Aesthetic Rationality in Organizations

[We’re pleased to welcome author David Wasieleski of Duquesne University, USA. Wasieleski recently published an article in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science entitled, “Aesthetic Rationality in Organizations: Toward Developing a Sensitivity for Sustainability,” co-authored by Paul Shrivastava, Gunter Schumacher, and Marco Tasic. From Wasieleski:]

As a rationale for what inspired us to get interested in this topic was the realization that the environmental crisis is in part caused by the emotional disconnection between humanJABS_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgs and nature. Art is a vehicle for emotional connection.  And, using art based values and methods we can emotionally reconnect people and organizations with nature.

Art influences the sustainability of companies through architecture, aesthetics of work-spaces, design of products and services, design of work and organizational systems, graphic art in advertising, and arts-based training methods. Self-expressiveness and authenticity that are hallmarks of art can also enhance organizational productivity and employee motivation. Sustainable organizations need arts to enhance employee creativity, innovation, attract creative workers, improve worker satisfaction, design eco-friendly and innovative products and services.   Arts also allows us to study those aspects of organizational sustainability which are a strength of aesthetics inquiry, such as sensory and emotional experiences often ignored in traditional management studies.
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The abstract for their article is below:

This article explains the coexistence and interaction of aesthetic experience and moral value systems of decision makers in organizations. For this purpose, we develop the concept of “aesthetic rationality,” which is described as a type of value-oriented rationality that serves to encourage sustainable behavior in organizations, and to complete the commonly held, “instrumentally rational” view of organizations. We show that organizations regularly exhibit not only an instrumental rationality but also an “aesthetic rationality,” which is manifested in their products and processes. We describe aesthetics, its underlying moral values, its evolutionary roots, and its links to virtue ethics as a basis for defining the concept of aesthetic rationality. We examine its links with human resources, organizational design, and other organizational elements. We examine these implications, identify how an aesthetic-driven ethic provides a potential for sustainable behavior in organizations, and suggest new directions for organizational research.


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Benefits and Costs of Covert Research: An Analysis

[We’re pleased to welcome author Thomas Roulet of King’s College, UK.  Roulet recently published an article in Organizational Research Methods entitled Reconsidering the Value of Covert Research: The Role of Ambiguous Consent in Participant Observation, co-authored by Michael J. Gill, Sebastien Stenger, and David James Gill. From Roulet:]

What inspired you to be interested in this topic? We were inspired by recent ethnographic work relying heavily on covert observation – for example the recent work by Alice Goffman on low income urban areas, or the paper byORM_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpg Ethan Bernstein on the pitfalls of transparency in a Chinese factory.Alice Goffman’s work was attacked for the ethical challenges associated with the work of ethnographer.

So we went back to the literature and looked at research in various fields that relied on covert observation – the observation of a field of enquiry by a researcher that does not reveal his or her true identity and motives. This methodological approach has progressively fallen into abeyance because of the ethical issues associated with it- in particular the fact that covert observation implies not getting consent from the people observed by the researcher.

Were there findings that were surprising to you? Our review of covert research reveals that:
– all observations have issues with consent to different extent. It is obtain the full consent of all subjects. We put forward a two dimensions
– covert research can be ethically justified when tackling taboo topics, or trying to uncover misbehaviors.
– there is a wide range of ways and practices that can be used to minimize ethical concerns and limit the harm to subjects.

How do you see this study influencing future research? We hope that the ethical guidelines of some associations can evolve to offer more room for covert or semi covert research, and acknowledge the difficulties of obtaining full consent. We also think that ethical boards in universities may be willing to offer a more flexible perspective on covert research.

Finally our work is a call to researchers to consider covert observational approaches… with care!

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Lessons from history: What the Dutch East India Company can teach us about modern-day organizational slack

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Stoyan V Sgourev of ESSEC Business School, France and Wim van Lent of Montpellier Business School, France, who recently published the article When too many are not enough: Human resource slack and performance at the Dutch East India Company (1700‒1795) in Human Relations.] 
HUM 70_1_Cover_ONLINE1.inddIt is only recently that scholars started to inquire into whether it makes sense to employ more workers than needed to attend to routine operations but the question appears to be much older than recognized.

As a pioneer of intercontinental trade and the largest employer in the Dutch Republic, the Dutch East India Company (1602 ‒1795) needed a large workforce to maintain and develop its shipping network. The rapid expansion of its merchant fleet in the early 18th century exhausted the local labor supply, forcing the Company to hire unskilled foreign sailors. Our analysis of data from the Dutch East India Company archives confirms that skill shortage resulted in deteriorating operational and financial performance. We find that the Dutch East India Company’s directors addressed the problem by “overmanning” the ships (boarding more sailors than what is operationally required), when foreign sailors prevailed in the ranks. The analysis attests that the Dutch East India Company’s reliance on extra sailors involved a direct trade-off, as it enhanced operational reliability (by reducing the probability of losing the ship at sea), but reduced operational efficiency  (by prolonging the length of voyages, as the ships were heavier and the crews were less experienced).

In view of the underlying trade-off between speed and safety, the Dutch East India Company’s efforts to mitigate the negative effects of skill shortage were only partly successful. The use of extra sailors to offset the adverse effects of unskilled labor was a natural solution at a time when formal training was inadequate while cheap, unskilled labor was available. But the documented trade-off has contemporary resonance. Scholarship suggests that firms can balance between effectiveness and efficiency in reaching optimum performance, yet our analysis advises caution as to the extent to which organizational practices can be optimized. The Dutch East India Company directors faced the same need to balance competing pressures for efficiency and reliability as contemporary managers, and the same difficulty of identifying the coveted optimal point.

The findings also serve as a reminder that, even when overall successful, gradual adaptation may not be sufficient to resolve long-standing problems. The documented practice was an adaptive, stopgap measure that evolved from practical experience and that functioned well under the existing constraints. It alleviated the problem of skill shortage, but in the long run, it did not help resolve the structural problems that brought about the Dutch East India Company’s demise toward the end of the 18th century.

Two centuries later, the Dutch East India Company remains a source of insights into processes of adaptation and change. Similar to contemporary managers, the Dutch East India Company directors struggled to achieve a balance between operating efficiently and retaining surplus resources, necessary to address unexpected threats and opportunities. It was the first company to internationalize its workforce and confront the difficulties of operating in multiple locations, but not the last one to have found these difficulties more persistent than expected. In some respects, management practice has not changed much since the 18th century.

You can read  When too many are not enough: Human resource slack and performance at the Dutch East India Company (1700‒1795) from Human Relations free until the end of March by clicking here.

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#OSEditorPicks: Constructing and responding to paradox through humor

[We are pleased to welcome Trish Reay, Editor-in-Chief of Organization Studies.]

oss-_38_2Humor is an important aspect of most workplaces, and yet few researchers have delved into understanding how humor impacts the way people do their work. In the #OSEditorPicks for March We have to do this and that? You must be joking: Constructing and responding to paradox through humor an article appearing in Organization Studies’ soon to be released special issue on Paradox, Paula Jarzabkowski and Jane Lê show us how humor matters. As part of their ethnographic study of changes in a telecommunications firm, they noticed that people made a lot of jokes about paradoxical conditions. Intrigued with what people were laughing about and how humor seemed to be integral to practice, the authors engaged in a deep and insightful analysis of conversations that happened in 71 team meetings they observed over a 2 year time period. They found that humor was a critical component of responding to paradox – it contributed to both (1) entrenching responses and (2) shifting responses to paradoxical issues.

This is a great article because it raises attention to an important but commonly overlooked phenomenon of organizational life – humor. In addition, it provides a truly stellar example of what we can learn from studying how people do their everyday work. This is an important article for everyone who wants to learn more about micro-level interactions and how people matter in managing paradox.

Follow the conversation on Twitter with #OSEditorPicks

You can read We have to do this and that? You must be joking: Constructing and responding to paradox through humor from Organization Studies free for the next 30 days by clicking here. Want to stay current on all of the latest research published by Organization Studies? Visit the homepage here and sign up for email alerts!

Institutional Theory Needs to Rethink its Neglect of Morality

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Geoff Moore of Durham University, UK and Gina Grandy of the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “Bringing Morality Back in: Institutional Theory and MacIntyre.” From Moore and Grandy:]

We have had an interest for many years in the work of the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and the ways in which, despite his highly critical approach to capitalism and corporate management, his work can be used to explain and explore what a virtue-based understanding of organizations means in both theory and practice. In particular, his distinctions between practices and institutions, and between two types of goods (internal and external) which are pursued by organizationJMI_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgs has led to a series of papers exploring the implications of this approach. In this endeavour, we have been encouraged by a steady stream of articles, both theoretical and practical, which have explored this understanding of practices and organizations in such diverse settings as circuses, jazz, investment advising, banking, health and beauty retailing, and pharmaceuticals.

At the same time, we have noted the potential links with Institutional Theory and in particular its notions of logics and legitimacy and wanted to explore these links in greater depth. We were also concerned that new Institutional Theory lacks a positive account or morality and felt that this could be addressed by integrating it with MacIntyre’s work.

An empirical project involving an ecumenical study of churches in the north east of England led to some findings which we felt could be best explained by just such an integration of Institutional Theory and MacIntyre’s work. In particular, consistent throughout the empirical evidence was practitioners’ concern with the telos (overall purpose) of their organizations and the core practices of their faith, and their concern for the legitimacy of their organizations both to internal and external audiences, and hence of the moral nature of organizational life.

We argue that these findings can be generalized to any practice-based organization and conclude that ignoring or underplaying the moral dimension will give, at best, a diminished account of organizational life. Hence, we argue that Institutional Theory needs to rethink its neglect of morality and we suggest several implications for Institutional Theory as a result. We hope this might lead to further studies which follow up our lead and so to the bringing of morality back in to Institutional Theory. We also hope that a wider recognition of the moral dimension as an essential component in organizational life will impact practitioners and lead to organizations fulfilling their potential for the common good.

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Experimental Research Designs For Entrepreneurship: Pros and Cons

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Sharon Simmons of the University of Missouri Kansas City, Alice Wieland of  the University of Nevada, and Dan Hsu of Appalachian State University, who recently published an article in Organizational Research Methods entitled “Designing Entrepreneurship Experiments: A Review, Typology, and Research Agenda.” From Simmons, Wieland, and Hsu:]

  • ORM_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgWhat inspired you to be interested in this topic?

Dr. Simmons: Our inspiration for the project came from our individual interests in the experimental research methodology and our growing awareness of the difficulties that emerging entrepreneurship scholars in the field were having getting their experiment papers accepted at elite entrepreneurship journals. Each of the coauthors have different backgrounds that shaped our learning journeys leading up to the conceptualization of the article.  We believe that our diverse backgrounds and different challenges of learning about the appropriate sample and research designs allowed us to write the article in a way that will be understood by a broad audience with different levels of experience and understanding of experimental methods.

Dr. Wieland: My motivation for this paper came from the frustration of sending in experimental papers on entrepreneurship and getting reviews from entrepreneurship researchers who didn’t understand the method – they couldn’t fairly evaluate the manuscripts – both from a design perspective and the related statistical analysis. Much of entrepreneurship research is related to psychological phenomena, therefore, it is essential that using the best methods in psychological research should also be applied, and understood by entrepreneurship researchers.

Dr. Hsu: I shared the similar concerns with Dr. Wieland. Many entrepreneurship scholars were not familiar with the experimental method and rejected a paper using experiments because it lacked external validity – the experimental scenarios/conditions were not real. As we advocated in the paper, the external validity is never the goal of experiments. Instead, the purpose of experiments is to test causality, a critical component of many important relationships in entrepreneurship, including mediation effects. In fact, mediation effects can not be rigorously tested without using the experimental method.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

Dr. Simmons: To prepare the article we conducted a survey of current entrepreneurship experiments.  What we found surprising is that the researchers were able to tap into different stakeholders of the entrepreneurship process to participate in the experiments.  There is a general perception in the field that experienced individuals such as venture capitalists, mentors, angel investors, CEOs are difficult to pull away from their everyday functions to engage in an experiment.  We were happy to see a good representation of these stakeholders participating in entrepreneurship experiments.

Dr. Wieland: Since this is a methodological review, there were not specific “findings” related to the work. However, what was interesting to me were the different techniques used for experimental designs noted in the review of published studies which combined a field sample with random assignment to address the weaknesses of both approaches.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

Dr. Simmons: We hope that the care that we put into providing practical examples and the typology will ease the uncertainty of scholars that are new to the experimental method.  The entrepreneurship field is at a level of maturity that calls for studies with the scientific rigor to both test and advance theories of the relationships that scholars to date have done a fine job of bringing to the forefront. While we title the article, Designing Experiments for Entrepreneurship Research, we see this study impacting the broader management literature as well.

Dr. Wieland: We hope to provide a guide that will be useful for entrepreneurship researchers who are new to using experimental methods.


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Call for Papers: Financial Markets and the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy

                                                          Call for Papers
OrO&E_Mar_2013_vol26_no1_72ppiRGB_powerpoint.jpgganization & Environment- Special Issue
Financial Markets and the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy

Submissions Due: April 28, 2017

Guest Editors
Céline Louche, Audencia Business School
Timo Busch, University of Hamburg
Patricia Crifo, University Paris X, Ecole Polytechnique
Alfred Marcus, Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota


This special issue of Organization & Environment seeks to advance an emerging field of research on the financial sector and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The COP 21 in November 2015 in Paris has intensified the reciprocal influences between the financial world and issues around climate change. Even the 2°C threshold has been discussed, and it is now acknowledged that “efforts [should be pursued] to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels” (UNFCCC, 2015). One of the main efforts consists in a cumulative investment of $53 trillion in energy supply and energy efficiency over the period from 2014 to 2035 (International Energy Agency, 2014). This consists not only in a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy investments but also in much more investments in energy efficiency.

If the objectives in terms of carbon emissions and technologies deployment to keep the global average rise in temperature below 2°C are well defined (International Energy Agency, 2014; Meinshausen et al., 2009)—even if some space remains for alternative scenarios regarding specific technologies like Nuclear or Carbon Capture and Storage—the process to get there is not yet clear.

Governments can stimulate these changes notably through regulations. However, governmental actions might represent a long and cumbersome process. One may also question the feasibility to see widespread and significant actions from policy makers, which might not be enough to meet the ambitious climate objectives. If strong climate change–related regulatory actions seems to be emerging, investors already face substantial financial risks to see their assets become stranded in the context of a transition to a low-carbon economy (Ansar, Caldecott, & Tilbury, 2013; Leaton, 2013). This already calls for new ways of integrating climate change–related financial risk for investors.

If immediate and effective action cannot be expected to come from policy makers, financial markets could step in and play a significant role in the transition to a low-carbon economy. Indeed, they have the ability to massively redirect capital toward players that positively contribute to a climate-resilient economy, be it through dedicated financial instruments or the allocation choices investors make. Many indicators show that there is already a strong interaction between financial markets and the issues around climate change. Voluntary initiatives have emerged from the financial sector, like the Montreal Pledge or the Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition. New institutions addressing the need for climate-related data have emerged like CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) and divestment or divest/invest campaigns such as the Fossil Free Campaign lead by Financial services providers are also starting to handle the question by designing so-called “low-carbon” or “carbon-efficient” financial products. The regulatory body is also acknowledging the potential role of the financial market. As an illustration, in May 2015, France passed a new law—the French legislation on climate reporting for investors1—requiring mandatory ESG and climate policy reporting to all asset owners on a “comply or explain” basis. Another example is the Financial Stability Board’s Climate Disclosure Taskforce founded by Michael Bloomberg, whose objective is to give recommendations on what and how information should be disclosed by companies to better inform investors, lenders, and insurers about climate-related financial risk (Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, 2016).

With or without regulation, the financial markets will play a crucial role in the transition toward the low-carbon society of the future. In addition to disclosure and portfolio adjustment issues, the financial sector can drive all other sectors’ transitions by discriminating the access to funding in the banking, insurance, and capital markets as a function of firms’ sustainability performance. However, the lack of research in this area is prevalent and many questions remain to be explored. Given the urgency of the climate change problem, further contributions in this area are both timely and needed.

Despite many initiatives to assess the performance of corporates regarding climate change, it appears that it is still extremely difficult to assess the contribution of a financial portfolio or an investment strategy to the energy transition. The indicators available to measure the alignment of the financial sector with those needs are far from clear and harmonized. Some work has already been done on the potential roles the financial sector can play for sustainability (Busch, Bauer, & Orlitzky, 2015) and on the ability of a given investment strategy to “hedge against climate risk” based on lower scopes 1 and 2 carbon intensity (Andersson, Bolton, & Samama, 2014; Schoenmaker & van Tilburg, 2016). Also, there is very little research on the potential contribution of financing streams to climate change mitigation and the transition to a low-carbon economy.

This Special Issue therefore addresses the variety of ways in which financial markets are already paving this way ahead and could or should do in future. Contributions to the Special Issue may cover (but are not limited to) the following research questions:

  • Which are the key stakeholders in the financial industry`s value chain for fostering a low-carbon economy? What are their barriers/motivations for accelerated action?
  • What is the potential leverage of different asset classes for financing of the energy transition?
  • What is the impact of current low-carbon investment practices regarding their contribution to climate change mitigation? Which challenges remain?
  • Which new institutions are required/likely to emerge for fostering the energy transition through financial markets?
  • What is the capacity of nonregularity initiatives like CDP or divesting movement in influencing the financial markets to engage in the transition to a low-carbon economy?
  • What is the financial relevance of climate effective investment strategies? Can current assessment tools fully capture related risks?
  • Are long-term climate goals coherent with short-term and/or long-term financial strategies?
  • What are the main drivers for low-carbon strategies in financial markets: regulatory pressure, underestimated risks, underestimated opportunities, and/or new social movements?
  • What are emerging practices in low-carbon finance, including the suitability and inclusivity of methodologies, tools, and metrics? What theories are emerging from those emerging practices?
  • What are the behavioral impediments of investors, asset managers, investor advisers, and other financial market actors to the development and adoption of low-carbon investment practices?
  • What are the enabling and hindering factors influencing financial institutions’ capacity to change and adapt their portfolio allocations, as well as their internal decision processes leading to pricing and capital access choices related to clients’ environmental performance?
  • Authors should submit their full manuscripts through ScholarOne Manuscripts by April 28, 2017, through
  • Be sure to specify in the cover letter document that the manuscript is for the special issue on “Financial Markets and the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy.”
  • Manuscripts should be prepared following the Organization & Environment author guidelines, available at
  • After an initial screening by the guest editors, all articles will be subject to double-blind peer reviewing by a minimum of two anonymous referees and editorial process in accordance with the policies of Organization & Environment.
  • Authors who are invited to revise and resubmit their papers will be invited for a manuscript development workshop (expected date and location: Fall 2017, Paris). Acceptance for presentation at the workshop does not guarantee acceptance of the paper for publication in Organization & Environment.

Please click here to view this in full-text format, along with references.