Carnegie goes to California: Advancing and Celebrating the Work of James G. March: Volume 76
Table of contents(16 chapters)
Part I: Building on the Post-1970 Legacy of James G. March
This paper honors the breadth of some of March’s key ideas on organizations by applying them to the development of amphibious operations in the United States. The development of amphibious operations highlights, in part, March’s appreciation for little ideas, the importance of ordinary actions as opposed to great men, and the larger societal trends in which evolutionary organizational change is nested. The persistence of ordinary men and a series of little ideas that accumulated for decades prior to the far more celebrated 1919–1939 interwar period established the intellectual and organizational foundation that made the interwar innovation period possible. We use this case not only as an example of how many of March’s ideas are relevant to a given case, but also to demonstrate how extending March’s ideas to different kinds of institutions and organizations might be useful for future scholars and for organizational scholarship.
In one of his most cited works, March (1991) observed that “The basic problem confronting an organization is to engage in sufficient exploitation to ensure its current viability and, at the same time, devote enough energy to exploration to exploration to ensure its future viability” (p. 105). The need to simultaneously pursue exploration and exploitation is a cornerstone of organizational ambidexterity, with the embedded assumption that exploratory ventures require organic management systems and exploitative activities benefit from more mechanistic management systems. The authors argue that this assumption about system alignment is neither well-supported by empirical evidence nor well-grounded in March’s original ideas about exploration and exploitation. The authors review the existing empirical evidence on the management systems that support exploration and exploitation and reveal some of the empirical and conceptual challenges. The authors then share a quasi-experimental study of 49 project teams over an 18-month period where they investigated how components of the management system – formalization, specialization, hierarchy, and leadership – differentially affect project success for explore and exploit projects. The authors find that exploitation projects can succeed under either mechanistic or organic systems, but that exploratory project performance suffers under a mechanistic system. In addition, the authors also find that leadership is the most important determinant of project success or failure. The authors discuss the implications of these results for future studies of organizational ambidexterity and draw attention to some of the underdeveloped ideas in March’s original article that might further advance the field.
The inconsistency between the appearance of incoherence and chaos in the US policymaking process bringing about a historic record of legislative achievements in the 1960s and 1970s, on the one hand, and the emergence of hierarchical order bringing about a prolonged period of legislative impotence in the early 2000s, on the other hand, has led legislative scholars to revisit strongly held prior beliefs about legislative organization. Similar reevaluations of the garbage can model that emphasize the potential for conflict-ridden and chaotic organizations to be adaptively rational are ongoing in organizational theory. This paper adapts recent research on organizational design to explore the conditions under which decentralized, chaotic decision making facilitates more desirable legislative outcomes than centralized decision making controlled by a benevolent dictator. The author demonstrates that normative claims about legislative organization – much like normative claims about organizational design – should vary depending on the task environment faced by the legislature. In the face of rugged uncertainty in the mapping from policies to outcomes, decentralized decision making among modestly polarized legislators with fluid participation in decisions facilitates a functional mix of exploitative and exploratory search.
James March argued that irrational approaches to problem solving and foolishness can be useful for addressing complex problems. Grand challenges are complex problems that often involve “guarded societal institutions” – societal beliefs and practices guarded by political or commercial powers. To explain how organizations with impossible goals dismantle such institutions by mobilizing irrationality and foolishness, we develop a process model which is illustrated with the case of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Our main contribution is to expand James March’s ideas on logics of action and organizational intelligence to advance a novel perspective for tackling big societal problems. We argue that foolishness is not only a means for finding distant solutions to complex problems but also a means for generating sustained motivation, well-being, and ideas that spark debate and lead to the questioning of taken-for-granted societal beliefs.
The Variance of Variance
Chance models – mechanisms that explain empirical regularities through unsystematic variance – have a long tradition in the sciences but have been historically marginalized in management scholarship, relative to an agentic worldview about the role of managers and organizations. An exception is the work of James G. March and his coauthors, who proposed a variety of chance models that explain important management phenomena, including the careers of top executives, managerial risk taking, and organizational anarchy, learning, and adaptation. This paper serves as a tribute to the beauty of these “little ideas” and demonstrates how they can be recombined to generate novel implications. In particular, we focus on the example of an inverted V-shaped performance association centering around the year when executives were featured in a prominent listing, Barron’s annual list of Top 30 chief executive officers. Our recombination of several chance models developed by March and his coauthors provides a novel explanation for why many of the executives’ exceptional performances did not persist. In contrast to the common accounts of complacency, hubris, and statistical regression, the results show that declines from high performance may result from the way luck interacts with these executives’ slow adaptation, incompetence, and self-reinforced risk taking. We conclude by elaborating on the normative implications of chance models, which address many current management and societal challenges. We further encourage the continued development of chance models to help explain performance differences, shifting from accounts that favor heroic stories of corporate leaders toward accounts that favor their changing fortunes.
James G. March rejected relevance as a criterion for social science research, but he was concerned about the social implications of social science models. He argued that a focus on truth alone as a criterion for evaluating models meant that social scientists miss the implications of their models for beauty and justice. Here, we explore all three criteria to see what they bring to the practice of building social science models and how they interact in the models and in the world. We argue that the choices that social scientists make about these three criteria shape what they select to study in the models, what they see in the world, and what they imagine for the world. We also argue that how social scientists approach truth, beauty, and justice has implications for how they understand and engage the world.
This paper is a theoretical review of the logic of appropriateness. First, it defines what is meant by a logic of appropriateness in the work of March and Olsen and then discusses the dynamics of the logics of appropriateness and consequence. Second, it examines how the rules of appropriateness have developed and changed and discusses the advantages of using the logic of appropriateness. Third, it illustrates some applications of the logic of appropriateness by focusing on studies of public sector reforms and suggests how the logic of appropriateness might be used to understand the handling of COVID-19. Fourth, some of the critiques and elaborations of the logic of appropriateness are discussed. Finally, some conclusions are drawn and needs for future research indicated.
The logic of consequences and the logic of appropriateness have long been central to understanding behavior in organizations. However, scholarly work on the logic of appropriateness has consisted mostly of conceptual clarification and ex post explanation of observed behavior. In an effort to facilitate the study of the logic of appropriateness through experimental methods, this paper introduces an experimental paradigm that allows for the manipulation of decision logic as an independent variable. Using this paradigm, 710 participants played four iconic behavioral games in which profitability and ethics are both at play and, sometimes, at odds: Prisoners’ Dilemma, Dictator Game, Ultimatum Game, and Trust Game. The manipulation generated behavioral data, as well as qualitative data about participants’ considerations while deciding according to each logic. The behavioral data show that, compared to participants employing a logic of consequences, participants employing a logic of appropriateness rejected more unfair offers in an Ultimatum Game and were more generous when reciprocating trusting behavior in a Trust Game. In all other cases, behavior between the two logics was not significantly different. An analysis of the qualitative data suggests that a logic of consequences increased participants’ focus on monetary concerns, whereas a logic of appropriateness increased participants’ focus on moral concerns. Taken together, these data provide new insights into when, how, and why the two logics result in behavioral and cognitive differences. The authors conclude by considering directions for future research that they see as particularly amenable to study using the experimental manipulation presented here.
Part II: Reflections on Jim March as a Teacher and Educator
James March’s Lessons on Teaching
James G. March taught his students how to combine rigor and playfulness. He saw scholarship as the interplay between harnessing crazy ideas; the technology of foolishness on one side, and the rigorous building and assessment of models which emulate the behaviors of individuals in organizations and of organizations as a whole on the other side. Therefore, a student should develop not only an ability to understand the world, by mastering technical analytical methods, but also an ability to appreciate it. In order to develop the latter, one should grasp that the underlying problems of management and leadership are indistinguishable from the fundamental problems of life, and that the novels, poems and plays of great literature are the best sources to examine these problems. Thus, James March’s teaching involved basic skills in statistics, the subtle art of building models, and the study of major pieces of great literature. According to James March, teaching is not primarily about spreading knowledge but is about raising faith in scholarship. Learning is not aimed at adapting to the world, but at developing a desire to change it for more truth, beauty and justice. Higher education is a vision, a vocation, not a rational choice. Teaching is a sacrament.
A Few Notes on Jim March as a Mentor
This brief note discusses a few aspects of Jim March’s mentorship and his way of seeking intellectual and interdisciplinary range, in individuals as well as in intellectual fields. He pursued ideas, helped develop the ideas of others, and always sought to broaden his views. His modesty and humility was accompanied by a strong work ethic and high standards. While we will miss him, we can continue to learn from him.
This is a short reflection on the author’s relationship with Jim over a period of 40 years. They corresponded before the first meeting that continued naturally to working together. Jim was a wonderful co-author. He was also a model educator, a writer, a humorist and above all a great friend. In the latter part of his life, Jim thought a lot about the meaning of life and developed an understanding that ambiguity is an inherent aspect of experience. Among the many things that the author learned from Jim is this understanding, and the author embraces it as Jim’s greatest legacy.
James March was a bundle of wisdom and contradiction. Numerous lessons learned from him as a doctoral student have guided the author’s career as a scholar. Using simple models to achieve complex understanding, but also looking for deeper insights rather than being satisfied with readily recognizable patterns – together they exemplify how the seemingly contradictory form a tapestry of wise advice. Being humble enough to be open to criticism without defensiveness and to be open to reconsidering your old ideas, these represent other important lessons. Finally, maintaining the ability to be playful with important ideas as a way to make deeper discoveries offers not only the promise of great impact but, as important, offers the promise of a fun journey.
Pictures at an Exhibition
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- Book series
- Research in the Sociology of Organizations
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- Emerald Publishing Limited
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