— Cultural Sources of Newness

Tag "conditions for research and creativity"

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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Thank you, Jeanette, for forwarding the blog post in the NYT by Stanley Fish on “The digital humanities and the transcending of mortality”. The point of departure for this article is the book, Planned obsolescence: Publishing, technology, and the future of the academy,   by Kathleen Fitzpatrick (who happens to be on leave from my alma mater, Pomona College). I quite enjoy the way Fitzpatrick deconstructs the isolated author model that was so highly praised by Susan Cain in the NYT a couple of days ago, who worried about “The Rise of the New Group Think” (see my earlier comments).

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Someone kindly sent us this link to an article in the New York Times about “The Rise of the New Group Think, suggesting we might want to reflect on it in this blog (he sort of apologized for not doing it himself). My husband is off at the fitness center for an hour or two, so I thought I would take a quick look to exercise my brain while he works on the weights.

The author of the article (Susan Cain) happens to be the author of a forthcoming book (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), and she feels she has discovered a soul-mate in “the other crucial figure in Apple’s creation: a kindly, introverted engineering wizard, Steve Wozniak, who toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer” (p.1). 

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