Workshop Series: Alan Meyer
Organizational fields undergo upheavals. Shifting industry boundaries, new network forms, emerging sectors, and volatile ecosystems have become the stuff of everyday organizational life. Curiously, profound changes of this sort receive scant attention in organization theory and research. Researchers acknowledge fieldwide flux, emergence, convergence, and collapse, but sidestep direct investigations of the causes and dynamic processes, leaving these efforts to political scientists and institutional economists. We attribute this neglect to our field’s philosophical, theoretical, and methodological fealty to the precepts of equilibrium and linearity. We argue that ingrained assumptions and habituated methodologies dissuade organizational scientists from grappling with problems to which these ideas and tools do not apply. Nevertheless, equilibrium and linearity are assumptions of social theory, not facts of social life. Drawing on four empirical studies of organizational fields in flux, we suggest new intellectual perspectives and methodological heuristics that may facilitate investigation of fields that are far from equilibrium. We urge our colleagues to transcend the general linear model, and embrace ideas like field configuration, complex adaptive systems, self-organizing networks, and autocatalytic feedback. We recommend conducting natural histories of organizational fields, and paying especially close attention to turning points when fields are away from equilibrium and discontinuous changes are afoot.
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Alan Meyer is the Charles H. Lundquist Professor of Entrepreneurial Management at the University of Oregon. His research on technology entrepreneurship, industry emergence, corporate venturing, and organization design and change has appeared in ASQ, AMJ, AMR, SMJ, and Organization Science. Alan has been an NSF grantee since 1999, and he currently directs a study that investigates the impact of three-dimensional virtual environments upon geo-distributed collaborative work. He directs two other ongoing research programs that focus on corporate venture capital investing and the emergence of the nanotechnology investing community. Alan co-founded and serves as Research Director an NSF-funded program that provides opportunities for MBA students to team up with graduate students in law, engineering, and the sciences to pursue the commercialization of leading-edge technologies invented by scientists at Oregon universities and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Alan is a Fellow of the Academy of Management. He served as the founding chair of the Academy’s Managerial and Organizational Cognition Division, as Chair of the Organization and Management Theory Division, and on the Academy’s Board of Governors. He has served as Consulting Editor for AMJ and as Associate Editor-in-Chief for Organization Science, and on the editorial boards of Administrative Science Quarterly, the Academy of Management Journal, Strategic Management Journal, and the Academy of Management Annals.