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Management practices: criticism and debate
Article Type: Guest editorial From: Management Decision, Volume 49, Issue 2
This Special Issue examines different contributions to ontological support and knowledge, ambidexterity, mindfulness, entrepreneurship (in a double sense, macroeconomic and managerial), stakeholder theory, and the basis for a general theory of organisations. All of these contributions critically assess different theoretical approaches and/or make original contributions to some of them. The articles on the ontological support of knowledge, ambidexterity, the two studies that address entrepreneurship, and the basis for a general theory of organisations, provide exciting new insights into all these diverse fields, whilst the critical assessment of varying theories are of particular relevance to the research on the stakeholder theory and mindfulness.
The different schools of thought that come together from the areas of sociology, psychology or economics to form the field of management, and particularly the theories or approaches that came to the forefront in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century, differ in their determinist or non determinist vision of the context of the firm; in their perspectives on behaviour, inclined towards cooperation or opportunism; in their ontological conception (or the true nature of the reality that science addresses); or in the different methodologies used (more descriptive or ethnographic as opposed to more positive or functionalist).These differences, together with the different schools within each theoretical framework, mean that studies aimed at criticising or refining current theories have become an issue of utmost importance, which will have repercussions on the practice of management and on the levels of efficiency and effectiveness of organisations. Therein lies the reasoning behind this Special Issue, which is aimed at revising theories, inviting criticism or the proposal of new elements that will enrich them. Each theory acts as a lens that leads to the identification of a variety of issues and the search for different solutions for resolving them, and it is essential for this lens to be clearly focused.
In the articles that we will go on to describe, the studies by Akehurst et al., Fang et al. and Gärtner address in different ways, and with varying approaches, issues centred around knowledge and capabilities. In addition, the studies by Dabic et al. and Huarng et al. from entirely different theoretical frameworks, examine the topic of innovation. The articles by Mainardes et al. and Peris Bonet et al. provide a review of different theoretical approaches; the first of these looks at stakeholder theory, whilst the latter adopts a more generalist approach in its treatment of the predominant organisational theories or of management itself. Next, we comment on the different articles in the order of their publication.
The study by Akehurst et al., written with notable vigour and expressive capability, makes an original contribution to the literature on knowledge by separating – albeit implicitly for most of the article – the creation stage of knowledge and the stage of analysis and conceptualisation. During the creation stage, ontological support is fundamental, as knowledge is created in interaction with reality and, depending on the reality it is acting upon through practice, the experience and knowledge obtained will be different. For these authors, ontological support goes further than the emphasis on practice proposed by Spender (2008), and its infinite nature (in its physical, technical and social dimension) explains the change and possibilities that open up at the creation stage. During this stage, tacit and explicit knowledge always go hand in hand, as stated by Tsoukas (1996). However, continuing their contribution to the literature, in the analysis and conceptualisation stage of knowledge, which corresponds to epistemology, these authors propose a classification that differs significantly from that which is generally accepted. Explicit knowledge is always present, except in the more initial stages of learning, and tacit knowledge is an essential component in the knowledge creation stage, but it is not present in the stage that corresponds to its systemisation, conceptualisation and formalisation.
The article by Dabic et al. is of extraordinary interest, as it mixes theories that are normally outside the realms of literature in the field of management (Keynesianism and post-Keynesianism) with other theories that are basic to the study of management, such as the Schumpeterian or neo-Schumpeterian perspectives linked to entrepreneurial activities and innovation. These different approaches, Keynesian and Schumpeterian, with their various traditions and study topics, and which have spawned whole bodies of different literature, do, however, address the same set of problems. If the macroeconomic context does not provide the right conditions (a Keynesian question), there will be no entrepreneurs ready to invest and innovate (a Schumpeterian question). The merit of this author’s work, apart from crossing these two different though highly complementary fields, lies in showing how some studies can be transversal or intermediary and that they contribute to a theory of innovation that is located in the areas of both economy and management.
With regard to the article by Fang et al., related to knowledge and capabilities through ambidexterity, the study parts from the assumption that a simultaneous and balanced development of the design capabilities and technological capabilities of the firm result in a sound strategy for high-tech firms that produce and commercialise technology (ICT). Limitations in terms of resources, accumulated experience and the capabilities they already have at their disposal mean that the majority of managers of R&D departments tend to preserve existing design models and avoid change; but as a number of well-respected scholars have observed, there are reasons why the simultaneous allocation of resources to technological development and design have a positive impact on the final product. This is the case, among others, when the technology involved matures, when the design can better express the characteristics of basic technology, or when design capabilities can enable the improvement of technological processes and the search for innovation. These authors sustain the ideas expressed above via an empirical study using 109 firms from the Taiwan Association of Industries in Science Parks.
The stakeholder theory is reviewed, analysed and critically considered by Mainardes et al., in an extensive, detailed article. The authors highlight the need to establish a generally accepted concept of the stakeholder and, basing their ideas on different issues related to the figure of the stakeholder, they identify and order a variety of research agendas while resolving a number of question and controversies. One of the contributions of this study is to establish the conceptual limits that allow the establishment of stakeholders groups and also highlighting the conflict of interests among different stakeholders. Finally, they indicate the need for researchers to continue their efforts to reach theoretical convergence and empirical contrast in a concept that is applicable to a variety of management fields and that addresses topics as diverse as ethical issues and relationships of power.
Gärtner’s paper addresses topics related to knowledge and capabilities. The paper contains an interesting and detailed analysis of the concept of mindfulness and its relation with dynamic capabilities, pointing out the advantages and limitations of this concept. Among the advantages mentioned is the fact that an alert, careful mind among the various members of the organization (mindfulness), via their interaction with phenomena that are unforeseen or hard to predict, with tasks that by their very nature require careful attention and commitment (Weick and Roberts, 1993) contribute forms of knowledge, knowledge creation and managerial cognition to the organisation. Secondly, the learning model proposed by mindfulness, as opposed to mindlessness, corresponds to an organisation that is characterised by its resilience and continuous adaptation. Finally, mindfulness can be considered as a young wine poured into the well-known bottles of dynamic capabilities and organisational theory, thus providing a new perspective.
The article by Peris Bonet et al. examines a more general theoretical approach to organizational theory. These authors propose the identification of relations and contents as the basic unit of analysis in organizations, whatever the unit of analysis defined by the different theories may be. Two of the major aspects that should be highlighted in this ambitious proposal are, firstly, respect for the language and the concepts that go to make up each theory. Indeed, they propose that each theory is its language and this aspect should thus be preserved. Secondly, relations and contents, as they are defined herein by the authors, constitute common ground for comparison and construction, and where applicable, a superior theory, and are taken from the very material that constitutes these theories: their ontological selection and their methodological construction.
The topic of entrepreneurship is addressed in the article by Huarng et al., in a contribution whose originality is apparent in its treatment of a collective entrepreneurial activity that blurs individual actions in a non-profit SME. The firm studied here is the Taiwan EBook Supply Cooperative Ltd (TEBESCo), whose activity consists of enabling the acquisition of books in an on-line format for all its associated members (libraries). The board of directors (the effective management form and the body charged with carrying out the firm’s entrepreneurial activities) is made up of volunteers that belong to the different associated libraries. Such a body implies a high level of involvement of the associated libraries with the operations of TEBESCo, whilst at the same time fostering a form of entrepreneurship that enriches the theory by differing from previously considered models.
Domingo Ribeiro SorianoDepartment of Business Management, Facultat d’Economia, Universitat de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Marta Peris-OrtizDepartment of Business Administration, Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Spender, J.C. (2008), “Organizational learning and knowledge management: whence and whither?”, Management Learning, Vol. 39 No. 2, pp. 159–76
Tsoukas, H. (1996), “The firm as a distributed knowledge system: a constructionist approach”, Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 17, pp. 11–25
Weick, K.E. and Roberts, K. (1993), “Collective mind in organizations: heedful interrelating on flight decks”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 38, pp. 357–81