OMT WebOrganization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management
Bright and early at 8 am on Friday, August 1, I was already double-booked (in attendance, not presentation!) for the first PDW slot of this year’s Academy Meeting. I was caught between two promising OMT–sponsored sessions: Navigating Institutional Complexity and Cultural Design and Designing Culture. Starbucks in hand, I selected the latter because its subtitle (Institutions, Values, and Entrepreneurs) offered to link PDW conversations to my recent dissertation focus on cultural production and competing values via Boltanski and Thévenot’s orders of worth. Plus, I had other “institutional complexity” opportunities in the program, as well as a recent visit to Rome at the New Institutionalism Workshop.
Though not focused on the orders of worth literature specifically, this PDW produced a number of useful insights, illuminating research opportunities when connecting the notion of design to investigations of culture, innovation, and entrepreneurship. After a brief introduction by organizers Joel Gehman, Matthew Grimes, Tyler Wry, and Jean Clarke, the esteemed panel provided diverse considerations in developing a research program focused on the PDW theme. Below, I outline a few of the PDW deliberations and corresponding conclusions:
Siobhan O’Mahony opened the panel suggesting that “cultural design” implies intentionality that can be strategic, but not necessarily coordinated. As culture precedes markets, cultural work helps to define what is valued by markets. There is, however, an empirical and theoretical challenge—how do we nail down the “cultural work” that precedes markets? This open question merits future methodological development.
Violina Rindova asked how to bring the cultural side to entrepreneurship, possibly through ideas of cultural competence. In reaction to one of her recent paper submissions, a reviewer asked, “What is this, Bourdieu meets HBR?” This question highlights the legitimizing work ahead for scholars who see a clear connection between entrepreneurs and cultural influences. Violina sees a promising avenue by using culture as toolkits, investigating systematic processes at the organizational level that engage this toolkit, possibly through as-yet-undertheorized collective (rather than individual) schemas.
Klaus Weber stated that he was initially “befuddled” at the PDW’s conceptual connection since he saw design as a situated social practice, user-centric and distributed. To him, the concept of design is more overtly cultural when it involves more than a single designer and becomes a collective process, where culture *is* the designer (or shapes the designs). In other words, cultural resources and communities matter because they structure meaning and share identity. Alternatively, the product of the design process is the shaping of culture—the object becoming the materiality of morality. Material objects or practices embed morality and prompt people to act in a certain way, and in this way culture and design connect through the materials of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Alan Meyer described his project with Jennifer Howard-Grenville and Matthew Metzger that investigated “collective identity resurrection,” not through the “cool” strategic process, but through hot emotions and lived experience. Though this experience (“the most fun I’ve every had collecting data”), Alan described the immediate and quasi–spiritual quality of the community’s active design of their cultural identity.
Majken Schultz described how every present or future corporate identity design demands a new past that illustrates the inevitability of the present and future. In other words, the past’s cultural location provides narrative resources that identity designers use for entrepreneurship and innovation activities. Through these statements, Majken demonstrated issues of temporality in any cultural design investigation. She invoked the pragmatist philosophers’ suggestion that a new future requires a new past.
Mary Ann Glynn focused on culture as an embodied meaning system enacted by a collective. Design is a cultural resource like any other resource—human, financial, etc—one that can be both produced and consumed. Given a choice, which resources do we pull down & use? Mary Ann emphasized culture as a collective property, and one that methodologically needs more studies with mixed methods to follow cultural traces through symbols, language, and stories.
Raghu Garud extended the idea of culture as a collective resource by noting that at 3M, culture was distributed through stories. However, these stories are not linear—context matters, especially as it relates to temporality and intertemporality, as Majken described. Raghu highlighted the problem with publication standards in management, where authors linearize both research and empirical processes in order for the editors to understand and accept the work. However, this linearization does not accurately represent the ongoing structuration and complexity of reality.
Ted Baker noted how few entrepreneurs have an identity as an entrepreneur. Instead, their entrepreneurship lies in strategically constructing an organizational identity among myriad cultural categories. This activity involves “vicious contestation” to define the culture and structure of organizations, using culture as a resource that entrepreneurs fracture in order to use the pieces and construct narratives.
At the conclusion of the panel’s remarks, Mike Lounsbury pushed the panelists on the idea of intentionality, and how to engage methodologically with culture. To this, Mary Ann noted that not all cultural tools are available to everyone at the same time, so scholars can monitor the control of cultural tool use (i.e., When will you be outed as a fraud? Is that the determination of tool use?).
Raghu suggested that the use of language is intentional, and though we aim not to stumble, at times we do. This theme emerged later at the break-out table I joined with Siobhan, Violina, Howard Aldrich, Joel Gehman, and other attendees. We discussed the recent situation of Mozilla and their CEO Brendan Eich, who contributed $1,000 in 2008 to California’s Prop 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage. As Mozilla’s mission “is to promote openness, innovation & opportunity on the Web,” Eich’s donation was seen by many stakeholders as conflicting with the mission of the company, and therefore improper behavior for the firm’s CEO, resulting in significant negative press and boycotts. Our table’s conversation examined how the mismatch between Eich’s behavior and “Silicon Valley, a region of the business world where social liberalism is close to a universal ideology”* exemplifies the sensitivity firms must show to widely-held cultural values. In other words, culturally astute companies take culture seriously as a strategic action, and understand cultural shifts in advance rather than being “culturally lucky”.
Howard Aldrich noted how changes in the selection environment can influence available resources. Customers can forget, and therefore, customers play a role in both the enactment of the good or service (e.g., “tall skinny half-caff”) as well as provide expectations for the good or service. As an example, cloud computing relies completely on cultural acceptance of the model.
Referencing her dissertation work with Starbucks, Violina stressed the need for better theories of engaging strategically with culture. In her example, every strategic analysis of the commodity coffee industry would have indicated that there was no potential for growth or entrepreneurship. Instead, Starbucks became a designer of experiences, its creation “a cultural project.” Further, Starbucks intentionally invested ahead of a growth curve, showing what actors can do when they understand cultural resources available for capitalization. This form of cultural investment extends beyond coffee, as Starbucks became early founders of the USGBC’s green building certification product for chains/prototype stores, and more recently supports social sustainability by promising full tuition reimbursement for their employees pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
With the Starbucks example, the table’s conversation turned to developing design thinking in executive training, emphasizing the value of culture as an exploitable resource. The emergence of IDEO & Apple both provide exemplars for increasing the face validity of studying the transformation of strategically “unattractive” industries by leveraging a cultural project.
The break-out session was quite lively, reducing the “reporting back” plenary time. In keeping to the schedule, the organizers invited participants to the 4th Alberta Institutions Conference titled “How Do Institutions Matter?” in June 2015. This call for abstracts highlighted how little of the morning’s conversations engaged notions of institutions, though we relied heavily on the related constructs of values and culture.
In summary, this session explored a number of promising new research directions to develop more robust theories of engaging strategically with culture. In many ways, this phrase “engaging strategically with culture” encompasses the intentionality Siobhan referred to at the start of the PDW when discussing the role of design in innovation and entrepreneurship. As a result, scholars’ engagement with culture inevitably capture values that guide institutions and enacted institutional logics. I look forward to future work in this area from the scholars gathered at the PDW. Many thanks to the organizers for providing an invigorating start to my morning and to the conference!
Tags: Academy of Management | AOM Annual Meeting | PDW
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