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    Why Hard Nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory

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    In the article "Why Hard Nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory" by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor (Harvard Business Review article, no. R0309D) some of its focus is on the issue that management would use research in gathering information; that research discovery is a valid effort but results are contingent and may be useful in some situations but not others.

    Given that:
    • management is a decision making entity
    • decisions should be informed decisions
    • some decisions require prompt decision making, and
    • research is time consuming

    Develop guidelines for how and when research should be used by management.

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    Solution Preview

    The sociologist Kurt Lewin once observed that "there is nothing so practical as a good theory." This apparent paradox is another way of making Christiansen's point that applied experience, whether accumulated by the firm itself over time or accumulated by a researcher in the course of a project, is of relatively little value without some organizing framework that allows the experience to be generalized to other settings. That framework is what we call "theory". Theories can be extremely broad in their range or applicable to only specific contexts. In general, researchers have an incentive to push their theories as applicable to as wide a range of circumstances as possible. Almost every theory, even those that enjoy a wide range of success in many different settings, can be pushed too far.

    In order to decide whether a particular theory is applicable in a particular executive choice situation, you need to know a great deal about the data that underlie the theory and the range of circumstances over which it may have been tested. Often, that information is not generally available, particularly through published sources, so it's often hard to determine the range of generalizability of the study. Moreover, most published studies do not go into the limitations of generalizability in any great detail, even if it is understood by the authors (which it is not always). So simply reading a piece of research is seldom enough to provide a sound basis for trying recommendations emerging from that research in a practical executive setting. However, it's easy to forget this point when dealing with a researcher/theorist with a smooth tongue and a smoother set of smoothed data. As noted, all the incentives for researchers involve pushing the range of generalizability ...

    Solution Summary

    This analysis discusses the circumstances under which research and theory and management can enhance decision-making and the limitations on the value of research posed by decision characteristics such as scope, time frame, complexity, and/or breadth and visibility of consequences. It suggests that this is a multiattribute decision problem where different decision characteristics interact in different ways to suggest the utility of more or less emphasis on background research and theory.