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Focus of Academia: a set of problems

Recently I was in New York for the BPM 2010, and Human Potential conferences and I took the opportunity to visit from friends at Columbia University.

While there, in Hamilton Hall, I saw a well written paragraph on the importance of problems and question in academia. Click the thumbnail to see a larger image.

It reads:

The focus of Academia can be defined as not so much a set of topics but as a set of problems. Physicists, economists, historians, and so on have problems that are specific to their fields, and are collectively working on points of intersection in order to solve these problems. Consequently, in every peice of academic writing ther is some problem, some issue, some motivating question that is being explored.. at the heart of every piece of academic writing is academic inquiry.

I was surprised to find this randomly, in the only room at Columbia which I visited. I like it, and though it worth sharing.  I think it highlights the importance of publication as a conversation as Anne Huff’s book points out. Also, the importance of asking great and exciting questions. While at BPM 2010, I met Vasant Dhar from NYU who talked about what issues or questions are at the heart of education and research in the information systems field. They serve as a useful guide for those wondering what IS is, and a starting point for further questions. From Vasant’s paper:

Business Centric Questions

  • How does IT transform industries and change the boundaries between them?
  • How do platforms alter existing business models and create new ones?
  • What determines success with a firm’s IT investments?
  • How do firms effectively get value from and govern data?
  • Why do incumbent companies frequently miss large, new IT-based opportunities?

Technology-Centric Questions

  • How do unique characteristics of digital goods impact business models?
  • Why do network effects pervade IT-based businesses and how do they alter strategy?
  • How does human behavior/interaction differ in spaces mediated by Information Technology?

Dhar, V., & Sundararajan, A. (2007). Issues and Opinions–Information Technologies in Business: A Blueprint for Education and Research. Information Systems Research, 18(2), 125.

Nothing like an engaging conference

A week from today I will be headed to Helsinki School of Economics for the Center for Knowledge and Innovation Research workshop. From their website, this is the focus of the conference:

The workshop focuses on LEADERSHIP AND GOVERNANCE INNOVATION. The ongoing profound transformation of the world economy calls for new ways to lead and govern collective action in companies, actor networks and broadly in society. The old governance models and structures do not sufficiently guide and support us in our aims for sustainable life, well-being and long-term wealth creation in the transforming economy.

Prior to this conference, I’ll be attending the NITIM doctoral consortium, giving and receiving feedback from other doctoral students on our dissertation topics. I am excited to meet some great people, and hear some great ideas.

Chad Anderson: Materiality and Affordances

Today Chad Anderson reported on the ground work for his dissertation. He cited several Organizational scholars who have called for more theorizing in how materiality relates to the IT artifact.

He then related the theory of affordances which originated from Gibson’s 1979 work in Ecological Psychology. Gibson died shortly after proposing the theory, and many others have gone on to explicate it. Chad relates affordances to IT research as the relationship between “features of an information system and the abilities of an individual within the context of an environment.” It will be interesting to see where this goes… and I am sure Chad can correct me if I mis-discribing something!

This colloquium session was a bit more theoretical than most, but very interesting.

Alan Lee, Formative & Summative Validity

alan_leeIn a very provocative research seminar at GSU yesterday, Alan Lee explained how information systems researchers typically test how well the data fits their model (establish formative validity, modus ponens), but rarely test how well the theory works, or predicts (establish summative validity, modus tollens).

Here is a few other items I noted:

  • He asked: Instead of doing a grounded theory investigation of the literature, why not do a hermeneutic interpretation? He cited scholars who have said that the logic of the hermeneutic circle is hypothetical deductive reasoning, which is the logic of modus tollens (summative).
  • He sees a truce between the different research camps (qualitative, quantitative, etc.) not an open armed embracing, all-on-the-same-team feeling. I can see that.
  • In his paper, there are useful tables which outline how each research method area uses formative and summative validity… formative validity is found in the hermeneutic circle, replication across cases and the principle of dialogical reasoning.
  • There was a discussion about how methodological papers can become a check-list for researchers, which stifles creativity in methods.

His paper should be published in MISQ.

Netweaving, a few insights

art_and_heart_of_netweavingThe Atlanta Management Society put on a lunch seminar at the Emory Business School on Netweaving today. The inventor of the concept, Bob Littell, explained that if networking is about “What’s in it for me”, Netweaving is about “What can I do for you”. Thus it relies on reciprocity. Another key is introducing people to each other. He has encouraged Georgia State MBA students to read the Atlanta Business Chronicle and setup meetings between two news makers.

Two insights:

  • When in a networking situation, skip long spells of small-talk, initiate meaningful dialogue by asking questions such as, “What is the best business book you have read in the last few years, or what are the challenges and issues your industry is currently facing?” Small talk does not develop meaningful relationships.
  • Instead of just sending an email to a new contact saying “good to meet you” – send them a useful resource with your summary of the key takeaways.

If you are interested — there is the Netweaver skills assessment, and the Netweaver’s creed (pdf).