Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Management and Natural Sciences


A thought that has been troubling me for a while now is the gradually diminishing interdisciplinary nature of intellectual sources in the field of strategic management, and more broadly in management. While management and related areas have come into their own as fields of academic inquiry, their connections with other areas, particularly with the natural sciences, have become tenuous. 

This should surprise us, given that pioneers in the field worked on frontiers of multiple disciplines. Perhaps the best example of this is Herbert Simon - his interests in artificial intelligence and human behavior helped advance both fields (and our understanding of both the limitations and uniqueness of computers vis-a-vis humans), and to him we owe our thoughts on "bounded rationality" of human beings, and its wider use in the behavioral theory of the firm, and other theories that came later.

Notice in contrast that interesting work on concepts such as "bounded self-interest" and social neuroscience is still on the fringes of the core domain of management, despite its potential for theories of organization and human behavior in organizations. I'm thinking of applications to stakeholder management, employee motivation, social networks, institutional theory, etc. How about connections with Ghoshal's long standing critique of certain elements of human behavior (assumptions of opportunism: self-interest with guile) in transaction cost theorizing.

In a similar vein, a while ago I was alerted to developments in research on mirror neurons, and neuroscience in general (at least the cognitive and behavioral branches of neuroscience). Imagine the possibilities for drawing connections to management areas, say, the actions, imitation and learning in organizations through observing actions of the Board members, CEO, and others in leadership positions.

While management has absorbed several research methodologies from the natural sciences (the appropriateness of certain borrowed methodologies for social science phenomena is and should be much debated), there seem to be few theoretical exchanges going on. Any examples of new interdisciplinary exchanges between management and the natural sciences?