Writing and Thinking and Theorizing

So I’m teaching my Writing And Thinking in the Organizational Sciences graduate class again.  (Wow!  My academic blog is two years old.  I really need to post more often)  This is a course that I took with Allan Wicker many years ago and is based upon Allan’s (1985) paper on getting out of one’s conceptual ruts.   The gist of this course is to help the students think deeply and creatively about their research topics while also discussing issues of writing and working effectively.

I have to be honest:  it’s an amazing class (if I do say so myself).  I can see the intellectual growth among the students.  In this last exercise, in which the students conducted a analysis of their major concepts, I could actually see the wheels turning and the Deep Thoughts Being Thunk.

Here’s the other things that is quite exciting to me:  Allan was quite prescient in his Conceptual Ruts paper.  It took 30 years or so, but some of the A level journals (specifically Academy of Management Journal and Academy of Management Review among others) are starting to advocate some of the exercises to their authors, even though they neglect the origins of these ideas in Allan’s paper.

I also realize that I might be able to better publicize this class–and what we’re doing in it–as “theorizing.”  That’s certainly the approach that AMJ and AMR are taking.

I would love to turn this course into a book for other social science graduate programs to use to help their PhD students develop and apply theory to their research.  ((I’m waiting for the next sentence to jump into my head and out of my fingers to conclude this essay.  I’ve been waiting a long time.))

So let’s just finish it here by adding that the other parts of the class are on WRITING and secrets to PRODUCTIVITY. Because all the great thoughts (and book ideas) don’t add up to diddly squat until we get our booties in the chair and put the words down on paper.  And then edit them.  And re-edit them.  And edit them again.  And have a few friendly (or not) reviewers tell us where our thoughts and writing don’t make sense.

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New and Old Media

Well, we’re waiting for the Winter Storm of the Decade to arrive. The kids are still asleep.  The husband is not yet driving nurses all over the county in scary weather.  And I’m not prepping for class because i’m pretty sure the University is going to be closed tomorrow.  Sounds like a prime opportunity to take advantage of the time to update my academic blog.

During the build up to this storm, I’ve become a big fan of Brad Panovich’s Facebook page.  And I am not the only one.  A few days ago, he even updated his status expressing amazement about all his new “likes” had come from and could they explain how they got there.

I have my own ideas about why he is so popular.

1)  He’s funny.  He has great graphics about when it’s time to buy bread and milk and when it’s time to buy a sled.  We in the South raid the grocery store for bread and milk at 1″ of snow. It’s funny.  He even introduced a new graphic about how many loaves one should buy to weather this storm.

2)  He’s informative.  The graphs are cute, but I think he’s figured out the formula of using Facebook to inform us about the weather and promote his “real job” as head meteorologist at the local NBC affiliate.  He posts youtube videos about his interpretation of the weather models.  And he does from home early in the morning, at night before he goes to bed, and yesterday in between TV broadcasts.  In these, he briefly talks about his family and going to pre-school parent-teacher conferences and then he teaches us about what he sees in the variety of models he uses to make his decisions.  I feel like a student.  And like a student, sometimes I have no idea what the hell he is talking about.  But when I do get it, I feel like an insider on the weather forecast. He even explains why his forecast is different from others and it  makes sense to me.

3) He makes the audience feel like an insider.  Academically, this is interesting to me.  I refer to him now as “Brad” around the house.  (The husband* is confused.)  It feels intimate for him to be explaining to *me* about the weather and tiny insights about his family. He wears a t-shirt on YouTube and a suit on TV.  I recognize his voice before I recognize his appearance.  I prefer his t-shirts to his suits.  His jokes are funny feel like insider jokes between him and me.  Between him, a couple of 20,000 other people, and me.

I think this could be one path to the future with traditional and new media.  I have started watching the TV broadcast this week because of him.  That said, I’m COMPLETELY prefer his videos.  But I am watching the TV.  (I never watch TV during the day and never local broadcasts, I suppose that is saying something.  Well, it also says the kids are home and the Olympics are on)  I’m wondering whether and how other traditional media could use this.  It could be that his example only generalizes to particular developing news topics. I love Kathleen Purvis’ column and blog on The Charlotte Observer, but I don’t know how she could incorporate a video into her weekly news.  That said, if she did sit down and video tape her thoughts about food and cooking every week, I’d totally watch it.

I’m going to ponder this.  And I’d love to hear your thoughts about the intimacy of videos. I’m sure there’s been research on these media with Hollywood celebrities.  That bores me.  But old media become new media celebrities:  that sounds interesting.


*Yes, I do realize it’s sexist to call my husband “The Husband” and I could use the abbreviation “DH” for Dear Husband, but that seems too precious for an academic post.  Plus, it’s kind of funny.

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Catcalls on a College Campus

I have no idea if this is indicative of being on a college campus, being in a progressive city, or being a professor of a certain age.  Nonetheless, I continue to reflect on the “catcalls” from the construction workers around campus this semester.

Example #1:

Construction Worker: You look really nice today!

Professor Me:  Well, thank you!

Example #2:

Construction Worker:  I really like that hat!

Professor Me: Thank you!

Seriously, I’ve never interacted with such nice construction workers handing out compliments that I would enjoy hearing from my family or friends.  I don’t know why, but I’ll attribute it to all three explanations above.

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Football at UNC Charlotte

So, a lot of disclosures here:

1)  I planned on writing this BEFORE I was chosen to be a faculty coach.  (read what that is and my personal thoughts about that here)

2)  These are clearly my own thoughts and not those of anyone else at UNC Charlotte.

I think football at UNC Charlotte is a great idea and I have thought so at the beginning.  Yes, there are plenty of faculty who don’t support the football program because they think it will take money away from academics, but I think they are misguided and/or wrong on many accounts.

First, what money?  Please tell me about this “money” thing of which you speak. We don’t get raises.  We get minimal money to travel to our conferences.  We don’t get paid for the summer research we are expected to do. Unless they start actually making us pay to work here, I can’t see how “less money” is an issue here.

Second, school pride.  HOLY FRIJOLES!!  I’ve been at UNC Charlotte for 12 years now (egads!) and I’ve never seen so much school pride as I do now!  Students are talking about the football games in class.  They are excited when they get tickets and bummed when they don’t.. The number of students wearing school paraphernalia (shirts, sweats, hats, etc) is noticeably higher.  I’m even seen alumni and faculty in my neighborhood flying UNC Charlotte 49er Flags off their houses!  The Charlotte Observer is giving the 49ers more explicit press than I’ve ever seen.  (And after last week’s game, it’s clear why)

Finally, alumni opportunities.  When I lived in Los Angeles and was head of the LA area UNC Chapel Hill alumni club, I met some of my best friends watching the football games with other alumni.  Basketball games, even for Chapel Hill, are too frequent to regularly get together.  But once a week football games on a Saturday are a reasonable way to interact with new people and old friends who have shared similar experiences.  I think it does a lot for alumni in job hunting and general networking, but also in keeping students tied back to the school.

So I think football here is a great idea.  And I think it’s exceeded everyone’s expectations so far.  And I had all those thoughts BEFORE I was chosen as the guest Faculty coach.  Now, I’ve completely drunk the kool aid and beyond gung ho about the whole idea.  I can’t wait for this weekend!!


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Doing the Right Thing

Seminar’s can have different themes and foci, even if you are ostensibly reading the same material.  Last year, in our Organization Science overview class, we focused a lot, especially at the beginning, at the problems of duality in research and how the next generation of research and researchers will solve this problem.


This year, the focus has been on organizational profits and employee benefits of management’s “doing the right thing” by and for their employees. Some of it is obvious, such as Pfeffer’s (2007) explanation of why investing more in employees provides more profit for the company.  Consider Sam’s Club vs. Costco, which about every single person making this argument does.  But even stewardship theory (Eddleston & Kellermanns, 2007) is arguing that managers can be co-interested in both their own good (i.e., profit) and the organization’s good (i.e., employee well being).


Some of our readings are less obvious about doing the right thing, but still suggest that respect and collegiality for one’s co-workers benefits the organization and the employees.  DeChurch et al’s (2013) article on focusing on positively managing the processes of conflict can make the inevitable conflict beneficial to all.  Even this week’s discussion the different ways our disciplines look at diversity issues shows the FINANCIAL importance of organization’s not being a jerk when it comes racism and sexism.


If I had one takeaway from this semester’s readings thus far, it’s that people want to work in ethical, moral organizations in which they are treated well and valued by their management.  Where management wants their employees to be secure and to share in the wealth and the profit of the organization.  It not only makes employees mentally and physically healthier, IT MAKES THE ORGANIZATION MORE MONEY.  This isn’t some lament from the 98% about not getting my fair share:  It’s a growing preponderance of the data.  (Maybe a slight overstatement, but that’s just my academic writer coming out in me.  I ABSOLUTELY believe it is the preponderance of the data)


So why don’t the ruling 2% of the organizational gatekeepers adopt this money making strategy?  I can only figure out that it’s because they are afraid that they themselves will not make as much money. So maybe they keep more money for themselves, but they lose more more for the stockholders and other folks interested in the profits of that organization.


I don’t understand that world view.  But maybe it explains why I am in psychology and not business.



DeChurch, L. A.; Mesmer-Magnus, J. R.; Doty, D. (2013) Moving beyond relationship and task conflict: Toward a process-state perspective Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(4), 559-578

Eddleston, K. A., & Kellermanns, F. W., (2007). Destructive and productive family relationships: A stewardship theory perspective, Journal of business venturing, 22 (4), 545-565.

Pfeffer, J. (2007). Human Resources from an organizational behavior perspective: Some paradoxes explained, Journal of economic perspectives, 21(4), 115-134.

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Facebook at Work

One of the newer areas of research that is getting a lot of attention is if, and how, people use Facebook at work.  Some of the negatives that arise is how employees manage issues of privacy (teacher’s enjoying a beer on their personal time) and impression management from sharing one’s personal information (do your colleagues really want to know about your children’s soccer games?!) as well as the positives that can occur, for example, Facebook could replace the water cooler for employees who are dispersed or who simply don’t have time to chat while they are at work.  The latter effect could increase social liking among co-workers who do not interact as frequently as employees who all worked face-to-face once did.This social liking could also have tangible outcomes related to productivity and/or employee satisfaction

There are a lot of research questions organizational scientists are interested in related to Facebook, and I am even conducting my own research on this topic.

This post, however, is about my own personal “experiment” in using Facebook with work colleagues.  I use the term “experiment” in the lay sense: I don’t have an IRB; I’m not conducting research on this and I’m not writing this up for publication. Instead, if you’ve noticed a lot more Facebook activity (spam!) from me recently then it’s because I’ve likely moved you from a work-colleague-who-doesn’t-see-most-of-my-posts to a work-colleague-who-does.

“Why?” you might ask.

Well, honestly, I like the connections I have made with my work colleagues who post on Facebook.  I like learning about their work and personal lives, their beliefs and hobbies, and whatever they find funny.  It’s easier to talk to them when I see them at conferences or when I have a professional question.  And basically, it’s easier to *like* my work colleagues on Facebook because I know more about them. (I like to like people; it’s potentially a character flaw)

I know I post a lot on Facebook and, much of the time, it’s usually some personal observation that HOPEFULLY is funny or, sometimes, thought provoking.  Or, lately, it is some disgusting picture from Instagram about my horrible running injury (which is itching like crazy at this exact moment).

Anyhoo, that’s why you might be seeing so much more of me lately. I don’t know if it will stay that way.  Certainly, if I show up at a conference and my colleagues start to point, stare and/or laugh, I might increase my privacy setting again.  But I’m hoping to start a trend of getting to know my colleagues beyond just their smartypants thoughts in research papers and also getting to see their funny, serious, family, pet, and home/garden related lives.

How do you manage your privacy settings and/or relationships with your work colleagues?  Reply here, or, optionally, on Facebook.


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Summer Productivity

During the school year, when I’m working nights and weekends just to keep up with teaching and service duties, I always think the summer is going to be full of butterflies and kittens while works of brilliance shoot out of my fingers into my laptop.  I imagine high impact papers flowing quickly and easily from my brain to the editor’s desk to be met with tears of joy at the recognition of the brilliance I have shared.  I also imagine happy children in a clean house with chores and crafts all checked off my list.

Clearly, I am delusional and have had either too much or too little coffee/sleep/food/exercise/wine.

In fact, I already put together my work and home “To Do” list for the summer and freaked out during finals week about “how far behind I was” and the summer hadn’t even started.

Nonetheless, I’ve already checked a few things off my list despite grading 150 undergraduate papers, attending the Organizational Science Summer Institute, and, unfortunately, discovering Candy Crush. If I can keep this up, I think I might actually have a productive summer.

There is no real secret here, except aiming for regular, smaller amounts of work with regular, scheduled breaks in the day.  I’ve put together a combination of tricks/habits I’ve gathered from How To Write a Lot, the Pomodoro Technique, and this article on the importance of rest and breaks.

Practically, what it means for me is that I have a list of things I plan to do each week, which I put on Evernote.  I divide them up into what I plan to accomplish each day, along with  check boxes (control-C on Evernote) that represent  30 minute time periods I will use to accomplish this task.   For the big research projects, I put 3 boxes, representing both the Pomondoro breakdown in work units and the advice on working for 1 1/2 hours and then absolutely taking a break. (I also have Focus Booster app on my laptop set for 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break)  I plan for 3 one-and-a-half hour chunks of writing and research a day, with the rest of my time spent doing email/phone, administrative stuff, teaching prep, blogging, exercising and some gardening.

Doing that, one week into the summer, I am “two weeks ahead” on where I thought I’d be.  Of course, the process only works with my booty in the seat and a To Do list to guide me.  But I have a strategy and a plan and I am hoping to have a very productive summer. I’d love to hear what other folks do to keep themselves productive and sane over the summer.  We can all benefit from others’ experiences.



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Telecommuting, Creativity, and Connection

I am coming to the Yahoo Telecommuting brouhaha a little later than most, but I think it’s given me time to process others’ reactions as well as better formulate my own.

The gist of the story is that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has decided to eliminate her employees’ ability to telecommute.  She proposes that elimination of telecommuting and the increase of face-time interactions will improve Yahoo’s creativity and productivity, serious issues currently facing their organization right now.

The blowback from this policy include: She’s a woman! She’s a MOTHER!! The good employees are going to leave because of how important telecommuting is!  People don’t need to be present to work well and be creative with each other!!

Since I am also a woman and a mother and I study virtual work and online interactions and I love telecommuting, I think most folks think I agree with these criticisms.  But, alas, I do not.

First, yes, she is a woman and a mother and that gives her insight into working mother issues.  However, she is also CEO of a company that is in dire straights. She took this job while pregnant, and I don’t think anyone expected her to take a long maternity leave to transition into motherhood and put Yahoo viability on hold. She has been criticized for having the ability to build a nursery near her office so she can be next to her baby during the workday.  My perception is that she is not taking time off during the day to play with her baby or rock her to sleep:  she’s probably still breastfeeding (or was at the time she built the office) and it’s a lot more efficient to have a direct delivery system than to pump.  I’m also more than sure she has a night nurse.  I don’t think she should be criticized for having more resources than other mothers have and making these choices work for her.  I also feel it’s sexist to assume that she is supposed to put her roles and woman and mother above her role of CEO.  When did we last criticize a male CEO for NOT putting his family (and other fathers) over his organization? Never.

Second, what about telecommuting and creativity, productivity, and connection?  That’s even murkier.  Yes, virtual teams can be very successful and telecommuters can be very productive.  But these is something to be  said about face-to-face interactions.  More information is exchanged more quickly.  More intellectual and social connections are made.  Since the beginning of telecommuting, we’ve been waiting for that “killer app” to be developed which can replace the water cooler for employees to have those important, informal social interactions and it hasn’t happened yet.  I think it’s reasonable to want employees to be on site together more often to increase those connections which *could* improve the organization’s performance.

Here, though, is where I think Ms. Mayer is wrong:  there is absolutely no need for employees to be on site 5 days a week.  And indeed, one or two days a week of working at home will likely improve performance and satisfaction.  That’s where her mistake is.  I think the benefits of being FtF will accrue with three or four days of being on site and the performance benefits won’t diminish if people still have one or two days to work in a quiet environment at home.  That is where she is going to have unnecessary morale and turnover problems and probably what she is either going to regret her policy or going to change it.

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.  If Yahoo turns around, telecommuting may be jeopardized for many employees.  If she hastens the organization’s demise because all the good employees leave, telecommuting may become even more the norm of some jobs.  We shall wait and see.

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Time in Organizations

When I went back to school after working in the “real world” for 4 years, one of the differences that struck me was differences in time in the organization.  I have not studied time in organizations, which is an important area of research.  What I want to talk about is differences in the time perspective/horizons of the different constituencies in academia and how I see it playing out, now that I’ve been a professor for, ahem, a few years.

One interesting difference in academia versus other organizations as far as time goes is how long constituencies stay in the organization and how that affects their organizational reality.  As a student, the organization appears, essentially, to be a stable fixture while one is there.  Through students’ eyes, there are a cohort of students before and after them, there are professors who teach the classes and conduct particular research, and there are stable policies about the degree and the program that follow them through their degree.

As a professor, though, the organization changes with each cohort.  And in fact, we (as professors) see a relatively quickly changing organization every year.  Further, we’ve been able to make radical policy changes in our program knowing that in a few years no students will remember the “way it used to be.”

I think that’s an interesting way to think of organizational change in academic institutions, and ironic since colleges and universities take forever to change many of their faculty policies (e.g., tenure).  It is also, I believe, quite different from how corporations operate and I think that makes in “time” as an organizational construct even more interesting.

As I have become a mid-career academic, I am noticing a new dimension to this time issue that I had not fully anticipated.  I started graduate school 20 years ago.  I have a daily reminder of this number because  I adopted a cat the same month I started graduate school.  She is still alive.  Indeed, it is time for her to “go to college” on her own.  Yet she is healthy and lively though operating with a clear case of kitty dementia.  So when I think of how old she is (every morning when she howls at the shower), I think of when I started graduate school.

I have about 13  years experience as a professor.  But my students are all still coming in as novices.  The disparity between what I know and have experienced and what my students know and want to experience grows every year–as it does with all established professors and new students.  Things that seem obvious to me are still being figured out by my students.  And I think this is a good thing:  for me and I hope my students.

I still have to go back in my own experience and remember what it was like to be confused and stressed about learning new material and starting projects and writing my first big papers.  I have to trust that my students can help each other with some of that day to day growth because they are just now figuring out how to do it for themselves.  But I also hope that I can share some of the lessons I’ve learned in how to get through what feels like these overwhelming, ambiguous projects we have to do.

Two related maxims I’ve recently given my students are: 1) If you don’t know what the next step is in your project, the steps you’re thinking about are too big and 2) Today, you need to do the next right thing.  The students all know where they want to go: submit the paper for publication, defend the thesis, get a job.  But the steps to take to get there can be overwhelming.  So we’ve been working this semester on having the students get more and more concrete about the steps they are going to take today to get to the ultimate goal  months from now.  The next right thing to do should be obvious and doable today.  If it’s not, the path is still too abstract and unrealistically ambitious. I try to break down the steps to something concrete and easy to do today.  I think it’s reducing their stress on how to get where they want to be.

And it helps me.  It helps focus me, too, on what I am doing and reminds me to be fresh and excited about research.  I recognize the growing difference between my level of experience and my students.  And I hope that by continually traversing that gulf, we all gain and we all find our projects to be rewarding and fun.

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The Data Are What The Data Are Part Deux

I told you so.


In case you missed it, Sam Wang at Princeton Election Consortium and Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight among others  correctly predicted the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential election.  And not only “correctly predicted” but predicted to a highly accurate degree the final electoral counts (and how FLA was a coin toss, statistically) and the popular votes.


In case you’re wondering, those screams you’ve heard around Charlotte, NC for the last two weeks have been me every time I’ve heard or read some media report going into the election that it was a close race, a toss up, and we had no idea what was going to happen.  When the statistical analysts are coming back with 90% (Nate Silver) to  99 to 100% (Sam Wang) chance of the president winning, we have a pretty freaking good idea of what the data are saying.


Let’s put it this way, the next time, it calls for a 99% chance of rain, and you don’t carry an umbrella because you really, really want for it to be sunny?  I will have a similar reaction.


So what are the takeaways?


1)  Feelings are not facts.  I got this from a friend who is a therapist when we were discussing what the pundits were predicting versus what the data were predicting.  Somewhere along the way, American society has equated opinions with data.  They are not the same. And in cases, of oh, I don’t know, smoking and health outcomes, climate change, or evolution, you can hold on to your deeply held beliefs, but if they don’t match the preponderance of the data, your beliefs are wrong.


2) Combined data is better than single data sources. Any one data source can have problems.  Indeed, Gallup was off.  WAY off.  Why? Because they significantly overestimated the white turnout.  That does not mean one should ignore data that doesn’t agree with your opinions or even the rest of the data.  The cool thing about data aggregation is that it includes all the data and lets the errors/assumptions/sampling quirks statistically cancel each other out.


3) Learn how to trust and doubt at the same time.  This is an advanced smarty pants move, and something I want to credit the writings and theorizing of Karl Weick.  I also credit Public Image Limited for the same sentiment, but Weick is cited more academically.  What it means is that you should believe your beliefs and be open to them being wrong.  You should use your data, but it may have errors that haven’t been accounted for.  You should, essentially, not believe much as being 100% true and should be open to, if not looking for, information to adjust your beliefs and improve your data.  And if you don’t?  If you are someone who only wants to hear about data that supports your beliefs and purposefully ignore the rest the data?  You scare the crap out of me.  Or, actually, it’s makes it harder to gain the respect of others.


So, there you go.  Data, once again, remain neutral. Science/statistics/math can help us uncover the truth.  We should all try to find some data that don’t support our beliefs and cogitate on them for a while.

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