Guest editorial

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Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 1 December 2004

Citation

Purser, R.E., Petranker, J. and Adam, B. (2004), "Guest editorial", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 19 No. 8. https://doi.org/10.1108/jmp.2004.05019haa.001

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Guest editorial

About the Guest Editors Ronald E. Purser is Professor of Management in the College of Business at San Francisco State University. He is past Division Chair of the Organization Development and Change (ODC) division of the Academy of Management, and co-author of four books, The Search Conference (Jossey Bass, 1996) (with M. Emery), The Self Managing Organization (Free Press, 1998) (with S. Cabana), and Social Creativity, vols. I and II (Hampton Press) (with A. Montuori). At the 2000 Academy of Management conference he co-chaired a featured symposium “Timescapes in management,” and his paper, 'The coming crisis in real-time environments: a dromological analysis”, was selected for the Best Paper Proceeding. E-mail: rpurser@sfsu.edu

Jack Petranker holds a BA from Stanford, an MA in political theory from the University of California at Berkeley, and a JD from Yale Law School. He is an editor, educator, and writer and the author of articles on consciousness studies, organizational change, political transformation, the inner meaning of work, and various topics in Buddhism. A former Dean of the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley, CA, he is the founder and director of the Center for Creative Inquiry. E-mail: petranker@att.net

Barbara Adam is professor of sociology at Cardiff University and Chair of the Research Centre for the Study of Knowledge in Practice (SKIP). She is founding editor of the Sage journal, Time and Societyand has written extensively on social time applied to subject matters across the social and environmental sciences. Two of her monographs on time have been awarded book prizes. For further details about her research and publications see her Cardiff University Web page http://www.cf.ac.uk/SOCSI. Her new Oxford University book, Making Time. Time and Management in Modern Organisations, edited with Richard Whipp and Ida Sabelis, will be published in July 2002. E-mail: Adamtime@cardiff.ac.uk

Time has been referred to as the hidden dimension (Hall, 1983), an implicit challenge that for many years went largely unanswered in the field of management studies. A few pioneers explored aspects of temporality in organizational studies (for an excellent review see Bluedorn, 2002; Das, 1986), but for the most part the discipline seemed content to go along with unexamined assumptions and peremptory conclusions.

Perhaps the dawn of the new millennium has had something to do with it, but this era of neglect shows signs of coming to an end. Future theorists may mark the turning point as the annual conference of the Academy of Management held in Toronto in 2000, which took time as its theme. Thousands of academics and practitioners found themselves confronting hundreds of papers on the theme of time, and some came away with a sense of new ideas stirring. Following the conference, a special issue of the Academy of Management Review took up the theme of time as a research lens in organizations (Anconna et al, 2001).

One of the sessions organized for the 2000 AOM Conference featured presentations by all three of the editors for this special issue of JMP. Organized by Ronald Purser in his capacity as Chair of the Organizational Development and Change Division of the AOM, the All-Academy session challenged organizational scholars to be more reflexive in their theorizing of time. The theme for the session was Barbara Adam's notion of “timescapes,” which decenters linear, objectivist conceptions of time, opening discourse to temporal modes that are normally ignored or marginalized (Adam, 1998).

In 2002, the three of us joined forces with a number of well-known scholars in the field to organize a small conference (about 20 participants) devoted to the theme of time. The conference title was “Dynamic time and creative inquiry in organizational change.” Precisely because time was the theme, we focused in on the time that conferees would spend together, and determined to depart from the usual conference format in several key respects. First, we required all presenters to make their papers available in advance on the website of the Center for Creative Inquiry (interested readers can find them at www.creativeinquiry.org/juneconference/library). Equally important, we asked them to submit short biographical statements and a photo. The site provided for exchanges on the papers, as well as on the design of the conference.

These innovations, though relatively minor, had a tremendous impact on the conference. By the time participants gathered at a secluded site in Essex, MA, they shared a history. Though most of us had never met, we knew something about each other, and we had all already taken an active role in preparing for the conference.

To build on this promising beginning, the conference organizers announced that this would be an “improvisational conference.” Although we established a structure intended to make sure that everyone would have a chance to present, we also agreed that we would feel free to modify that structure as we went along. On a micro-level, we asked participants to find ways to make their presentations more dynamic and improvisational. A few of the presenters took improvisation as their overt theme, but our aim was to have everyone share in the sense that we would be laying down our path as we walked it. At the very least, we reasoned, this commitment would make us more aware of the temporal dimension, since we would be confronting it at every turn–not in the usual mode of deadlines and tight schedules, but as an arena of open possibilities.

The results were gratifying. No one wandering into the event would have mistaken it for a rave, but the participants seemed to share a sense of greater freedom and more meaningful exchanges. As one of us (Purser) had said in advance of the conference, at most conferences the most fruitful parts take place in the hallways between events; we were aiming for a conference that was “all hallways.” We surely fell short, but it was a good beginning.

The present issue of JMP grows directly out of the Essex conference. Our original thought was that we would look for a forum to publish some of the papers that grew out of the conference, but as we thought it through, we realized it would be more fruitful – and more true to the theme of time as indeterminate – to invite contributions through a more traditional call for papers. We solicited contributions that could help “spark a creative inquiry into the multiplicity of temporalities that constitute managerial experience and organizational life,” and urged a transdisciplinary approach. The articles published here were selected from the many contributions we received in response.

The papers collected here can be read individually as contributions to the field of management psychology that break new ground by introducing or exploring in new ways the multi-faceted timescapes within which organizational actors work, plan, and contrive to succeed. They can also be read as contributions to an ongoing dialogue that aims to rethink time at a deep level. Our sense is that the temporal dimension as it is presently understood imposes limits on the possibilities for organizations, management, and managers – limits that we will begin to recognize more clearly only when we are on the way to overcoming them.

In this broader sense, readers may want to read the articles in this special issue in light of one another. It would be foolish to impose an artificial unity on a collection of papers submitted by authors with widely differing concerns and backgrounds. Yet there are themes and approaches that carry across papers, so that each illuminates the others. Here we will trace one pathway through the collection, certain that others will find other, equally fruitful approaches.

We begin with the article by T.K. Das, truly a pioneer in the field of temporal studies. His concern here is with the temporalities of opportunism: those situations in which a partner in a strategic alliance deliberately undermines that alliance for the sake of private advantage. Das assesses the conditions that make opportunism more or less like in terms of the temporal horizon (short-term or long-term) of possible opportunistic action, plotted against the degree of risk to the relationship that such an action will engender. The underlying issue here is one of identity: a business that enters a strategic alliance maintains its own identity intact, and thus can contemplate betraying the alliance without having to rethink its own image and commitments.

Noteworthy about this analysis is that it takes the “standard” understanding of time for granted. Managers take actions now to get desired results in the future. In the logic appropriate to such a linear approach, opportunistic acts are always an option.

The article by Ramos investigates the theme of trust, closely related to the issue of opportunism that concerns Das. However, he does so from a very different perspective. Ramos starts from the idea that existing timescapes lead to “excessive stress, unoriginality and even distrust,” and aims to sketch out an alternative. Focusing on the distinction between chronos (conventional linear time) and kairos (the right time, the time for appropriate action), he suggests that management could approach decisions in ways that invited the application of wisdom and judgment rather than simply good results. For Ramos, opportunism could never be “timely” in a kairotic sense; as he writes, a “partisan focus on organizational goals will never be reconcilable with trust”.

This framework raises a number of important questions. Must one possess wisdom in order to act in a “timely” manner? If so, how shall such wisdom arise? Could a different approach to time itself lead to wisdom, and could such wisdom inform a different management ethos? Ramos rightly points out that due to external constraints, few managers will realistically be able to pursue such a possibility. Still, an important question has been raised. A different approach to time requires a different kind of knowledge, but what if the different knowledge in question is the knowledge of time? Perhaps the very act of naming and exploring kairos is a step toward such knowledge, and hence a step toward wisdom.

With Li Destri and Dagnino, we return to a more conventional (though multiple) understanding of time. The authors contrast objective, Newtonian, linear time, in which all moments are homogeneous, with subjective, Bergsonian, qualitative time, in which each moment is uniquely conditioned by the web of memory and anticipation in which it arises. They link the former to classic economic rationalism, which reasons probabilistically from past patterns to future likelihoods, while they associate the latter with the entrepreneurial spark that reacts to the uncertainty of the future with creative solutions. Drawing on the Austrian process view, they suggest that each of these approaches has application at different times in the life cycle of an organization, and on this basis suggest that a focus on different kinds of temporality might make it possible to build a bridge between entrepreneurial studies and strategic management.

Interestingly, the Bergsonian approach introduced in this article is not difficult to reconcile with the more conventional temporal analysis presupposed in Das, for opportunism anticipates what is possible in the unique circumstances and conditions of this precise moment, and in this sense is entrepreneurial. Perhaps the reason for this congeniality is that subjective approaches to time, like objective approaches, are founded in identity, and thus extend themselves across time in characteristic ways.

Like Li Destri and Dagnino, the E Cunhas distinguish two kinds of time. In their case these are monochronic time, as practiced in northern Europe, and polychronic time, as practiced in southern Europe. There is a tendency to regard these two modes of time (originally identified by Hall) as akin to objective and subjective time, but the E Cunhas reject this comparison. Instead, they contend that polychronic time focuses on relationships rather than results; in another formulation, they suggest that it is maternal rather than paternal. The E Cunhas buttress these conclusions with references to an empirical study of eighty Portuguese managers and their difficulties in integrating the values learned in a polychromic society into an increasingly monochronic world economic order. Perhaps we could speak here of another kind of identity: not the objective identity of the organization or the subjective identity of the individual actor, but the relational identity that arises in community, giving rise to its own temporality.

The interplay of subjective time, identity, and the temporal structures that shape the world of management also figures prominently in the article by Sharon Turnbull. The study on which this paper is based looked at senior managers nearing the age of retirement in a large public-sector organization going through significant changes. Accustomed to viewing their own careers as describing a linear trajectory through time, the study participants found themselves strangely at a loss when they reached a point where, their careers nearing an end, this model no longer held. In effect, they were forced to confront the existential question of how the reality of death (translated into the corporate realm as retirement) figures into the subjective experience of time.

Turnbull's discussion of this and related points helps clarify that subjective reactions to socially constituted temporal structures are often inseparable from those structures, which take on an “objective” life of their own. For the executives she studied, the unexpected disjunction between the subjective and objective left them in a state of temporal anxiety, struggling to fit their identities into alternative temporal modalities.

The final article, by Sierk Ybema, is wholly at home in the realm of the subjective. Drawing an analogy to studies of organizational nostalgia, Ybema identifies an approach to the future that he calls “postalgia”: a way of framing a common destiny meant simultaneously to unite, to exclude, and to determine who shall hold power. He is explicit about the emotional component of this approach to time, reminding us that the “algia” in postalgia comes from a word meaning “grief” or “distress.”

If Ybema, like the E Cunhas, throws us squarely into the middle of a world (and corresponding timescape) centered on group identity, he also suggests a way out. The kind of time on which he focuses is related to the telling of stories. Could the story could be told differently? Would it perhaps be possible to engage time in a way that told no stories at all? If that happened, we would not be thrown back on the rational timescape of the economic decision-maker (for as Ybema notes, economic rationality is its own kind of story, perhaps a story at one remove from psychological realities). Instead, we might be in touch with a different dimension of time. Instead of competing for ownership of the present through nostalgic or postalgic accounts, we might be able simply to accept the present, and with it the past and the future. Could that approach relieve our grief and distress? Could this way of relating to time open the gate to wisdom? Time will tell.

Ronald E. Purser, Jack Petranker and Barbara AdamGuest Editors

References

Adam, B. (1998), Timescapes of Modernity: The Environmental and Invisible Hazards, Routledge, London.

Anconna, D., Goodman, P., Lawrence, B. and Tushman, M. (2001), “Time: a research lens”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 26 No. 4, pp. 645-63.

Bluedorn, A.C. (2002), The Human Organization of Time, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.

Das, T.K. (1986), The Subjective Side of Strategy Making: Managing the Future, Praeger, New York, NY.

Hall, E.T. (1983), The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time, Anchor Press, Garden City, NY.