"WATCH WHERE YOU STEP!"
OR INDIANA STARBUCK AMID THE PERILS OF ACADEME
by William H. Starbuck
Published in A.Bedeian (ed.), Management Laureates, Volume 3; JAI Press, 1993, pages 63-110.
Look, this is not a factual account of what happened. Although my memories seem vivid, no troublesome documents curtail my imagination. I have never kept a diary, or even old letters, and many facts of my life are buried in dumps throughout America and Europe. For that matter, there may never have been objective facts about the important events in my life. You can be sure other people did not see events as I did, and would not remember events as I do.
Research says that no one remembers events accurately: Our brains involuntarily change our memories to make events seem likely and logical, and remembered details are often fictional. So people probably did not speak the exact words I recall. I include such details, nevertheless, because they are what I remember and they add realism. Joe Cox, a dear friend of my youth, always added coloration to stories. When I asked him why, he explained: "People pay less attention when I tell stories just as they happened."
What follows contains no intentional lies, and it certainly does not portray me as I wish I were. Some of my mistakes have caused serious harm. I easily embroil myself in arguments about matters that do not matter and questions that have no answers. Perhaps for the same reason, I am fanatical about details and waste hours perfecting trivia. I insist on wearing an extremely accurate watch, yet I am chronically late, mainly because I always do one more unnecessary thing before I start what I should be doing. I postponed getting a crew cut until it was going out of style, and I have postponed changing it for 25 years. I will be a fashion leader when crew cuts come back into style.
I work sporadically. Sometimes weeks or months pass without my doing much that one could call serious work. Sometimes I spend weeks writing frantically for sixteen or eighteen hours a day, and I concentrate so completely that I do not even hear those who speak to me. Thinking our children ought to have a kitten, I began to raise and show cats. Deciding to relearn computer programming, I became a software developer. I take risks, both personally and monetarily. People who know me always look shocked when I declare that my motto is "Moderation in all things." I am anything but moderate. So I have to explain that one does not need a motto if one already behaves as one should; one needs a motto only to remind one of one's deficiencies.
It is intimidating to be one of those people who write autobiographies. Although it is nice to think someone might want to read about me, I resist the thought that I am old enough to look back on my life. Inside my head, I am still 25 or 30, and I am still debating what to be when I grow up. Sadly, those illusions tarnish when I go jogging and hear my wheezes and see almost everyone breeze past me.
I have tried to write in a way that symbolizes life's texture, although real life was many times more complex than this abstraction. I do not extract morals very explicitly. Humor mixes with tragedy, good luck with bad, pleasure with pain, cynicism with idealism. Excerpts are revealing, sad, funny, typical, strange, and educational. One sees variations in academic culture and practices across universities. Many people find bits of my life interesting because I faced issues they face, or expect to, or hope not to.
Self, career, family, organization, and society tangle together. To abstract myself or my career from context would violate my scientific standards. Still, interactions of person with environment are both fascinating and confusing. Several times I have written original ideas and discovered later that other scholars wrote similar ideas around the same times. Although many issues and events seem peculiar to a time and place, similar ones occur at many times in many places.
My collaborators will probably claim I am stubborn and independent-minded, but I often respond to others' initiatives. Responsiveness has injected more variety into my life than I would have sought. It was other people who proposed that I become a management scholar and behavioral scientist; become a professor of sociology; write various works, including this autobiography and an important chapter in James G. March's Handbook of Organizations (Rand McNally, 1965); visit Johns Hopkins, London, Bergen, and Gothenburg; move to Dallas, Berlin, Milwaukee, and New York; and divorce my wife.
I was born 263 days after Mom and Dad's marriage. We lived in Portland, Indiana, a small county seat where farmers gathered on Saturday afternoons. It was a comfortable, generally nurturing and caring community in which Jimmy Stewart and June Allison would have been at home. Almost everyone was white and Christian; and children, at least, ignored differences in wealth or ethnicity or social status.
Indeed, Portland gave me utterly unrealistic concepts of American values. When teachers explained "that all men are created equal" and that the Statue of Liberty welcomed immigrants, I had no idea how greatly people may differ, or how bitter ethnic and economic conflicts may grow. The two Jewish families sent their children to the Presbyterian Sunday School. After an election that ousted the incumbents, the Postmaster and Assistant Postmaster traded jobs again. I knew nothing of corrupt politicians. Serious violent crime was rare. When a young, unmarried woman was found dead in her garage, the police cleaned up the mess before anyone thought to ask whether it had been suicide or murder.
My family crossed social strata. Grandpa Magill became wealthy enough running a coal yard and acquiring real estate to retire at 45. However, he and Grandma lived very frugally in a small, plain house in a working-class neighborhood. There, I played with children who introduced me to comic books and country music, customs of which my parents disapproved. Grandma Starbuck inherited stock in firms founded by her father, and she lived in a large, Victorian house, one of the nicest in town. She sometimes gave us presents that were above our standard of living. Dad managed family-related businesses first a factory that made brick and drain tile, then a bank. Thus, the upper class accepted us as fit companions, but we lived in middle-class neighborhoods.
Something about my background convinced me that it is very important to try to behave and speak honestly. Of course, I am not the first to discover how very difficult it is to be truthful, or even to know where truth lies. My statements often mean something different to me than to listeners. Not only do I choose my own words with unusual care, but I hear others' words literally. An indirect result is that I have communication problems. People get confused when I respond to their words rather than their intent, and many do not appreciate the humor I see in their words. Clichés and small talk usually strike me as funny or inane. What I speak as honest, others may hear as tactless. I also confound people by saying the opposite of what I believe deadpan. To me these inversions are ironic or satirical exaggerations, but some people take them seriously and so find them confusing or disturbing.
What conscience I have likely resulted from Mom's x-ray vision. Because she always knew when I had lied or ventured into forbidden territory, I deduced that she could see into my head and read my most secret thoughts. She also delivered swift retribution. My sister and I once agreed that we would rather be spanked by Dad because, although he hit harder, Mom's spanks made loud cracks.
I loved and admired Mom desperately. Among other things, she taught me to scorn pretension, to cherish people's eccentricities, and to believe in my abilities. Her main qualities were zest, matter-of-fact pragmatism, and physical courage. She needed courage because she had suffered arthritis since childhood, and she lived with never-ending pain.
Her parents had three daughters whom they raised to follow different careers, and they destined Mom to be an artist. She did in fact become a nationally known watercolorist, the first woman invited to join an elite club of watercolorists. However, painting was not her choice originally, and she argued that the main requirement for becoming an excellent painter, or anything else, is to work at it hard enough.
I did initiate an important turn in my life when I enrolled at Culver Military Academy. When nine, ten, and eleven, I had gone to summer camp at Culver; and I decided that I wanted to attend Culver instead of Portland High School. Militarism did not attract me, but Culver was strong academically and more familiar than schools in the East. The tuition was quite expensive by our standards, so I proposed that my parents pay my tuition at Culver instead of later paying my tuition at college. They agreed. It must have been an ambitious and confident thirteen-year-old who proffered this trade not to mention one who appreciated a bird in his hand.
So Culver may not have made me more ambitious, but it did expose me to superb teachers and show me that I could compete intellectually at a high level. I also became a vocal soloist and prize-winning tuba player. My athletic success was less impressive. As a football center/linebacker, I hated smashing head-on into ball carriers. I competed in three-quarter-mile races for two years, and just once did I place: I took third after all but two of the other runners dropped out.
Culver introduced me to Joe Cox, who was both a kindred spirit and a complementary one. Joe conceived projects and adventures in which I shared. One time, we bought war-surplus life rafts and paddled down the Wabash River for several days. We met people who survived by selling mussels to button factories, and we discovered that the Wabash got much thicker just downstream of each town.
We also tried to replicate the experiment in which Cockcroft and Walton had first split atoms. Culver's physics teacher lent us a room, a vacuum pump, and moral support; and we built a Van de Graaff generator, accelerator tube, and high-level vacuum pump. Joe induced a glassblower at Purdue University to create the glassware. We never did split any atoms, because we graduated before our equipment worked well enough. But, our admiration won Cockcroft and Walton the 1951 Nobel prize in physics.
Our atom-smashing project persuaded Joe and me to become physicists. Diverse scholastic achievements and high SATs brought me offers of fancy scholarships. One unsolicited offer was mimeographed and began "Dear Student." But I chose Harvard College. Joe did too, as did another close friend.
My years at Culver had been framed by America's preoccupation with anti-Communism. At Culver, of course, we spelled Communist with four letters. I saw another side when the Congressional hunts for Communists peaked during my first years at Harvard. When one committee gloatingly ridiculed an elderly retired schoolmarm, I saw demagogues running cruel witch-hunts that exploited fear and stupidity. When investigating committees demanded the firing of a physics professor who had once belonged to the Communist Party, Harvard refused. Many Harvard alumni cried outrage, and donations plummeted. It showed me that politicians and donors may not support the values that respected universities hold dear. I began to see universities as enclaves that sometimes have to confront threats from their environments.
A few years later, donations to Harvard soared after people realized how foolishly they had acted. I inferred that universities win more support in the long run if they resist threats and stand for what they believe is right.
You will see that these perceptions shaped my reactions on at least two occasions. Thus, it made a difference that I attended Harvard during those years rather than another university in another time.
My first years at Harvard were disappointing academically. Although I entered Harvard with advanced standing in several subjects, my first year produced Bs, not the accustomed As. Harvard withdrew my scholarship, and my parents faced an economic crisis. Somewhere, they found the means to pay for a Harvard education.
I had no trouble diagnosing this problem: I had studied very little. I decided that I needed more motivation, and the key to that was more challenge. Harvard took a laissez-faire approach to prerequisites, so I skipped the courses that students normally took in their second year, and enrolled in courses that students normally took in their third or fourth years. I still found myself studying hardly at all, but my grades dropped to Cs.
In retrospect, it seems obvious that I was depressed. At one point, I consulted a psychologist. He gave me a slip of paper on which he had typed: "I will get up and work today. I want to study. I want good grades." He told me to read this to myself every morning. I tried it once, shook my head in wonder, and went back to bed.
My grades did improve somewhat during my third year, and near the end of that year, I realized that I was intensely lonely. I did engineering for the radio station, I had two roommates who were very good friends, and Joe and I often took long walks around Boston, during which we concocted shrewd schemes, accomplished incredible feats, and solved the world's problems. There was no reason I should be lonely, but I evidently was.
So I married Sharlene, a girl with whom I had gone steady almost continuously since I was sixteen. My friendship with Sharlene had long been a topic of serious dispute with Mom, but I was under 21 and marriage required my parents' consent. So I visited Dad at his bank, and asked him to help me persuade Mom: I pointed out that the issue was not whether but when, and did not correct his erroneous but unstated assumption that Sharlene was pregnant.
Marriage dramatically elevated my energy level, general outlook, and performance in school. I felt socially secure and economically challenged. Rather than tasks performed for their own sake, school work became a step toward supporting my wife and building a future. Because of my rash selection of courses during my second year, I had completed the prerequisites for graduate study, and so I took graduate courses in applied mathematics and electrical engineering and earned As. I ran Harvard's electronics club, designed and built my own high-fidelity equipment, and completed an interesting project to construct a tunable filter for light.
I was still majoring in physics, but because it imposed fewer constraints than engineering. Shortly after I entered Harvard, I had read John Diebold's Automation, the Advent of the Automatic Factory(Van Nostrand, 1952) and Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics, or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine (Wiley-MIT, 1948), and developed a strong interest in computers. When IBM sent a Harvard alumnus to hire research personnel, I sought a summer job, and worked on interesting projects at IBM's Poughkeepsie laboratory in 1954 and 1955. I got to know two of IBM's senior computer designers and the professors at Harvard's computer laboratory. Thus, I determined to become a computer designer after earning a doctorate in applied mathematics.
I did not go directly to graduate study in mathematics, however, because of my stormy relation with Dad. I do not remember when our disputes began, but Dad and I argued endlessly for years. Our dinner table was a war zone. People kept telling me how brilliant my father was, but I judged him a walking encyclopedia who was not too perceptive. For one thing, he was a banker rather than a professor or scientist. He spoke and seemingly thought in clichés and mottos. It especially galled me when he described Portland's residents as "the salt of the earth." His perceptions were permeated with shoulds and oughts, but many of his guiding principles seemed to be socially acceptable facades for baser motives. For example, he repeatedly asserted that his bank's primary goal was to serve its customers, but it seemed he was describing not a goal but a mental framework he found effective with customers. Dad backed the Republicans irrespective of their candidates or positions, and he hailed Senators Jenner and McCarthy for hunting Communists. Perhaps worst of all, I felt I could never meet Dad's standards of performance, and he seemed to laugh at most of my achievements and ideas.
It was not clear to me then, of course, but Dad had good reason not to take me seriously. I insolently challenged his trustworthy mottos and questioned his cherished principles. So I was unbearable. And what had I done? Our trumpeted atom-smasher had smashed no atoms. I tried to mold plastic sheets by reusing compressors and motors out of discarded refrigerators; it took me about ten minutes to mold each piece. While working in a chemistry lab one summer, I put my wet shoes on a hot plate to dry, stretched out on a table, and did not awake until the shoes were crisp. When I tried to sell refrigerators and stoves on commission, I succeeded in selling not one, and had to become a coal man to earn money. After winning a fancy scholarship to Harvard, I lost it the first year, and racked up even worse grades the next. I not only persisted in dating a disapproved girl, I married her. I took no interest in becoming a banker. As a career, I proposed to design machines out of science fiction. Joe Cox and I spawned hair-brained investments for our parents' money: One time we asked our parents for the price of motor scooters, which we would ride back and forth from Indiana to Boston, thus saving expensive train fares. Another time we proposed that they advance us $1,500 with which to buy a derelict ship in Boston harbor: We would patch the leaks, remodel the interior, save the cost of dormitory rooms, and turn a nice profit when we sold a beautifully refurbished ship.
Although Joe did coauthor our joint proposals, I must have a knack, for I have managed to turn up similar investment opportunities throughout my life. In fact, my son has shown a similar ability.
Hoping to make peace with Dad made me postpone graduate study in mathematics and seek a master's degree in business. I had no interest whatever in actually becoming a businessman, but I thought it worthwhile to invest two years in trying to understand Dad's world. Naturally, I chose the business school that was most like a physics department and least like other business schools Carnegie Institute of Technology. It was not even accredited.
Being bound for business school, I asked IBM for a summer job in production engineering instead of research. My brief experience in the plant-layout department left impressions that affected my career choice and my ideas about organizations.
I was to report to work at 8:18, to take 42 minutes for lunch, and to leave at 5:12. Although nice, my colleagues lacked the enthusiasm for work that I had found among researchers. Almost my only assignment was to relocate a department of forty purchasing agents, who must have been judged the least important people in the plant. I had to move these poor souls not once, but four times in eight weeks. Toward the end, they cringed whenever they saw me.
As summer ended, my department manager called me over to his desk for a performance appraisal. "Your performance has been unsatisfactory," he said, then paused significantly. "I have been checking the time cards, and find that you have averaged twelve seconds late in the morning!"
"But," I protested, "I get here before 8 almost every morning."
"You are supposed to arrive at 8:18. The minutes before 8:18 do not count and do not make up for arriving late. Early arrivals violate IBM's planning for auto traffic."
"I've also been staying an hour or two after everyone else leaves in the evening."
"That's the other thing I want to talk to you about. You are assigned to leave at 5:12, and you are not authorized to stay here after 5:12."
He never mentioned what I had done between 8:18 and 5:12.
Business study had one effect I had sought. One sensation I had during my first two years at Carnegie was that Dad learned a lot more than I. However, relations with Dad only improved, they did not heal, for once more I strayed off into strange, impractical pursuits. Instead of carrying through with the master's program, I became a doctoral student.
Now, I did not stray on my own; I was led astray. Near the end of my first year, Dick Cyert and Jim March offered a summer job running experiments. Having no other job in sight and a very pregnant wife, I snapped up their offer. And once in the job, I did not run experiments myself. Instead I bought a stepping relay and other parts and built a machine that ran experiments automatically. It may have been the first computerized psychological laboratory.
Sometime during the summer, Cyert and March proposed that I become a doctoral student with financial aid of tuition plus $1,800 a year. So I took $1,800 a year in exchange for my ambition to earn a doctorate in applied mathematics. Talk about commitment to a course of action!
That September, Cyert invited me into his office and said he had been thinking about my comparative advantages, and he thought I ought to become a behavioral scientist. I found this an amazing thought! At Harvard, I had struggled through a required course in sociology and an elective one in abnormal psychology, but I had certainly never thought of myself as interested in such topics. Nevertheless, I was deeply impressed that an important professor had analyzed what I ought to be doing with my life. So I asked Cyert what he advised. He suggested I enroll in a joint curriculum that the Graduate School of Industrial Administration and the Psychology Department were initiating. Thus, I began my career as a psychologist.
I took doctoral courses for only one semester.
In February of the next year, Mom and Dad came to see us. It was their first visit since our baby was born, and it went very well. It was the pleasantest time we had spent together since Mom had first expressed her dissatisfaction with Sharlene. I was elated because it seemed the two women in my life might yet get along.
After Mom and Dad left, the phone rang in the middle of the night. On their way home, they had been rammed head-on by another auto. Mom was dead, and Dad in serious condition.
I took Mom's death hard. Aside from sorrow for her and myself, it seemed life was too short to spend it dozing in classes. I dropped all my courses, and declared that I would spend six months reading and then take the doctoral qualifying examinations.
Herb Simon and Franco Modigliani were supernovas in Carnegie's firmament. Both stood out in a faculty that was filled with brilliance, and every seminar turned into a debate between them. Their endless debate concerned the rationality of decision making. Modigliani argued that economic theory's assumptions about rationality accurately describe actual behavior, whereas Simon held that people lack the capacities to decide rationally.
Aspirations played a key role in Simon's theorizing about decision making. I wrote a paper about aspirations for a seminar about the behavioral theory of the firm, and Cyert and March reacted enthusiastically. They suggested I discuss it with Jacob Marschak, who taught me a lesson.
My paper pointed out a logical error that Leon Festinger had made in his master's thesis, but did so very indirectly ("Level of Aspiration," 1963). Marschak asked why I had not made this point more clearly.
I said, "Well, Festinger is a famous psychologist. I don't want to make him look bad, and I don't want him to get mad at me."
Marschak advised, "State your view as clearly as you can. It is hard enough to do that. It isn't your job to protect Festinger, and he doesn't need your help. He knows he can make mistakes. I doubt that he will get angry if you are right."
Carnegie made an incredible environment for doctoral students in those years. Both Modigliani and Simon have won Nobel Prizes in Economics, as has Merton Miller. At least five more of those Carnegie professors could become Nobel Laureates, and Harrison White won a similarly prestigious award in sociology. The professors had revolutionary missions to make management scientific, to promote organization theory, to simulate human thought and they pursued these missions seriously.
Yet, I learned as much from other doctoral students as I did from professors. For me, the main educational experience was coffee hour. All the professors and students assembled in the lounge every afternoon at 3:00, and several professors invariably arrived with topics for discussion. The master's students returned to class at 3:30, and many professors went with them. But, there were almost always small groups of professors and doctoral students who debated for another hour or so.
I passed the qualifying exams, with a major in social psychology. Then I spent two years at Carnegie not finishing two dissertations. Then I moved to Purdue and spent three years not finishing two more dissertations.
My choice of Purdue provided a lesson in academic culture as well as decision theory. I had to choose between offers from IBM, MIT, Purdue, and Stanford. Having spent four years listening to Modigliani praise economic theory, I decided to emulate it. I listed criteria that mattered to me and assigned them dollar values. I induced Sharlene, over her protests, to do likewise. Then I averaged our preferences.
Purdue had offered me $500 a year more than MIT or Stanford, but MIT and Stanford had more prestige than Purdue. I polled professors to find out how much salary one should be willing to exchange for the prestige of MIT or Stanford, or for the differences between academia and IBM. The final calculation said that, to Sharlene and me, Purdue was worth $200 per year more than MIT or Stanford.
When I reported this number to Modigliani, who favored MIT, he asked where was I really going.
"To Purdue, of course. That's how the calculation turned out."
"But," he protested, "how can you be so mechanistic?"
Purdue had made the extra $500 contingent on a completed dissertation. When evaluating offers, I had no doubt about finishing and counted this a sure thing. But I did not finish, so I never got the $500.
I simply could not write a dissertation.
I formed my concept of a dissertation partly from professors' casual remarks. When I asked Cyert how long a dissertation had to be, he replied 200 pages. I recall asking, "All on one topic?" At coffee hour one day, Bill Cooper said the Carnegie faculty wanted every dissertation to win an award for one of the best dissertations of the year. He was exaggerating, but I accepted his injunction to aim high.
I was able to write articles, most of which I saw as chapters in a future dissertation. None of my manuscripts was longer than forty pages because I ran out of ideas. So I submitted the manuscripts, in 25-page chunks, to journals.
After five years of this, I was ready to give up. I had worked on four dissertations, none of which had panned out. An effort to simulate a 25-plant firm foundered after several months of extracting data, when I discovered that data reported to corporate headquarters differed systematically and substantially from data at plants. I did a long review article and two empirical studies relating to organizational size; but these lacked coherence, and one study yielded so few data I did not even write it up.
Only research on aspirations had gone far enough to promise an integrated 200 pages. Simon had hypothesized that people might have aspirations because these simplify decision making (Simon, 1955). I had written three theoretical articles on aspirations, one of which developed another hypothesis that people might have aspirations because these help to achieve goals quickly (1964). I designed experiments to evaluate this hypothesis. However, Simon, who was on my dissertation committee, ruled these experiments unacceptable. He and I agreed that my experiments would at best make my hypothesis more plausible, whereas he demanded evidence that my hypothesis was the only plausible explanation. I believed no one could produce such evidence for any hypothesis about mental processes, so I dropped aspirations as a dissertation topic.
Although I could see other research studies I would like to do, none promised more than one article. I had been a doctoral student for seven years, and I evidently was not destined to be a professor. You can imagine Dad's opinion of my performance. I sat around drawing floor plans and elevations, and thinking very seriously about beginning again at an architecture school.
At that juncture, Cyert telephoned. He said Carnegie might award me a degree even though I had written no dissertation. I could ask the faculty to accept my articles as evidencing an ability to do research. He believed the faculty would agree if Simon supported the proposal. Could I send him copies of my articles? I certainly could!
Off went a packet and back came another phone call. All the articles had to be typed on 81/2" x 11" paper, with consecutive page numbers. That took five months. Finally, everything was ready. "What should I do?"
"Have it bound and send copies to the dissertation committee," Cyert replied.
"But, what if someone wants revisions?" I asked.
"If it's bound, they won't ask for major revisions," he predicted.
I remain grateful to Cyert and Simon for backing this option and to the Carnegie faculty for endorsing it. There must have been dissent, because at my "dissertation" defense, one professor asked argumentatively if I thought they would be setting a dangerous precedent by awarding my degree without a dissertation. I responded that I had submitted thirteen articles, almost all published; few students would choose that option.
Later, when a Purdue doctoral student asked me to supervise his dissertation, I defined the target as three articles publishable in high-quality journals. I told him that, if he and I disagreed about his work, he could submit it to journals and I would accept their judgments. I still use these criteria.
One of the articles I submitted to Carnegie was a chapter on "Organizational Growth and Development" written for March's Handbook of Organizations. I was fervently hoping that this would become a widely read work.
You see, when reading for the doctoral qualifying exams, I had been awestruck by the chapter about small-group experiments that Kelley and Thibaut wrote for the Handbook of Social Psychology (pp. 735-786, Addison-Wesley, 1954). I had fantasized that I might write something equally remarkable one day. Kelley and Thibaut had masterfully integrated hundreds of experiments, and imposed understanding on confusion. Every social psychologist simply had to read what they had written.
Knowing of my dissertation work on organizational size, March invited me to write about growth and development for his projected Handbook. I was elated. This was the opportunity of my fantasies. It never crossed my mind that his Handbook might be a dud, or that there were people who paid little attention to handbooks. I worked hard to write a landmark synthesis sixteen-hour days, seven days a week, for eighteen months. And the effort really paid off.
I always smile when I hear a professor proclaim that success requires publishing many articles, or that empirical studies are more valuable than literature reviews. Kelley and Thibaut had shown me that one superb article outweighs many ordinary ones, and that a good literature review makes sense out of nonsense.
Indeed, I never published many of my empirical studies because they seemed worthless.
From 1957 through 1973, I thought of myself as a mathematical social scientist, and until 1967, as a social scientist who ran laboratory experiments. Despite a couple of disagreements with Simon, I aspired to do the kind of research he did. I had learned advanced mathematics at Harvard; Kelley and Thibaut had sparked a passion for laboratory experiments. My experiments mainly concerned choice behavior, but also bargaining and aspirations. In today's jargon, I was a behavioral decision theorist.
One series of experiments was especially revealing. John Dutton and I spent six years, on and off, trying to understand and simulate a production scheduler named Charlie. One winter, we focused on an estimating task he performed many times each day. We ran 577 experiments on this tiny segment of his behavior. The experiments showed us how he thought, how his thoughts could be modelled, and why an exact simulation of his behavior was less informative than an abstract model. These experiments worked well partly because we devoted an incredible amount of effort to one tiny activity and partly because Charlie himself helped us design experiments ("Finding Charlie's Run-Time Estimator," 1971).
Yet, over time, I concluded that normal experiments are not useful. Because people are so flexible and versatile, it is rarely worthwhile to show that they are capable of certain behaviors. One has to show that certain behaviors occur under realistic conditions. Yet, one cannot approximate in a laboratory the rewards and socialization experiences that occur in real-life organizations.
Furthermore, designing an experiment is much like writing a computer program. Just as a computer does only what it is told, almost all subjects strive to follow instructions and respond to offered rewards. Thus, subjects' behaviors are direct results of the instructions and reward systems. My experiments were revealing a lot about my own beliefs and very little about my subjects' properties other than obedience. I might better run computer simulations. Although complex simulations are very difficult to understand, even very complex simulations are much simpler than people.
I finally abandoned experiments after a rude shock made me take a hard look at what I was doing. Vernon Smith generously invited me to share a research grant for experimental studies of economic behavior, and I used some of this money to hire assistants who processed subjects and ran statistical analyses. One assistant spent months producing a tall pile of computer output. None of the results looked anything like my hypotheses. This was bewildering indeed for someone who thought subjects did as they were told! I diagrammed the statistically significant relations, developed a theory that would make sense of them, and began to write an article that was entirely post hoc rationale.
Yet, the dramatic differences between my expectations and the actual results nagged at me. I went back to the pile of computer output, searching for the point where results began to diverge from expectations. I found a tiny error: We had introduced corrections early on to make the four treatments comparable for later analyses. The assistant had left out a minus sign when entering one correction factor for one treatment, so he had added that correction factor instead of subtracting it. Instead of being made comparable with the other three treatments, that treatment had been turned into an outlier. But, the subsequent analyses assumed no important differences between treatments. The statistically significant findings on which I had constructed a theory were utter nonsense. I had learned a lesson about post hoc analyses and surprising outcomes from experiments.
Among the unpublished experiments were the ones on aspirations I had proposed to my dissertation committee. I had later obtained funds from the National Science Foundation to run them, but I never finished the work.
I often point out to doctoral students that prestigious schools can be hard on junior professors. My acquaintances who took jobs at MIT and Stanford never fulfilled the promise they had shown as students, whereas almost all my colleagues at Purdue went on to exceptional success.
I attribute this outcome to our supportive environment. Purdue's deans rewarded professors who did research with kind words and summer support; and they let us create a separate department of behavioral scientists. However, the supportive environment was mostly something we constructed ourselves. Initially, Don King and Dick Walton started five or six of us talking about how we could support each other. But, we all contributed to building a mutual support system, and that is one reason it worked so well. We met for bag lunches where we planned joint projects, discussed research designs, and listened to reports of findings. We read each others' drafts. We nominated each other for opportunities. We enlisted additional members. We designed and taught courses jointly and began a doctoral program. We persuaded Purdue and the National Science Foundation to build us a laboratory. One year, partly to meet them and partly to make sure they met us, we invited several well-known scientists to spend a week with us. Probably most importantly, we treated each other as if we mattered and our research mattered.
I managed the technical design of the laboratory, conceived its unique electronics, and applied for the NSF grants that paid for them. The electronic system ran experiments automatically. A direct descendant of the device I built at Carnegie, this system controlled several rooms and many devices through plug-board programming, like some computers of the 1950s (Fromkin, 1969).
Purdue's deans broadened my education greatly because they used office and teaching assignments and joint appointments to break down specialization. At first, I shared an office with Dutton: As the deans intended, he indoctrinated me in the admirable teaching philosophies and practices of Harvard Business School. My appointments were in administrative science and economics, and I often attended meetings of economists as well as management scientists. The deans asked me to represent Purdue on a team that planned computer facilities for Indianapolis hospitals. For five years, the deans assigned me courses in business policy, managerial accounting, managerial economics, operations research, and statistics. This was enlightening, because I had taken only basic courses in accounting and managerial economics, and I had never studied business policy or operations research. Not until my sixth year at Purdue did I teach decision theory, organization theory, or psychology.
At some point, Purdue received accreditation. For the first time, I was at an accredited business school!
During my four years without a doctorate, my title was instructor. Purdue promoted me to assistant professor when Carnegie awarded my degree, and then promoted me to associate professor a year later. After I had been an associate professor one year, the Social Relations Department at Johns Hopkins invited me to substitute for Jim Coleman while he went on sabbatic leave.
Because of Coleman's great prestige, the visit gave me sudden prominence with sociologists, and Illinois offered me a full professorship in sociology. A committee at Johns Hopkins was reviewing me for another full professorship. Seeing that a move might make sense, Sharlene and I fantasized about alternatives, then I contacted Cornell. They too offered a full professorship, which looked attractive because the town seemed nice, the business school's philosophy matched mine, and I would edit Administrative Science Quarterly.
When I told Purdue's Dean John Day that I had two offers at full professor and was expecting a third, he said: "Come now, you were an assistant professor for only one year, and you've been an associate professor for only two years. You can't expect us to promote you from new Ph.D. to full professor in three years!" He suggested I return as a department head.
I told him, "I'm not about to turn down full professorships at Cornell, Illinois, and Johns Hopkins in order to be an associate professor at Purdue."
That rationale was a half truth, but many Americans find it more acceptable to justify actions on the basis of status or money than values. I doubt that I would have left Purdue solely for a promotion, because I really liked my colleagues, the university, and our neighborhood.
I have a half-baked theory that inducing people to move usually requires both pushes and pulls. At least all my moves have involved both.
The push was my disgust over Purdue's dismissal of Marc Pilisuk. We had been colleagues for only a year before I left for Johns Hopkins, so I did not know Pilisuk well and his case posed philosophical issues for me, not personal ones. I also had no role in his tenure evaluation because I was at Johns Hopkins and Purdue's deans and senior professors did not seek my opinions. I merely watched from afar, informed by Walton, who was actively defending Pilisuk.
A social psychologist who studied conflict resolution, Pilisuk advocated peaceful means for resolving conflicts, and he opposed the war in Vietnam. There was a flurry in the faculty when he joined a silent vigil on the quadrangle in memory of the war dead on both sides. When a colleague voiced concern that Pilisuk's politics distorted his science, Pilisuk pointed out that he had often published findings contrary to his hypotheses.
I did not agree with Pilisuk's position, nor did my closest friends. The local newspaper told us that the United States was actually fighting Chinese soldiers, not North Vietnamese. Seemingly, the United States would have to fight the expansionist Chinese somewhere . . . better in Vietnam than California. Yet, I thought Pilisuk's activities were legitimate exercises of free speech.
The New York Times brought on a crisis by publishing a letter from Pilisuk criticizing the war. One result was a letter to Dean Emanuel Weiler from a multimillionaire benefactor of the business school. Word leaked from the Dean's office that the letter complained about professors involving themselves in debates about foreign policy and patronizing leftist newspapers like the Times. Dean Weiler then admonished Pilisuk that he had acted unprofessionally by publishing outside his area of expertise, which was social psychology not foreign affairs. Yet, their actions said the multimillionaire and Dean Weiler deemed it proper to involve themselves in debate about foreign policy.
A few months later, Dean Weiler refused Pilisuk tenure, telling him he "did not fit in."
I got a shock when Johns Hopkins' written offer arrived because of a communication lapse, their committee had reviewed me for associate professor. I took Cornell's offer.
With precious little help from me, my environment had magically transformed me from an abject failure aged 28 to a full professor aged 32.
Cornell was great. The students were bright and hard working. The library was fabulous. I had terrific colleagues in business, sociology, and labor relations. A joint appointment in sociology helped me extend those interests. I taught computer simulation, mathematical sociology, organization theory, and research methods, and tried to learn about university administration.
Editing Administrative Science Quarterly (ASQ) publicized my name and put me into contact with respected scholars worldwide. Previous editors had been finding it difficult to attract prominent authors' best articles. I blamed this partly on the lack of a constituency and partly on the lack of a well-defined image ASQ was publishing on too many topics. I set out to make it the focal journal for organization theorists, added many carefully chosen editors, and clearly followed their advice. ASQ's standing did seem to rise. Submissions improved in both quantity and quality, and revenues rose modestly. However, I never fulfilled the deans' fantasy to have ASQ pay its overhead costs.
One reason I did not intervene in editorial decisions was the weak agreement between reviewers. The correlation between two reviewers was only .12 so low that one reviewer's opinion gave almost no information about another's. I could have raised this correlation by pairing reviewers who had more similar preferences, but that tactic would have misrepresented organization theorists' diversity. Because ASQ's tradition was to avoid narrow specialization, I normally chose one reviewer with highly relevant experience and a second reviewer who should be interested but had not done similar research.
Those years brought a revolution in my relation with Dad. One day I said to myself, roughly, "You have little in common with this man. You are a professor in New York, and he a banker in Indiana. You are not trying to please other Indiana bankers, so why are you unhappy about not having this one's approval?" Thereafter, we got along much better.
Those years also introduced me to research that looked suspicious. The first jarring case involved a former friend who had written one of those prize-winning dissertations Carnegie sought. I began a book about decision making. Chapter 3 would describe my friend's remarkable study. To explain it well, I needed to understand it thoroughly. I pored over it for ten weeks, digesting every word and trying to reproduce every detail. I even interviewed the decision maker who had been modelled.
The more thoroughly I read it, the less sense it made and the more contradictions surfaced. The theory would not generate the sequences of analyses attributed to it. Neither the theory nor the analytic sequences would produce the decisions attributed to them. The decision maker said he had eagerly read the dissertation but had seen little resemblance between the theory and his thought processes, so he was surprised that the theory produced decisions similar to his. I was forced to conclude that a famous study should probably be infamous. I was so disillusioned and disgusted I threw away my book manuscript and refunded the publisher's advance ("The History of Simulation Models," 1971).
A second case also involved a dissertation. Chick Perrow sent a note, expressing concerns about the truthfulness of an article ASQ had recently accepted for publication. In his evaluation of the first version, Chick asked for interview evidence. Two months later, the author submitted a revision that included 700 interviews with personnel from fifty companies. But, the interview evidence seemed strangely tidy. The statistics looked like this:
Therefore, Chick had examined the dissertation on which the article was based, and had found no interviews. No one could conduct 700 interviews in fifty companies in two months.
I told the author we would not publish his article. He demanded a hearing. I recruited a review panel and asked the author to bring all his data to Cornell. He arrived bearing only a large deck of punched cards. We asked to see his notes from the interviews he conducted three to four months earlier. He said he had destroyed his notes after he recorded the data on punched cards. We examined the punched cards. The large deck turned out to be many copies of the same fifty cards, one card for each company. The only information on each card was the information in his article.
The review panel upheld the decision not to publish. It also wrote to the American Sociological Association, suggesting that they publish a warning about an article in the American Sociological Review by this author and based on these data. The Association replied that their lawyer had advised them not to publish a warning "because that would be picking out one article as an exception."
Ithaca was a lovely, neighborly town, and we owned a beautiful house. But, the house needed expensive repairs. One year, house costs plus income taxes ate up 74 percent of our income. We could not afford to replace our aging auto, which often broke down, and Ithaca became an island.
Ithaca's isolation seemed to make it hard to get advice about two of our children who had serious learning problems. Clinics in Baltimore and Boston diagnosed them as having "minimal brain damage," and prescribed drugs for both and tutoring for the older's dyslexia. We found a superb tutor, who taught the older to read; but we could not locate specialized medical or psychological advice nearby.
Another problem had surfaced while I was at Johns Hopkins and permeated our life in Ithaca: Sharlene was drunk every evening. I did not put a name to her habit or seek outside help. I just complained and waited for her to show self-discipline.
Dutton, my office mate at Purdue, had moved to Southern Methodist University, where Dean Jack Grayson was striving to build a highly ranked business school. They hired me as a consultant a couple of times, then offered me a job. Some job! The salary would double my after-tax income and make me the highest-paid business professor in the United States.
The big money looked very attractive to someone who could not repair his auto, but both Sharlene and I wanted to stay in Ithaca. I loved Cornell. We could buy a cheaper house. Nevertheless, it would be nice to convert SMU's offer into a raise. I was hoping for ten percent, twice the usual five. Twenty percent would be a triumph.
I told Dean Justin Davidson of SMU's offer. He said something like "That's a big salary."
"Well, what are you going to do about it?" I prodded.
"I'm not going to do anything about it," he said smiling pleasantly. He said he hoped I would stay at Cornell, but he would not discuss my salary.
My pride was bent, and I was angry that Davidson insisted on dictating the terms of employment. Sharlene and I debated pros and cons Cornell's known assets versus SMU's unknown potential. As Grayson intended, I liked the distinction of being the highest-paid. I took SMU's offer.
It was one of the great mistakes of my life, because the next four years destroyed my family. It was not life in Dallas, however, that destroyed my family. I never showed up for work at SMU.
A few weeks after I took the SMU job, Derek Pugh invited me to visit London Business School for a year as a Fulbright Fellow. It appeared opportune. We were selling our house, our auto was junk, and we could store our furniture. We had never visited Europe, and it sounded exciting good for our whole family. Grayson approved a leave of absence.
We had been in London just five weeks when we heard, at fourth hand, a disturbing tale. Roger Dunbar, whose dissertation I had supervised, was working at SMU. By letter, Roger introduced us to his sister, Joan, who had also moved to London recently. Joan became our friend and regular baby-sitter.
Then, Roger told a tale to a Canadian girlfriend, who told it to Joan, who told us. As I first heard it, the tale went like this:
SMU's business school had hired a new Ph.D. from Yale, Eli Hipster (a pseudonym, of course). Hipster had just started teaching. He wore his hair down to his shoulders. He often went barefoot. He replaced his office door with a string of neckties. Instead of renting an apartment, he slept in his Volkswagen. He also offered to move in with professors' families for short periods, during which he would cook, inspire parties, and promote closeness. He persuaded the deans to hire avant-garde architects to create a display that would alert potential students to the business school's innovative curriculum. The display, on the school's lawn, involved a large plastic tent, strobe lights, and rock music.
These eccentricities drew attention. Instead of alerting potential students, the display alerted the local fire brigade and fire marshall, who arrived with sirens wailing and demanded its dismantling. The FBI probed Hipster's connections with subversive organizations, but found none. The SMU newspaper printed his photo and an interview atop the front page. It quoted him as calling for revolution.
The next week, two wealthy men appeared in Grayson's office and demanded that Hipster leave SMU immediately. Grayson told them Hipster had a three-year contract, but he was sure he could persuade Hipster to modify his behavior to fit Dallas and SMU. Hipster had great potential, but he needed guidance and time to adapt. The donors said they were not asking for modified behavior. They would withdraw their own $1,000,000 pledges and sabotage SMU's $160 million campaign unless Grayson got rid of Hipster before the month ended.
This demand flabbergasted the deans and many professors. They were outraged and discussing mass resignation.
Far-fetched as the tale was, I could not disregard it. I wrote to Dutton, asking if something like this had happened. He sent back a letter and newspaper clippings. The tale had been roughly correct, although details were wrong (Dunbar, Dutton, & Torbert, 1982). The wealthy donors were the chairman of SMU's Board of Trustees and the head of an organization created to raise money for the business school. The newspaper had quoted Hipster as declaring "Traditional education is shitty" and saying "bullshit" in boldfaced italics. The revolution he had sought was in teaching methods. Hipster had already left campus. No mass resignation was planned, but Dutton and others were depressed about the future.
Resigning made sense to me. Grayson and his associates had seriously misjudged their environment when they hired Hipster, and their environment had reacted harshly. Their building program would end for now, and it might be a long time before the business school could regain momentum. SMU could never attain high stature under leaders such as those who had demanded Hipster's firing. I did not want to live in a community that showed so much fear of controversy and so much intolerance of youthful deviance.
I was still a professor at Cornell, on leave because Davidson had asked me not to resign for a year. Sharlene and I went back over the issues, and decided that we'd like to go back to Cornell. I had greatly enjoyed my contacts in sociology and labor relations. Before I had left, friends in both departments asked if I'd like to work there instead of the business school. Perhaps a three-way appointment would be interesting.
I sent a brief telegram to Davidson. It said I was thinking about returning to Cornell, but I'd like to arrange a three-way appointment, and an explanatory letter would follow. I began composing letters to Davidson and others, but never posted them because a telegram came from Davidson. It said my only option was to return to the business school full-time, because sociology and labor relations had no money to pay me.
My telegram had been an error because a telegram is surprising and terse. Davidson's telegram to me had seemed brusk; probably mine seemed so to him. Moreover, all written messages leave out much information about speakers' intentions and make it difficult to iterate toward mutual understanding. Even face-to-face, Davidson and I may never have understood each other well. Joint appointments always require delicacy. I should have gotten on an airplane instead of sending a message.
Probably I should have gotten on an airplane after Davidson's telegram arrived. But I did not think of it. I felt unwanted, and I saw myself as unemployed even though I was formally a Cornell professor.
I had no energy for job hunting. I was teaching in a very demanding program for executives. Although I was doing well, teaching alone took forty hours a week. The British schools had not heard of learning disabilities. Our daughters' schoolmates called them names because they were foreigners. To fit in, they would have to become either hippies or skinheads. Mainly because we deviated from British spending patterns, we were having to import our savings from America.
We gradually adapted and learned to appreciate our environment. We enjoyed the differences between British and American, and being outside the United States became more interesting and illuminating than expected.
My colleagues at London Business School were bright, thoughtful, and nice; and I learned unexpected lessons from their research. Most gathered large-sample data via surveys, then made statistical analyses. I had advocated such studies to put organization theory on a scientific basis. Yet, close acquaintance with the research corroded my illusions. Precise-looking numbers masked an ambiguous morass of misleading labels and overlapping concepts. The strong correlations had trivial meanings that were dictated by assumptions and measures. Findings that were not trivial would not replicate, probably because they came from post hoc analyses ("A Trip," 1981).
The research group's meetings also showed me class identification and class warfare at close hand, and I began to notice these phenomena broadly in British life. I found that, when I read Karl Marx in college, I had not really understood what he was talking about. Fortunately, the British exempt foreigners unless they take on aristocratic airs.
It seemed a good idea to spend a few more years tasting the world outside America. London Business School invited me to stay, and I wanted to. I loved the school, London, and England. Yet I could not afford it. A British professor's salary covered only about half the cost of living in London with a family of five. I would have to earn as much consulting as I did as a professor even more, because my children's problems probably required private schools. I had not entered academia to become a consultant.
I also had job opportunities in France, Australia, and Berlin. France had attracted me since I studied high-school French, but French professors earned no more than British ones. Australia seemed exotic, but moving back to the United States might be hard. So I opted for Berlin. The pay would match my salary at Cornell, I would travel widely in Europe, and I could focus on research for three years.
I heard later that Hipster got a haircut, bought shoes and suits, and became a consultant. Who knows? His clients may have included SMU's trustees.
My years in Berlin resembled a lurid soap opera. However, one does not have to live fiction.
Germans had consulted Dick Cyert about business education, and he had drawn up plans for an institute that would serve all Europe, not just Germany. It would raise the status of business education, promote research by European business teachers, and facilitate cross-national communication.
German capitalists offered to finance such an institute, but German politicians objected to capitalists being involved in business. West Berlin was an island with no natural resources, so it needed subsidies and activities that would attract young people. Thus, the International Institute of Management became a government project in West Berlin, and one of the staff's functions was to spend their salaries there.
The first Director was an American, Jim Howell. He hired around fifteen researchers of diverse nationalities, who began work during the summer of 1971.
We arrived in Berlin and checked into a hotel. I went to the Institute to make sure our household goods had arrived. The Institute had said they would arrange shipment from Ithaca. No one at the Institute knew anything about our goods; but I should not worry, they said, as everything was in order.
Howell explained that he was leaving on a trip but he needed to talk with me, would I mind riding to the airport with him? "Of course not." In the limousine, he said, "We're not going to pay you what I told you we'd pay you. The Science Ministry in Bonn refused to approve the salary I offered you." He went on to explain that whereas the original offer had been based on the exchange rate in March, since then the dollar had lost value relative to the mark. He was negotiating my salary with Bonn, and meanwhile I would receive a conservative, temporary salary.
Gulp! My employers, a national government, had reneged on the offer I had accepted. My family was in a foreign country. Air tickets to America would cost several thousand dollars. Our household goods might be aboard a ship on the Atlantic. I had no alternative job.
I had planned to spend the first months studying German intensively, but I never began language study because I had other problems. Clowns had taken command of our household goods and were producing a comedy of errors. Each week brought a different story about why they were not in Berlin.
Our children would have to wait several years to enter the bilingual school, but officials at the regular schools wanted nothing to do with our children. They had no program for teaching German to foreigners, they said; we should send our children to the bilingual school. A school run for U.S. Army dependents let our son into a special-education class. Our daughters would have to learn German by immersion. We hired a German university student who moved into our basement, tutored the children in German, and remained available as a translator.
These issues seemed minor when Sharlene said she wanted treatment for alcoholism. The alcoholic treatment centers, we learned, had waiting lines of six months. The only English-language AA group was for young male soldiers. No one knew a psychiatrist who spoke English well enough to conduct therapy.
That was when I made another serious mistake. I should have immediately extracted my family from this disaster and moved them back to the United States. Yet, this idea never crossed my mind. I kept trying to solve the problems before us instead of changing the problems. Like one of the frogs in Bateson's fable, I had been dropped into boiling water. But, the frog jumped out, whereas I was trying to swim to shore.
I might have jumped if I had foreseen that staying in Berlin would lead me to death's brink.
The Institute's administration was frozen in a web of conflicting regulations. There was a rule against everything, including rules. Germans generally saw rules as adequate justifications, Americans as arbitrary constraints. One pattern recurred many times. A German would tell an American that such-and-such could not be done because a rule forbade it, or must happen because a rule demanded it. The American would ask: Exactly what does the rule say? Is this a good rule? Who made the rule? How can we change it or get around it?
For six months, the dollar continued declining and I continued with no contract. Then the exchange rate stabilized and Howell "offered" a contract that Bonn had approved.
Soon after, Howell resigned and departed abruptly. We were told clearly that the German Science Ministry would not approve another American Director. A different political party had taken control in Bonn, and they were asking for the Institute's redirection to fit their political agenda. They proposed that a German political scientist become Director and that the Institute focus on regional economics. The Institute's staff, including myself, spent endless hours debating its agenda and governance.
Europeans' attitudes about American empirical research shocked me. I had assumed that research involved common norms and similar activities everywhere, and my British friends did not violate this assumption. However, only small fractions of French and German professors agree with American norms. French and German professors generally laugh at Americans' empiricism. To them, American social scientists resemble hamsters running on exercise wheels they run and run and run frantically, but go nowhere.
Despite the turmoil, I did begin research. My rudimentary German ruled out interviews and heavy reading. I had written about mathematical theories of revolutions, so I began gathering statistical data on the revolutions in German universities a few years earlier. My experiences with computer simulation and computer applications in hospitals started me thinking about a computer program to do medical diagnosis. The German Health Administration had been evaluating drugs only for safety, now they intended to start evaluating drugs' effectiveness. Wolfgang Müller and I began helping them design an appropriate information system. These contacts brought us to the attention of doctors hunting side-effects of birth-control pills. They asked us for statistical advice. The result was a conversation that eventually became one of the most important of my life.
After several hours discussing their project, the project director asked what research we were doing. I told him I was working on a computer program to make medical diagnoses.
He probed, "Why do you want to do that?"
Thinking this was a pretty strange question from a doctor, I explained, "I want to improve medical care."
"But, diagnosis is not important togood medical care," he countered.
I could not believe what I was hearing. "Wait a minute," I objected. "Doctors base treatments on diagnoses, so more accurate diagnoses should produce better treatments. Computers can take more factors into account than doctors can, and computers overlook nothing."
"You're wrong in assuming that diagnoses determine treatments' effectiveness," he replied. " Good doctors do not rely on diagnoses."
"Yet, medical schools teach doctors to make diagnoses," I protested. "Medical education teaches doctors to translate symptoms into diagnoses, and then to base treatments on diagnoses."
"That's right. Medical schools do teach that," he admitted, "but the doctors who do what they were taught never become good doctors.
"There are many more combinations of symptoms than there are diagnoses, so translating symptoms into diagnoses discards information. And there are many more treatments than diagnoses, so basing treatments on diagnoses injects random errors. Doctors can make more dependable links between symptoms and treatments if they leave diagnoses out of the chain.
"However, the links between symptoms and treatments are not the most important keys to finding effective treatments. Good doctors pay careful attention to how patients respond to treatments. If a patient gets better, current treatments are heading in the right direction. But, current treatments often do not work, or they produce side-effects that require correction. The model of symptoms-diagnoses-treatments ignores the feedback loop from treatments to symptoms, whereas this feedback loop is the most important factor.
"Doctors should not take diagnoses seriously because strong expectations can keep them from noticing important reactions. Of course, over time, sequences of treatments and their effects produce evidence about the causes of symptoms. This evidence may lead to valid diagnoses by the time treatment ends."
I thought I spotted a weak spot in his argument. "Then, why do so-called 'good' doctors state diagnoses before patients are cured?" I asked. "All doctors make early diagnoses, even the best ones."
He said, "Diagnoses are mainly useful as something to tell patients and their families. Announcing diagnoses creates an impression that doctors know what they are doing."
At that time, I found these notions implausible. Not only were they eccentric, they said the diagnostic program I had been creating was unimportant. I continued working on the program.
Sharlene did eventually enter a treatment center. She emerged hopeful, but remained abstinent for only a few weeks. Then she took no interest in further treatment.
Next, a telephone call sent us to a hospital where our daughter was having her stomach pumped out. She had heard that a readily available pill produced wonderful effects if one took enough of them.
A few weeks later, we discovered that both daughters had hashish in quantity. They had entered a subculture that used drugs and had easy access to them.
Punch Magazine kept me sane during those months. My immediate world had become a madhouse. When I felt quite desperate, I read Punch's ironical commentaries on absurdities elsewhere.
Joe McGuire was assembling an anthology and asked me to survey organization theory. Stimulated by Punch, I sent him a tongue-in-cheek commentary titled "Organization Theory from before Ptah-Hotep to beyond Pradip Khandwalla." Writing it was therapy. A startled McGuire amended a couple of jokes that made no sense to him and renamed it "The Current State of Organization Theory."
In June 1972, I attended a conference organized to introduce American and Soviet management professors to each other. I had never ventured behind the Iron Curtain except for tourist trips to East Berlin, and the trip was fascinating and tense.
I came home ill. The flu, I thought. It got better, but then grew worse, and the symptoms seemed stronger. Again it got better and then returned. And again. And again. Each cycle produced stronger symptoms. One day in August, I realized that I was crawling up stairs because I could barely breathe.
I asked an ENT doctor if I had hay fever. The symptoms seemed stronger when I read my son bedtime stories. One of my grandfathers had asthma, the other severe hay fever, and my father hay fever. Might I be reacting to the straw in my son's guinea-pig cage?
The doctor said I needed sinus surgery and sent me to a surgeon. A few days after the operation, I went home feeling good for the first time in two months.
But, after a week, my breathing problems resumed. The surgeon sent me back to the hospital. The resident doctors sent samples to a lab, which identified a bacterial infection that penicillin could cure. Massive doses of penicillin made digestion impossible, and I lost thirty pounds in two weeks. For the first time in years, I weighed what the charts recommended. The penicillin also seemed to cure my infection. I felt fine, and the doctors sent me home.
Again, after a week, my breathing problems resumed. After two weeks, I stopped breathing almost entirely. The crisis came on abruptly one evening. Sharlene and the university student bundled me into the auto and drove pell-mell with the horn blowing to the nearest hospital. I was nearly unconscious, but I remember white-coated people clamping a mask on my face and injecting my arms.
This time the doctors tried tetracycline because it killed bacteria that penicillin missed and some viruses. After another two weeks, I again went home feeling fine.
Then, after a few days, I stopped breathing almost entirely. Again a high-speed trip to the emergency room and vague images of white coats working over me.
When I awoke the next day, I lit a cigarette as usual. For twenty years I had smoked two to three packs a day. That morning, one of my doctors walked into the hospital room, pointed at my cigarette, and declared sternly, " That is what is killing you!"
I believed him. I put out the cigarette and have not smoked since. Thus, I found out how easy it is to quit smoking. It is very easy if you believe smoking is killing you. The withdrawal symptoms seem insignificant. I also discovered how insincere I had been the many times I had tried to quit.
Unfortunately, smoking was not really what was killing me. I suffered more breathing crises. We repeated the emergency trips.
I did not find the repetition boring, however. My doctors were running out of hypotheses and treatments. The cycles were growing shorter.
My doctors sent me to Germany's most famous allergist, whom I cherish as a prototype of ascribed expertise. I told him my hypothesis about the straw in my son's guinea-pig cage. He injected sera in my arms, looked at the reactions, and announced that I had no allergies. None at all. I pointed out that the arm with guinea-pig serum had swelled up to twice its normal diameter. The allergist said, "It is nothing significant! What do you expect after all the things I injected?"
Thereafter, I had no allergies. The ultimate authority had said so.
An editor for the Elsevier publishing company came to visit me in the hospital. He asked if I was writing a book Elsevier might publish. I was impressed by the effort he had taken, but I was busy being sick. I thanked him for his interest and promised to contact him if I did write a book. That seemed unlikely.
One day, my doctors came to see me and said I should anticipate dying. They explained they did not know why I had asthma or how to prevent it. They had no more ideas. The crises would recur. A hospital could probably revive me; but one day, I would not get to a hospital in time. So I should try to enjoy what remained of my life, which might be only a few weeks.
Having gone through eight months of escalating evidence that something was seriously wrong, I believed them and went home to die. I was 38.
I tried to figure out what to do with my remaining days, but I felt too sick to do anything useful. I did not even compose a will. I mostly stayed in bed because I had so much trouble breathing.
Sharlene watched me for a few days. Then she declared, "If you're going to die, it is not going to be at home in bed! You had better die in a doctor's office, trying to find out what is wrong with you."
I thought her heartless and unsympathetic. I also thought she was right.
I telephoned Dutton because his sister worked for a famous doctor. After inquiring, he told me to go to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
When I got to Mayo, I no longer had symptoms. None whatever! I was quite embarrassed and afraid the doctors would neither believe how sick I had been nor be able to figure out why.
However, tests disclosed allergies. Technicians carefully measured the amount of each substance injected, the time for a reaction to develop, and amount of reaction; then they referred to statistical tables and wrote down standard deviations. My reactions to most furs and feathers were two standard deviations above normal. My reactions to guinea-pig fur were off the chart, which stopped at five standard deviations.
I believe I have proven beyond all doubt that surgery is not an effective treatment for guinea pig. Surgery, penicillin, tetracycline, and other treatments had appeared to work solely because I was not at home, where we had a guinea pig and a cage of finches. Staying in a hotel would have been an effective treatment as long as the hotel had no feather pillows or fur rugs.
Why did these allergies suddenly manifest themselves? My hypothesis was stress. However, a researcher at Mayo examined my respiratory cells and said they had properties typical of allergy, whereas they would not have these properties with psychosomatic asthma. He conjectured that an infection picked up during my trip to the Soviet Union had activated latent tendencies.
Looking back from today, it looks wildly optimistic, but I had agreed to go to Milwaukee on my trip to Mayo. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee wanted to interview me for an endowed chair.
Fortunately, I arrived there in good health, and they did offer me the chair. The terms were excellent. Many of UWM's students were the first members of their families to attend college, and many held full-time jobs while they went to school. I liked the idea of a university that was offering upward mobility to working-class youth.
So did I take it? Well, yes and no. I promised to move to Milwaukee a year hence, after finishing my three-year contract with the Institute.
I had been numb to others' problems while I was ill. Sharlene had coped amazingly well, but alcohol was continuing to erode her brain. Our daughters had transferred to the bilingual school, where the one with learning disabilities had foundered in a curriculum aimed at college entrance.
Although the last sixteen months in Berlin brought no improvements for my family, they made a dramatic turning point for me. Believing I was going to die had induced serious stocktaking.
Stan Seashore was visiting in the Netherlands. We met several times, and I adopted him as a model, both positive and negative. He too had an alcoholic wife, and he spoke sadly of the brain damage she had suffered. He seemed to have been more successful than I as a father. I aspired to be as helpful to colleagues, especially younger ones. Stan had a consistent gentleness I admire but cannot sustain.
I began a practice that I commend to others who are well-known: Unless my coauthors request otherwise, I list my name last on a by-line. It makes me feel good, it eases collaboration, and my coauthors gain more from incremental publicity than I.
I had been wasting my life writing articles that few read and that left negligible long-term traces. Mathematical theories bring academic prestige, but almost no one reads them. There is a basis for European professors' skepticism about empirical research. Almost all empirical studies are forgotten as soon as they appear; and that is just as well, because they add confusion rather than clarity (Webster and Starbuck, 1988). I wanted to write things that some people would actually read, and I wanted to leave a lasting mark.
I had grown still more critical of post hoc analyses and theorizing. I had also been mulling over my conversation with the director of the birth-control-pill project, and I had seen several versions of medical diagnosis in practice. The director's views made more and more sense.
Academic research is trying to follow a model like that taught in medical schools. Scientists are translating data into theories, and promising to develop prescriptions from the theories. Data are like symptoms, theories like diagnoses, and prescriptions like treatments. Are not organizations as dynamic as human bodies and similarly complex? Theories do not capture all the information in data, and they do not determine prescriptions uniquely. Perhaps scientists could establish stronger links between data and prescriptions if they did not introduce theories between them. Indeed, should not data be results of prescriptions? Should not theories come from observing relations between prescriptions and subsequent data?
I imagined a book that would persuade organization theorists to practice prescriptive science instead of descriptive. I wrote to the Elsevier editor who had visited me in the hospital. He said they were very interested; could I submit an outline?
The outline had eighty chapters and implied a book longer than the Bible. It would take me years to write, and I obviously could not count on living for years. Furthermore, I wanted to change practices, not publish a manifesto. Change could better be fostered by enlisting helpers many and strategically chosen. So I proposed a book with eighty authors, a Handbook of Organizational Design.
Again, the Elsevier editor expressed strong interest, and asked me to identify authors for chapters. I wrote a prospectus for each chapter to define its domain and to assure that it would address prescription as well as description. I searched journals for possible authors, and fitted hundreds of names into a design matrix that took account of age, discipline, interests, imagination, and geography. Then I dispatched invitations and waited for replies.
Meanwhile, Bo Hedberg returned to the Institute after a visit home and announced that he had received a grant from his national government. Because the Swedish economy had not been growing lately, the government wanted to do something about "stagnating industries." Hedberg saw the issues in an economic and sociological frame. He wanted to find out why some industries stagnate and drive firms out of business.
I said something tactful like "Bo, you've got this thing all screwed up! The interesting question is not why industries stagnate. Technologies are always developing, people are always migrating, prices are always shifting. It's inevitable that things will change, and some of these changes will make some industries obsolete. The key issue is why do smart managers keep their firms in industries they know are stagnating? Why don't firms migrate into more promising industries when their current ones stagnate?"
Hedberg countered, "That's not realistic. Firms cannot just pick up their product lines and their engineers and plunge into new industries. Specialized skills and business connections make them captives of their environments. The firms in an industry have to evolve together. It's a problem in social policy to create incentives that keep industries vital, that keep them evolving in line with social needs and economic and technological opportunities."
Obviously we had an argument. I was saying industrial stagnation posed problems for the managers of individual firms, whereas Hedberg was saying industrial stagnation posed problems for government policies. We talked about resolving the argument by doing research together, but we would both be leaving Berlin and heading in opposite directions.
Then a letter came from Milwaukee. Did I know someone who could teach information systems and would like to visit there for a year? Hedberg agreed to do it.
After I had worked on the Handbook for over a year and lined up many authors, a letter arrived from Elsevier. It was signed with a name I had never heard, James Kels. Kels' letter said Elsevier was definitely not interested in publishing the Handbook.
Who was Kels? I telephoned him, and learned he supervised the editor with whom I had been dealing. I told Kels I would not have spent a year working on the Handbook, if I had not believed Elsevier was committed to it. He invited me to visit Amsterdam, and I hopped a plane.
Kels was charming and apologetic. He explained that, when he first wrote, he had not understood how far the editor had committed Elsevier; the editor had exceeded his authority. Kels and I disagreed mainly about the Handbook's completion date. He wanted it done much faster than I thought feasible. I agreed to strive for his target. He said that we really ought to have a formal contract, and proffered one. I signed with a sigh of relief.
That signature later proved unwise.
Endowed chairs give freedom to people who will not take advantage of it. The Milwaukee chair provided me a good salary, a light teaching load, and discretion about what I taught. At age 40, I thought I had the kind of position professors dream of. What I had not seen were the resentments of less lucky professors and the ideological split in the business faculty.
I saw the chair as a chance to help colleagues as well as to spend time on research. I imagined a mutual-support group similar to the one we had at Purdue, and I invited all and sundry to join me in a project. We would define the project jointly and seek a grant. It came as quite a surprise that only one person besides Bo Hedberg showed interest Paul Nystrom.
The three of us began a collaboration that extended ten years. We assembled a proposal by pooling our ideas. The National Science Foundation's budget had recently been cut, but our proposal looked good to us.
We also pooled ideas for a talk I was to make at a conference on organizational design. Hedberg contributed case studies and poetic ideas; Nystrom injected good sense and organized us. The talk went very well. Because it contained too many ideas for one article, we dissected it into two outlines: Hedberg turned one into a draft, Nystrom the other, and I rewrote the drafts. Learning to write better was a major step toward reorienting myself from a mathematical social scientist to a management theorist.
After NSF sent our proposal out for review, two or three of the reviewers wrote to us telling us how much they liked it. So when NSF rejected it, we were aghast. We had been so confident!
I consulted March, who had much experience with NSF. He said we should resubmit. I interviewed NSF's program director for sociology, then we did almost everything he specified and resubmitted.
Again, NSF rejected the proposal. This time, Hedberg interviewed the program director. After a long talk, the program director explained, "Look, you've got to understand that we're saving our money for grants toreal sociologists." I have submitted no proposals to NSF since.
Other strange events transpired that first year. I had been appointed to hire an assistant professor of organization science, and a young English friend had expressed interest. Although he was willing to come as an assistant professor, he had 24 strong publications more than all but a few in UWM's business faculty. I thought he represented a tremendous opportunity, so I asked the tenured professors for permission to offer him a visiting associate professorship for two years. They not only refused, they voted to hire no one in organization science. They were clearly angry. I thought their anger was a response to my proposal, but I had no idea why.
A few weeks later, without telling Nystrom or me, the other tenured professors went to the president and demanded that he replace the dean. I heard that the main accusations against the dean were two: He had long shown favoritism toward organization science, and he had given the endowed chair to an organization scientist.
Months later, two professors but I think them outliers told me I had disappointed them by not leading a revolt against the dean. They said they had voted to hire me because they had expected me to lead a revolt. I, of course, would never have moved to Milwaukee if I had suspected such a situation.
I began going to Al Anon, the organization for spouses of alcoholics. Then I confronted Sharlene about her drinking and told her I had arranged for her to enter treatment. To my surprise, she agreed.
Living with an alcoholic creates scars. Al Anon was remarkably helpful in sorting out my priorities, gaining objectivity, and figuring out what to do about myself. It worked largely because the participants were equals no one was a therapist and no one was in charge.
I also met with a marriage counsellor as part of Sharlene's treatment program. After several sessions, I realized that he seemed to be saying something unexpected. I asked, "Are you telling me I ought to get a divorce?"
He replied, "You have to decide that for yourself, but it is one possibility. Not many marriages survive alcoholism."
The ensuing weeks were very painful because I had to look behind my twenty-year-old illusions. Was it wrong to abandon the woman I had married for life? Or was the woman I had married not this one?
I also reviewed the research on divorce and on alcoholism. No treatment was more successful than spontaneous remission. Because most alcoholics go through treatments repeatedly, this round of treatment would likely produce no more than another temporary pause in a long-term decline. I dreaded spending the end of my life with someone deranged.
April Fools' Day 1975 was memorable: That day, I went through an income-tax audit, signed divorce papers, and told Sharlene I had signed them. At least, the audit ended on a light note. During the previous year, I had lived in two countries and received income from three. Exchange rates had changed monthly. The records filled a large box. After two hours, the auditor had only found that I had deducted journal subscriptions on the wrong schedule, which had no effect on my taxes. Jokingly, he asked, "If I promise to enter into the record that you are the most honest man I ever met, will you promise to go away and never come back?"
While in Germany, Sharlene and I had kept in contact with Joan Dunbar, our baby-sitter during the year in London. Joan had remained in London, single and unattached. Sharlene and our daughters stayed with Joan when they visited London, and I telephoned Joan or took her to dinner.
Thus, Joan contacted us when she came to Milwaukee on business that spring. Only there was no longer an us. Sharlene was still in treatment, and I had filed for divorce. Joan and I began to appraise each other in a different light.
Divorce turned out a blessing for Sharlene. Although she got half our assets and alimony for a few years, the money would run out eventually. She realized she had to hold a job in order to stay off skid row. And she did. She became a counsellor in an alcoholic treatment center and never reverted to drinking.
Both of my daughters dressed like hippies, and they did not fit into the local high school, where many girls wore high heels and lipstick. The older dropped out of school as soon as she was 18, and became a school-bus driver. The younger asked to attend a boarding school that had a reputation for succeeding with problem children. I enrolled her thankfully.
Two months later, the head of the school telephoned. My daughter had been caught shoplifting in a nearby town. She would not be charged, but I would have to remove her from campus immediately. Going home, she speculated, "Now, I guess you'll have to enroll me in Riverside High School."
For a dozen hours, I had been thinking I had been too gentle and too understanding. "No, I don't," I declared. "I don't plan to enroll you anywhere! I'm tired of paying for your food and housing while you screw around. You can live at home if you pay rent, but you have to get a job and start supporting yourself."
She could have taken me to court. Instead, she got a job as a waitress, began wearing neater clothes, found a college student to tutor her, and six weeks later, passed the GED with high enough scores to qualify for early admission to the university. Two months after I had driven home an expelled shoplifter, I had a seventeen-year-old college student.
She did very well her first semester, and asked for a trip to San Diego to visit friends she had known in Germany. I bought her a round-trip bus ticket.
Except for one short visit, she never came home again. She drifted northward to San Francisco, then joined a commune that was raising marijuana in the mountains.
Joan Dunbar moved from London and in with me. She had difficulty adjusting to Milwaukee and began agitating.
Meanwhile, a couple of chapters had shown how much time it would take to edit the Handbook of Organizational Design, and Nystrom agreed to share the editorship. We discovered that design was not a concept that came naturally. Some authors did not want to include prescriptive ideas in their chapters. Many authors said "is" or "must" where they meant "should." Our own feelings showed that prescriptions arouse resistance unless they are phrased contingently "In order to achieve X, one should do Y."
Bo Hedberg had returned to Sweden, where he engineered a Fulbright fellowship that he expected Nystrom to win. Hedberg persuaded the Fulbright Commission to allocate a fellowship to his department, then he wrote an advertisement for the fellowship that described the research the three of us had been doing.
Five days before the deadline, Nystrom told me he did not intend to apply for the fellowship. I had no desire to visit Sweden, but Hedberg had gone to so much trouble and might not get the kind of visitor he sought. I asked Nystrom for the application forms, thinking if I apply, I can always turn it down; but if I do not apply, I cannot change my mind later. Famous last words!
The next morning, I started to type the application. Then the telephone rang, and a static-laden voice announced cheerfully, "This is Arent Greve calling from Bergen, Norway. It is all arranged."
Who is Arent Greve? I wondered. " What is all arranged?"
"Your visit. The Board approved it."
"What visit are you talking about?"
"Your visit to Bergen next year. You and Johan Arndt discussed it at Indiana University last fall."
Good grief! Be careful what you say to strangers on buses. Months before, I had sat beside a Norwegian I did not know. He remarked that they were thinking about inviting someone to visit his school, and asked if I were interested. Assuming this was just idle chitchat, I said politely, "Well, I have enjoyed visiting other countries. Feel free to contact me."
The Norse gods seemed to be calling me to Scandinavia. I finished the Fulbright application. Not until after I won it did I realize that Hedberg's department would have no visitor at all if I refused to go.
Well, maybe a year abroad would scratch Joan's itches. I arranged to spend a summer and fall in Bergen, Norway, and a spring and summer in Gothenburg, Sweden.
We stopped in London on our way to Norway. Feeling romantic, I told Joan I loved her and asked her to marry me.
She asked, "Why?" Marriage would serve no useful purpose, she explained, for two who did not plan to have children.
My feelings were hurt.
In early fall, Nystrom and I received a letter from James Kels, who had moved to New York and taken our Handbook project with him. Kels said Elsevier had decided against publishing the Handbook. He invoked two clauses that are in every contract offered by every book publisher: One clause says the manuscript must be delivered by such-and-such date. In human history, only one author ever came through on time. If another author does finish on time, the publisher can rely on the second clause. It says, in nice language, that the publisher has to like the manuscript.
Nystrom and I were in shock. The project was four years old, and we had been editing chapters full-time for eighteen months. Many finished chapters had gone to Elsevier for copy editing.
I telephoned a friend in the Netherlands. He inquired, then told me Elsevier was controlled at the top by four men: Mr. Van Tongeren supervised Kels' division. I wrote to Mr. Van Tongeren. He telephoned me and said we should not worry: He was going to New York that very week, and he would look into the matter. Two weeks later, we received a letter from Kels saying the previous letter had been in error; Elsevier would publish the Handbook.
Sharlene telephoned. Our daughter in California had committed suicide.
I got on a plane to America. Tears were running down my cheeks. An elderly, little Scandinavian lady sat down beside me. She watched me for a few minutes. Then, she reached over, put her hand on my arm, and said, "It will be all right. I am sure that the pilot has crossed the ocean many times before."
Four months later, Dad too died suddenly. We had made peace but never truly understood each other.
Joan's skills were in short supply, so she easily found work in Norway and had three job offers in Sweden. Yet the Swedes refused to give her a work permit. Hedberg inquired, and a labor official told him that, because Joan was unmarried, they feared she might be trying to become a permanent resident of Sweden under false pretenses.
Joan said, "Let's get married so I can get a work permit."
"That's a terrible reason to marry," I answered.
Her feelings were hurt.
Another letter arrived from Kels declaring that Elsevier would not publish the Handbook. I immediately telephoned Mr. Van Tongeren. A voice from Amsterdam explained that Mr. Van Tongeren retired two weeks ago.
The Handbook was almost complete; just a few chapters still needed revision. We wanted to find another publisher quickly, before authors withdrew their chapters and published them independently.
We feared other publishers would take Elsevier's withdrawal as a signal that the Handbook was risky or unprofitable. We drafted a long letter. Only one paragraph discussed the book's content; several pages discussed business issues. Who would buy it and why? What were the competing books? How many copies would it likely sell? March's Handbook of Organizations gave a basis for a forecast. What would be the profits? Editing ASQ had taught me about typesetting and printing costs.
To play it safe, we mailed our letter to 36 publishers. We were astonished when almost all expressed interest and 24 expressed strong interest. Rather than lacking a publisher, we had far too many.
Then, one publisher pointed out that we had no right to sign another contract because we still had a contract with Elsevier. Kels had not released us from the contract. Seething, we had to ask him for a release.
We decided to focus on three publishers one prestigious academic press, one small entrepreneurial firm, and one large textbook bureaucracy. Editors from the textbook bureaucracy chartered a plane, flew to Milwaukee, and tried to induce Nystrom to sign immediately. This was their final offer they said; waiting would change nothing. He told them we were committed to negotiating with three publishers.
We told all three publishers what the others had proposed. All three then improved their proposals. Again, the textbook bureaucracy declared that they were making a final offer, but this time their credibility was zero.
One more round produced three identical offers and no basis for choosing between them. Can you guess how the textbook bureaucracy described their offer?
After doing some research by telephoning librarians and other publishers, we signed with Oxford University Press. They proved wonderful in every respect.
I believe I have learned three lessons about book publishing.
1. To publishers, books are investments made to return profits. Publishers are not interested in books' contents as such.
2. The contracts offered by publishers are written by publishers' lawyers and give rights mainly to publishers.
3. Authors should not sign contracts until their manuscripts are nearly complete. Like most people, publishers are risk averse. When they evaluate a prospectus, publishers cannot be sure when or whether an author will deliver a finished manuscript, how good that manuscript will be, in what state the economy will be at that time, or what other publishing projects will be vying for their attention. When publishers evaluate a completed manuscript, they have much less uncertainty.
When we signed with Oxford, we expected the Handbook to appear within a year. It took three.
With Nystrom's help, Hedberg and I eventually settled the argument begun in Berlin. Fortunately for our friendship, we settled it by agreeing that we had both been partly right. We stopped talking about stagnating environments and started talking about organizations facing crises.
Crises are indeed produced by organization's environments, although not quite as Hedberg had initially conceived. Environments change so as to obsolete markets, products, and technologies, but environments also endorse notions about how to organize that make it hard for organizations to adapt to environmental changes.
Crises are produced by organizations as well, but somewhat differently than I had conceived at first. Organizations do make mistakes, but they also strive to stabilize their environments and they blind themselves to environmental events that deviate from their expectations ("Why Organizations Run into Crises," 1989).
Hegel would have been proud of us. Our apparently contrary positions were two aspects of a more complex interpretation. Of course, such an outcome may also have been an inevitable result of our friendship, which had grown much stronger through years of collaboration.
Joan had rejected my proposal in London, and I had rejected hers in Gothenburg. Now we were back in Milwaukee, and we had lived together nearly three years. I thought I wanted to marry her, but I was not sure marriage was a good idea because people tend to put less effort into permanent relations than temporary ones. I was sure a proposal would be a turning point.
One evening, Joan queried, "What's bothering you? You've been wandering around distracted for two weeks."
I thought, well, now you're going to have to tell her what is on your mind; and if you are going to do that, you had might as well propose; and if you are going to do that, you had might as well do it the right way. I knelt at her feet and asked, "Will you please marry me?"
She paused for a moment, then said both smiling and serious, "I'm going to say yes, but first I have to think about it."
Her logic was impeccable: She did not want to leave me in doubt, but neither did she intend to jump at my proposal too eagerly.
Thus, I married our baby-sitter. The moral for doctoral students is: Choose your dissertation supervisor carefully, for he might marry your sister.
Nystrom and I became ever closer collaborators, like Stan and Ollie. Other people claimed we shouted at each other; we called it discussion. We wrote almost everything together, each doing the tasks we did best. We jointly taught many courses, each covering the topics we liked best.
I mainly taught in the Executive MBA program. In one course, the executives attacked real-life problems arising from their jobs. Alone or in small groups, they identified problems, designed change efforts, attempted the change efforts, monitored the results, analyzed what had happened, and then designed new change efforts. The problems ranged from a difficult subordinate to reorienting a division. I learned more than any of the students, because I watched 150 such efforts over ten years, but I have yet to do something with what I learned.
Hedberg reported that he had bought an Apple computer for his home. I had not known such tiny computers existed, but headed for the nearest dealer. Two hours later, we had a new member of our household.
With bloodshot eyes and unaware of my surroundings, I wrote programs twenty hours a day. Joan reacted as if I had brought another woman into the house. After two months, she demanded that we leave town for a vacation anywhere.
After we came home from our trip, I finally opened a packet I had bought initially. It was a word-processing program, and I drafted three articles in a month. I had always found writing very hard to start: I would write the first sentence over and over for days, even weeks. With the Apple, it no longer mattered what I said first because everything could be juggled around so easily.
At IBM, I had programmed in machine language the codes used by computer hardware. I decided to relearn machine-language programming with my Apple. Then I decided to write a word-processing program better than the one I was using. Then I decided to write a manual and to find a publisher. A large computer-users club took it on. Then it needed additions to accommodate hardware variations. Finally,Microwriter went on sale for $12.50.
I tried to teach information systems to executives. I believed then, and still do, that every manager should have hands-on experience with computers. They also ought to try a bit of programming in order to appreciate the difficulty of writing error-free programs. In the early 1980s, these ideas were a decade ahead of their time.
The executives rebelled. One posted on the bulletin board an article from the Wall Street Journal titled "Real Managers Don't Touch Computers." Their ratings of my teaching nearly set a new record in the wrong direction.
The Handbook finally appeared in print eight years after it began. The Academy of Management gave it the Terry award as the best book on management published that year, and Oxford made a second printing. Perseverance and quality had paid off, although the intended payoffs better science and better organizations will take a long time and help from others.
At the University of Wisconsin, pay increases were partly across-the-board and partly for merit, with merit increases being voted by the tenured professors. UWM's tenured professors awarded me no merit increases whatever for several years in the beginning, even though I published at least as well as anyone else, my teaching ratings almost always ranked in the top five, and I served on as many editorial boards as the rest of the faculty together. Eventually, the tenured professors began awarding me small raises, and the dean intervened with additions to these. Then Wisconsin elected a governor who said universities cost too much. For four years, everyone got tiny raises. Of course, wages outside Wisconsin did not obey UWM's tenured professors or the governor.
I had visited New York University many times. Dutton had moved there from SMU, and I usually stopped to see his family when I passed through. Then Roger Dunbar moved to NYU. Through Dunbar and Dutton, I met many of the management faculty. Four NYU professors in other fields had been my colleagues in Berlin.
In 1982, David Rogers asked if I wanted to be considered for an endowed chair at NYU. I sent him my résumé but told him I was very unlikely to leave Milwaukee. My colleagues in organization sciences were terrific. We had an incredible apartment. Joan really liked her friends and her job. We both found the city of Milwaukee very comfortable.
NYU offered the chair to someone else.
The next year, Alan Meyer, a colleague and close friend, came up for promotion to tenure. The tenured professors' discussion of his case dramatized the ideological split. An economist who had not published since he received tenure observed that there were already enough high-quality professors in organization science. Karl Weick had written a letter saying Meyer's article was the best ASQ had published for five years and ASQ had nominated it for a national award. A statistician conjectured that Weick was only trying to make it appear ASQ published good articles; because of its lack of statistical rigor, the research did not meet minimum scientific standards. Heads nodded sagely in agreement. Ten of nineteen voted for tenure.
Soon after, David Rogers telephoned and said they were reopening the search for a chairholder. This time, I was interested. I was fed up with conflict and people who thought they looked bad because their neighbors looked good.
I visited NYU informally and met with Dean Bob Hawkins. He said the search committee had nominated me for the chair, he agreed, and he would mail me an offer before Christmas. He asked what teaching interested me most. I said I would like more contact with doctoral students. He said NYU needed that.
Christmas came and passed with no offer. In late January, Rogers reported that there would be a delay: A few professors had protested the lack of democracy in choosing me. In early March, Rogers explained that some had nominated another candidate. Both candidates would visit, then the entire management faculty would vote.
I was in a beauty pageant. I was not certain I wanted the title, but I do hate losing.
Typically, I took a risk. I noticed that the NYU professors had been asking questions about me instead of my research. Hiring, I realized, is a choice of a person rather than a project. So I set aside my planned talk and spoke about myself. I tried to be as forthright as I could, exposing my faults and mistakes as well as my successes and good fortune.
At the end of my talk, one listener excoriated me in no uncertain terms. He exploded: "I have heard Robert Heilbroner and Arthur Schlesinger tell about their lives and learned from them, but I have learned nothing from your life. You have merely wasted our time."
His attack shook me. However, other listeners realized that he had missed the point; so he had underscored the fact that I had not lectured, but spoken plainly as a person.
In late April, my telephone rang and a woman's voice said, "Dean Hawkins is calling. Just one moment please."
Hawkins said cheerfully, "I'm calling to offer you the ITT Chair. I believe you know the terms."
I replied, "No, no one ever told me the terms." One might wonder why I had not asked.
Hawkins asked, "Didn't you and I discuss the salary and other terms when we talked before Christmas?"
"No," I answered.
"Well, this is what we are offering." He named a couple of numbers.
I interjected, "Just a moment, I need to get a pencil." Mainly, I needed to digest the numbers he had stated.
Joan did not want to leave Milwaukee or to live in New York. Yet, we agreed, if I turned down this offer, we should plan on staying in Milwaukee indefinitely. People who knew I had rejected these terms would not bother making offers. NYU had a superb faculty and excellent doctoral students. Too, I figured a contestant in a beauty pageant should not withdraw after the emcee names the winner.
Ned Elton, a friend from Berlin, advised us to rent an apartment from NYU, and Joan wanted to see what that meant. I told Hawkins that we wanted to look at apartments before finally saying yes.
NYU's housing agent explained that he had two exceptional apartments to show us. The first was acceptable to us, but only three rooms, and ugly compared to our place in Milwaukee. The second apartment was gorgeous many rooms, leaded windows, fireplace, parquet floors, overlooking a park.
I promptly declared, "We'll take it."
The agent said, "I'm sorry but you can't have it. We're saving it for one of the three deans the university is trying to hire."
"Then why did you show it to us?" I asked.
"Well," he explained, "you're important enough to see it, just not important enough to have it."
A few days after I accepted NYU's offer, Sharlene was killed in an auto accident.
NEW YORK, 1985-
I had been at NYU for about six weeks and was renewing acquaintance with Ned Elton in his office in NYU's finance department. He asked, "Would you like to go to lunch? We have a lunchroom where the economics and finance professors gather every noon, and I always grab a sandwich and eat there. It's a good place to see everybody and to find out what is going on."
I said, "Sure," and we headed for the cafeteria to buy sandwiches.
When we walked into the lunchroom, Ned jokingly announced, "Everybody, this is Bill Starbuck. He's one of the enemy."
To find out what happened next, you will have to read the next installment.
LESSONS TO LEARN
I offer one last anecdote to those who feel they have not learned enough already. It has at least four morals, probably more. It also echoes two lessons about social science research, one of them very important.
I was touring Mexico. Before departing, I read a travel guide that warned one not to drink water from faucets. So for two weeks, I carefully restricted myself to the bottled water that every room provided.
Near midnight on a very hot night in Yucatan, I drank the last of my bottled water. I took my bottle down to the desk clerk and asked if he could get me more.
He said, "I will be happy to help you as soon as I am finished, but you are welcome to get the water yourself."
"I don't mind getting the water myself," I answered. "Where is it?"
"Just fill the bottle at that faucet over there," he instructed.
"You mean this is just ordinary water from the faucet! Why do you put it in bottles?
"Tourists refuse to drink it unless it is in bottles," he explained.
I am grateful to David Ahlstrom, Art Bedeian, Dick Cyert, Joan Dunbar, John Dutton, Diane Elton, Ned Elton, Bo Hedberg, Helaine Korn, Alan Meyer, Nancy Meyer, Danny Miller, Paul Nystrom, Narayan Pant, Marc Pilisuk, Stan Seashore, and Bhatt Vadlamani for their corrections and suggestions.
Roger L. M. Dunbar, J.M. Dutton, and William R. Torbert, 1982. Crossing Mother: Ideological constraints on organizational improvements. Journal of Management Studies, 19, 91-108.
Howard L. Fromkin, 1969. The behavioral science laboratories at Purdue's Krannert School. Administrative Science Quarterly, 14, 171-177.
Herbert A. Simon, 1955. A behavioral model of rational choice. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 69, 99-118.