Studying Organization Theory “As If Matter Mattered”

[We’re pleased to welcome Bruno Dyck of University of Manitoba. Bruno recently published an article with co-author Nathan S. Greidanus in Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Quantum Sustainable Organizing Theory: A Study of Organization Theory as if Matter Mattered.” From Bruno:]

From environmental concerns like climate change to social issues like economic inequality, sustainable development presents this century’s greatest challenges and opportunities for businesses.  Yet, businesses remain trapped by old paradigms and approaches to the business-society-environment interface. To break free of these chains, we start with a simple question: what would a theory of business look like if matter mattered?  In answering this question, we turned to the field that is focused on the fundamental building blocks of all matter, quantum physics.

Do you remember the first time you heard about the unbelievable findings coming Current Issue Coverfrom quantum mechanics? Maybe it was research on entanglement, which shows that two quantum particles (e.g., two electrons) are interconnected in such a way that a change in one will have an instantaneous change in another, even if it is light years away. Or do you remember hearing about the results from the double slit experiments—perhaps the most famous experiment in all of physics—which shows that observing a photon changes it from acting like a wave into acting like a particle (If you want to watch a simple video about this, check out Perhaps the most amazing variation of the double slit experiment shows that information is being sent backward in time. It has taken a century, but quantum physics has today become a dominant paradigm in the world of physics, even if we in the social sciences remain “stuck” in a Newtonian space-time box.

As co-authors we were fascinated by quantum research, and were curious about its implications for organization theory, and especially for sustainability. We believe that the ideas of entanglement and indeterminism provide a welcome and necessary framework to develop organizing theory that addresses key socio-ecological issues facing humankind, and which break free from the constraints associated with (Newtonian) notions of separateness, determinism and externalities. Moreover, a quantum perspective, which suggests that matter matters, provides a welcome counterpoint to the problematic fixation on socio-material well-being (e.g., money) that characterizes conventional theorizing.

We were pleasantly surprised by how readily the fundamental principles associated with the quantum world can serve as the basis to develop sustainable organization theory, As the sustainability issues facing humankind grow in urgency, we expect such non-Newtonian thinking to become as dominant in our field as it is in physics, but if this takes a century to happen then it may be too late.

The abstract for the paper:

We draw on quantum physics ideas of “entanglement” and “indeterminism” to introduce and develop “Quantum Sustainable Organizing Theory” (QSOT). Quantum entanglement points to the interconnectedness of matter in ways that defy Newtonian physics and commonsense assumptions that underlay conventional organizing theory. Quantum indeterminism suggests that uncertainty is an inherent feature of reality and not simply a lack of information that impedes rational decision making. Taken together, these quantum ideas challenge the assumptions of conventional organizational theorizing about the boundaries between a firm and its natural and social environment, the importance of self-interested individualism and (sociomaterial) financial measures of performance, the emphasis on competitiveness, and the hallmarks of rational theory and practice. We discuss implications for sustainable organizing in particular and for organization theory more generally.

You can read “Quantum Sustainable Organizing Theory: A Study of Organization Theory as if Matter Mattered” from Journal of Management Inquiry free for the next two weeks by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research from Journal of Management InquiryClick here to sign up for e-alerts!

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