter Frost, 1999 “Why compassion counts!” & companion piece by Jane Dutton and Kristina Workman on compassion as a generative force.

Together they illustrate (a) that caring about our work and the people who work in the organizations and society we study really matters, and (b) that it can take a long time for our voices to be heard/our ideas to be valorized. The piece by Cook & Yanow was chosen by the editors for this issue because it is the most frequently cited article in the journal’s 20 year history—and the companion piece by Starbuck explains that it took the authors 10 years to get it accepted for publication.

Fortunately, I have learned the German expression “langer Atem”. Unfortunately, few academic institutions know what that means any more.

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