Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hooray for mindless tv and organization research!

Earlier this week we actually managed to complete a research paper (and with 'complete', I mean it was submitted for the first time, so will probably take another say, 2-3 years, until it is really complete let alone published, but I'll save the in(s)ane process of academic publishing for another time, perhaps!!). Anyway. During a work-related conversation about the creative, I-want-to-pull-out-my-hair frustratingly process of writing the dang paper, my office mate admitted to having watched The (fairly lame yet mesmerizing) 'Ultimate Dance Battle' (TUDB), and she likened our academic process to that of the choreographers in the show. I too begrudgingly admitted to watching the show (it is a show), but worse: I had had the exact same thoughts.

In fact, watching the ways in which each of the 5 choreographers tried to ensure their team was the best, also had on more than one occassion driven me to analyze it from an organization science perspective. For instance, modern dance choreographer Isabelle manifested a nurturing and motherly style in her team 'management', involving the dancers in the creative process, and reflecting a highly personal investment in her choreography. She developed a strong bond in her team, who danced convincing and moving performances, even though the creative process was often somewhat chaotic. On the complete other end of the spectrum, hiphop choreographer Shaker followed a boot camp style of training, deciding on his strategy and choreography in a highly controlling and precise fashion, and pushing his dancers to the max (and beyond) of their abilities, while neglecting any attempt to develop a sense of group among them. All in all, Isabelle appeared to care more about her group's cohesion than about winning, while Shaker was so focused on winning, that the dancers as people and as a team were neglected.

Ironically, it was Shaker who actually lost, getting kicked out of the battle first!

So what does this result suggest, from an organizational perspective? 3 things, I guess. First, in terms of innovating and realizing objectives in a creative process, team cohesion appears more important than purposiveness. Recent research by my colleagues (Soekijad et al., Organization Studies, in press) identifies that managers need to balance 'buffering and brokering' and 'conducting and controlling' strategies in knowledge-intensive organizations - so what we see in TUDB as empirical field extends these findings into the creative sector (where incidentally personal involvement is equally critical as in knowledge-intensive organizations).

Second, it confirms that chaos sometimes is the best way to achieve your goal - perhaps even it is a necessary component of the creative process. The challenge of course is overcoming the chaos. But there again the necessity of having a good team is reasserted (and fortunately, this team I do have). So next time I feel stuck in chaos, I guess it's a good thing (erhum).

Third, watching mindless tv is rewarding! It's a fun domain for quasi-scientific case study research. It helps you understand how your research is actually relevant to other sectors. It's a provocative topic of conversation in a highly intellectual work environment. But most of all, it helps you realize: organization science is relevant to everything in the world. And so what I am involved in on a daily basis within the thick grey walls of the university is not futile at all, but supremely important. Ahhhhh.

High time I finish my PhD...