Weick, Karl E. Drop your tools : : An allegory for organizational studies. Administrative Science Quarterly. v41 n2. Jun 1996. p. 301-313 (13 pages).
Copyright Cornell University Graduate School of Business 1996
The failure of 27 wildland firefighters to follow orders to drop their heavy tools so they could move faster and outrun an exploding fire led to their death within sight of safe areas. Possible explanations for this puzzling behavior are developed using guidelines proposed by James D. Thompson, the first editor of the Administrative Science Quarterly. These explanations are then used to show that scholars of organizations are in analogous threatened positions, and they too seem to be keeping their heavy tools and falling behind. ASQ's 40th anniversary provides a pretext to reexamine this potentially dysfunctional tendency and to modify it by reaffirming an updated version of Thompson's original guidelines.
Anniversaries, such as ASQ's 40th year of publication, are occasions to take stock. Taking stock is an activity that is often a complex mixture of appreciation, wariness, anticipation, regret, and pride, all fused into thoughts of renewal. Carlos Fuentes (1990: 49-50) talked about the complications of renewal when he described the modern dilemma as "how to accept the diversity and mutation of the world while retaining the mind's power of analogy and unity so that this changing world shall not become meaningless. Being modern is not a question of sacrificing the past in favor of the new, but of monitoring, comparing, and remembering values we created, making them modern so as not to lose the value of the modern."
In this essay, I explore a set of remembered, founding values for organizational studies articulated by the first editor of ASQ, James D. Thompson (1956) in the first issue of the journal. The vehicle I use to explore these values is a story of organizing and death that played itself out in two separate disasters involving crews engaged in wildland firefighting. In 1949, 13 firefighters lost their lives at Mann Gulch, and in 1994, 14 more firefighters lost their lives under similar conditions at South Canyon. In both cases, these 23 men and four women were overrun by exploding fires when their retreat was slowed because they failed to drop the heavy tools they were carrying. By keeping their tools, they lost valuable distance they could have covered more quickly if they had been lighter (Putnam. 1994, 1995). All 27 perished within sight of safe areas. The question is, why did the firefighters keep their tools! The imperative, "drop your tools or you will die," is the image that I want to examine more closely.
The reluctance to drop one's tools when threat intensifies is not just a problem for firefighters. Navy seamen sometimes refuse orders to remove their heavy steel-toed shoes when they are forced to abandon a sinking ship, and they drown or punch holes in life rafts as a result. Fighter pilots in a disabled aircraft sometimes refuse orders to eject, preferring instead the "cocoon of oxygen" still present in the cockpit. Karl Wallenda, the world-renowned high-wire artist, fell to his death still clutching his balance pole, when his hands could have grabbed the wire below him.
Dropping one's tools is a proxy for unlearning, for adaptation, for flexibility, in short, for many of the dramas that engage organizational scholars. It is the very unwillingness of people to drop their tools that turns some of these dramas into tragedies. These dramas, however, are not confined simply to the people in organizations that scholars study. The scholars themselves are equally at risk. Kaplan's (1964: 28) "law of the instrument" portrays part of the risk: "Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding. It comes as no particular surprise to discover that a scientist formulates problems in a way which requires for their solution just those techniques in which he himself is especially skilled." What else is "the law of the instrument" but a pointed comment that social scientists refuse to drop their paradigms, parables, and propositions when their own personal survival is threatened. To drop one's tools, then, is an allegory for all seasons that is capable of connecting the past with the present.
To introduce the allegory as a vehicle for stocktaking, I develop the following argument. First, I briefly paraphrase Thompson's four guidelines for inquiry in administrative science. Second, I analyze the puzzling reluctance of firefighters to drop their tools and craft this analysis using Thompson's guidelines. Specifically, the analysis highlights the power of context, the complex relationships that determine organized behavior, and the power of abstract concepts to reflect the details of firefighting into systems of thought. Third, I exploit the allegorical quality of the story and suggest that organizational scholars are in a similar threatened position to that of the firefighters and face a similar imperative to drop their heavy tools or they will be overrun. To drop one's tools is simultaneously to accept mutation and to modernize remembered values or to believe the past as well as doubt it. These complex simultaneities are the essence of renewal and, therefore, provide a suitable way to observe ASQ's 40th anniversary.
THOMPSON'S FOUNDING VALUES FOR ASQ
In the first issue of ASQ, the founding editor, James D. Thompson, published his own vision of what the then-emerging field of administrative science might look like. The abstract for his essay, titled "On Building an Administrative Science" (Thompson, 1956: 102), read as follows :
The unique contribution of science lies in its combination of deductive and inductive methods for the development of reliable knowledge. The methodological problems of the basic sciences are shared by the applied fields. Administrative science will demand a focus on relationships, the use of abstract concepts, and the development of operational definitions. Applied sciences have the further need for criteria of measurement and evaluation. Present abstract concepts of administrative processes must be operationalized and new ones developed or borrowed from the basic social sciences. Available knowledge in scattered sources needs to be assembled and analyzed. Research must go beyond description and must be reflected against theory. It must study the obvious as well as the unknown. The pressure for immediately applicable results must be reduced.
At first this sounds like standard visionary boilerplate. On closer inspection, it foreshadows values that stand up well as a framework for renewal that both accepts mutation and creates analogy.
Thompson's first sentence in the essay hints at his approach: "The issue of science vs. art for administration seems to be vanishing with the realization that one approach does not rule out the other" (p. 102). Nevertheless, since Thompson is not launching the "Administrative Art Quarterly," he makes clear that his concern with science does not mean that he is preoccupied with measurement, quantification, statistics, or laboratory experiments. Instead, he is interested in work that uses "both deductive and inductive techniques for the development of logical, abstract, tested systems of thought" (p. 104). Here's where the remembered values surface, all four of which Thompson regards as vital if inductive and deductive approaches are to be "blended" (p. 104).
First, administrative science should "focus on relationships" among phenomena under stated conditions. Straightforward as this sounds, Thompson goes on to note that relationships are often assumed rather than demonstrated. Configurations and contingencies are ignored in favor of simple relationships, and people settle for assertions that A and B lead to C without asking the further questions of what else do A and B bring about, and what else leads to C (p. 108)?
The second value is "the use of abstract concepts" to permit generalization and to move beyond concrete events and research organized around "ad hoc hypotheses" (p. 106). Thompson is worried that organizational researchers expend too much effort compiling incidents that support rather than test particular points of view. He also worries that people will forego abstraction in favor of the immediately applicable and settle for "common-sense hypotheses framed at low levels of abstraction, without regard for general theory" (p. 110). In a statement that could have come right out of the '90s, he insists that "current 'best practice' must be examined critically" (p. 111, italics in original) .
The third value involves "the development of operational definitions" that bridge concepts and raw experience. His interest in operational definitions is driven not by positivist dogma, but by a desire to avoid concepts that are sterile, forever debatable, and unable to be tested widely. Though Thompson labels his concern as being that of "definition," in fact he is arguing for operational distinctions or delineations so that theories can be differentiated at the scientific level, as well as at the metaphysical level. Theories are tested only by imperfect exemplifications of their parameters, which means that definitional operationism is impossible, but multiple operationism using designations that are flawed in different ways, is not (Campbell, 1988). The key issue for Thompson is grounding and approximations to knowledge, not spurious hard-headedness. Thompson resorts to some unusual verbs to make his argument about bridging, noting, for example, that empirical observations need to be "reflected" against theoretical systems and that scientific progress requires "convertibility of symbolic currency" (p. 107).
The fourth value discussed is that of the criterion problem: How do we judge that one relationship yields a more desirable net effect than another one? Values of achievement, utility, service, preservation, and maintenance are mentioned as examples, with the clear caveat that administrative science has yet to address this issue. The importance of doing so lies in trying to predict the consequences of various administrative actions. In the present essay, for example, I invoke literal death as the criterion against which the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of organizing can be judged. By doing so, I have implied that deaths of a different kind, such as those involving censored ideas, loss of face, depression, loss of spirit, withdrawal, and avoided tests, are also legitimate criteria. When we try to assess the effects of new organizational forms, examination of the effects on bottom-line financial performance is narrow and misses the larger issues of the unique qualities behavior assumes by virtue of its being organized. Forms of organizing may hasten or slow other forms of death than bankruptcy, divestiture, acquisition, merger, or dissolution. But we won't know that if we restrict the criteria we examine. Thompson was uneasy about the criterion problem in 1956, and renewal in 1996 may well benefit from reinstatement of his unease.
It is remembered values such as these four that need to be modernized rather than sacrificed if we in organizational studies are to accept current diversity and mutation without losing either a sense of unity or the power of analogy. To illustrate how these values can be deployed, I briefly analyze the relationship between tools and tragedy at two separate wildland fires.
TOOL DROPPING AT MANN GULCH AND SOUTH CANYON
The first of the two disasters, Mann Gulch, was made famous in Norman Maclean's (1992) book titled Young Men and Fire. This accident occurred on August 5, 1949 when 14 young smokejumpers, their foreman Wagner Dodge, and a forest ranger were trapped near the bottom of a 76-percent slope in western Montana by an exploding fire. Thirteen of these men were killed when they tried to outrun the fire, ignoring both an order to drop their heavy tools and an order to lie down in an area where fuel had been burned off by an escape fire Dodge lit. Of the three who survived, Dodge lived by lying down in the cooler area created by the escape fire, and two others, Bob Sallee and Walter Rumsey, lived by squeezing through a break in the rocks at the top of the siope. Maclean (1992: 73) describes the crucial episode of tool dropping this way:
Dodge's order was to throw away just their packs and heavy tools, but to his surprise some of them had already thrown away all their equipment. On the other hand, some of them wouldn't abandon their heavy tools, even after Dodge's order. Diettert, one of the most intelligent of the crew, continued carrying both his tools until Rumsey caught up with him, took his shovel, and leaned it against a pine tree. Just a little farther on, Rumsey and Sallee passed the recreation guard, Jim Harrison, who, having been on the fire all afternoon, was now exhausted. He was sitting with his heavy pack on and was making no effort to take it off.
At South Canyon, outside Glenwood Springs, Colorado, roughly the same thing happened 45 years later on July 6, 1994. Again, late on a hot, dry, windy afternoon, near 4:00 P.M., flames on the side of a gulch away from firefighters jumped across onto their side beneath them and, in the words of the inquiry board, "moved onto steep slopes and into dense, highly flammable Gambel oak. Within seconds a wall of flame raced up the hill toward the firefighters on the west flank fireline. Failing to outrun the flames, 12 firefighters perished. Two helitack crew members on the top of the ridge also died when they tried to outrun the fire to the northwest. The remaining 35 firefighters survived by escaping out the east drainage or seeking a safety area and deploying their fire shelters" (U.S. Forest Service, 1994: 2).
The firefighters who perished did not drop their tools or packs while trying to escape. For example, a portion of the site and thermal analysis of the body of firefighter #10, written at the time the bodies were being recovered from the hillside on July 7, reads as follows: "was still wearing his back pack. ... Victim has chain saw handle still in hand with chain saw immediately above right hand. Saw blade is parallel to firefighter #9's left leg." Dropping their tools or packs would have significantly increased the firefighters' chance of escape. "Since this crew walked part of the way out, an analysis was made based on the assumption that they ran all the way out. Another analysis assumed that they dropped their packs and tools and could have moved quicker exerting the same amount of energy. Both analyses reveal that the firefighters would have reached the top of the ridge before the fire if they had perceived the threat from the start" (U.S. Forest Service, 1994: A3-5).
Explanations for the Failure to Drop Tools
There are at least ten reasons why firefighters in both incidents may have failed to drop their tools:
1. Listening. There is some evidence that the sheer roar of the fire precluded people from hearing the order to drop their tools and run. At Mann Gulch, Robert Sallee reported that he couldn't understand foreman Dodge when he ordered people to move into an area cleared by his escape fire (Sallee, 1949: 79), and Rumsey agreed that he couldn't hear instructions clearly (Rumsey, 1949: 104-107). This dynamic also cannot be ruled out at South Canyon, since the people shouting at the retreating crew to run were separated from them by several hundred feet, and the fire had begun to roll with flame heights reaching 300 feet.
2. Justification. People persist when they are given no clear reasons to change. At Mann Gulch, foreman Dodge did little briefing of his crew throughout the incident. One of the few times he spoke to them was when he gave the order to drop their tools. When the accident investigation board asked Dodge to tell them what reason he gave for dropping tools (Dodge, 1949: 121), Dodge replied, "It wasn't necessary. You could see the fire pretty close and we had to increase our rate of travel some way or another." What was clear to Dodge may not have been as clear to the other 15, nine of whom were first-year smokejumpers and all of whom had more experience fighting fires in timber than in the dry grass where they now found themselves. At South Canyon, the firefighters who kept their tools were also not given a reason to drop them. No one told them that they were at the head of an onrushing fire, which is crucial information, because it was plausible for them to perceive that they were on the north flank of the fire.
3. Trust. People persist when they don't trust the person who tells them to change. Members of the firecrew at Mann Gulch did not know Dodge well (U.S. Forest Service, 1949: 112), which made it hard for them to know how credible his orders and actions were. At South Canyon, the Prineville firefighters did not know the five smokejumpers mixed in with their crew, all five of whom had told the crew either to run or to deploy their shelters. These instructions were not legitimate orders, nor were they mentioned by trusted people.
4. Control. A prominent definition of technology is that it consists of knowledge of cause-effect relations (e.g., Rogers and Chen, 1990: 17). In the case of firefighters, keeping one's hand tools is consistent with a cause-effect relationship for survival. The odds of surviving in a fire shelter as a fire passes over it are increased if the area around the shelter is clear of material that might catch fire and melt the shelter or allow flame to move inside it. Thus people who keep a hand tool retain a cause that may help them escape a fire. If, however, they also keep chainsaws or gas cans, then escape is more difficult. Furthermore, the mere knowledge that one retains some capacity to alter the environment, even if it is not exercised, may serve as a sort of "panic button" (Glass and Singer, 1972) and improve the quality of problem solving.
5. Ski at dropping. People may keep their tools because they don't know how to drop them. I know how absurd that sounds. But think again. At Mann Gulch, Rumsey mentioned that even though he was running for his life, he grabbed Diettert's shovel and leaned it against a tree. At South Canyon, firefighter Clinton Rhoades' testimony shows that while outrunning the fire, he spent valuable time trying to find where he could put down his saw so it wouldn't get burned. In his words, "at some point, about 300 yards up the hill ... I then realized I still had my saw over my shoulder! I irrationally started looking for a place to put it down where it wouldn't get burned. I found a place I it [sic] didn't, though the others' saws did. I remember thinking I can't believe I'm putting down my saw" (U.S. Forest Service, 1994: Appendix 5).
People who have learned during training to carry out whatever equipment they carry into a fire and who hear over and over how much equipment costs (e.g., a fireshelter costs $23, a parachute $600) might be at a disadvantage when, without prior experience of what it feels like or how to do it, they are told to drop their tools and their packs. From what we know about the effects of stress on overlearned behavior (e.g., Weick, 1990), the safest prediction would be that firefighters under pressure would regress to what they know best, which in this case would be keeping their tools. If somehow they could override that tendency, they still might try to protect these expensive tools by putting them down carefully away from potential flames, which eats up precious time.
6. Skill with replacement activity. People may keep their familiar tools in a frightening situation because an unfamiliar alternative, such as deploying a fire shelter, is even more frightening. People at Mann Gulch found it hard to drop their tools, but they found it even harder to comprehend the function of Dodge's escape fire. No one followed Dodge in, and some thought the fire was supposed to serve as a buffer between them and the oncoming blowup (Sallee, 1949: 77). It is equally strange to be told to deploy a fire shelter. Firefighters do not get much practice deploying fire shelters. Furthermore, it is tough to open a shelter while running in turbulent winds, with gloves on, and while looking for a clear flat area in which to lie down.
7. Failure. To drop one's tools may be to admit failure. To retain one's tools is to postpone this admission and to feel that one is still in it and still winning. The year just prior to both Mann Gulch (U.S. Forest Service, 1949: 116-122) and South Canyon had been a light fire season, and people were relatively rusty in sizing up fires and their explosive potential. Thus, faced with an ambiguously developing situation and with an aggressive crew that would prefer to handle things itself rather than turn over an escaped fire to a more experienced crew, leaders might well be reluctant to admit failure.
8. Social dynamics. People in a line may hold onto their tools as a result of social dynamics such as pluralistic ignorance (O'Gorman, 1986). If the first firefighter walking up an escape route keeps his or her tools, then the second person in line, who feels more fear, may conclude that the first person is not scared. Having concluded that there appears to be no cause for worry, the second person also retains his or her tools and is observed to do so by the third person in line, who similarly infers less danger than may exist. Each person individually may be fearful but mistakenly concludes that even/one else is calm. Thus, the situation appears to be safe, except that no one actually believes that it is. The actions of the last person in line, the one who feels most intensely the heat of the blowup, are observed by no one, which means it is tough to convey the gravity of the situation back up to the front of the line.
9. Consequences. People will not drop their tools if they believe that doing so won't make much difference. Small changes in speed and distance, changes on the order of 8 more inches covered per second, can mean the difference between safety and death. At South Canyon, if firefighters had dropped their tools five minutes before the fire hit them, they would all have been able to cover another 228 feet at the rate they were already moving, which would have put all of them close to or over the top (Putnam, 1995). But the cumulative effects of a small change made possible by carrying fewer tools are not evident, nor do they feel plausible psychologically, given the intense environment of wind, sound, heat, flying debris, and smoke. Small changes seem like trivial changes, so nothing changes.
10. Identity. Finally, implicit in the idea that people can drop their tools is the assumption that tools and people are distinct, separable, and dissimilar. But fires are not fought with bodies and bare hands, they are fought with tools that are often distinctive trademarks of firefighters and central to their identity. Firefighting tools define the firefighter's group membership, they are the firefighter's reason for being deployed in the first place, they create capability, they are given the same care that the firefighters themselves get (e.g., tools are collected and sharpened after every shift), and they are meaningful artifacts that define the culture. Given the central role of tools in defining the essence of a firefighter, it is not surprising that dropping one's tools creates an existential crisis. Without my tools, who am I? A coward? A fool? The fusion of tools with identities means that under conditions of threat, it makes no more sense to drop one's tools than to drop one's pride. Tools and identities form a unity without seams or separable elements.
Although these 10 reasons for persistence in the face of threat have been discussed using the concrete events of firefighting, the analysis builds on Thompson's principles. First, the preceding list shows that the willingness of endangered firefighters to drop their tools is overdetermined. Overdetermination is simply another way of stating Thompson's first point that people have multiple, interdependent, socially coherent reasons for doing what they do. These interconnected reasons constitute social systems that become visible only when we "focus on relationships."
Second, the multiple ways in which people relate to tools can be understood more fully if we interpret those actions using abstract concepts such as justification, trust, and identity. It is these abstractions that allow us to compare Mann Gulch with South Canyon. to infer the likelihood of future tragedies in firefighting, and to extrapolate to other settings in which analogous threats may arise. These abstractions also convert the ad hoc hypotheses that worried Thompson into more generic processes seen in other places. It is these connections that bring more resources to bear on the problem of fatalities in fire suppression and in turn provide vivid instances that enrich and deepen the concepts.
Third, the preceding analysis of tool dropping retains some measure of plausibility because, following Thompson's third guideline, abstract concepts are tied to concrete action: Justification = length and depth of briefing regarding suppression strategy; trust = willingness to follow unusual orders given by strangers; and identity = preoccupation with reputation as a can-do firefighter. These bridges encourage ongoing induction and deduction. More important, the bridges forestall endless debates because the arguments are grounded, focused, and corrigible. If crew foremen lengthen their briefings or increase crew members' familiarity with each other or replace a can-do identity, and if endangered firefighters sti refuse to drop their tools, then justification, trust, and identity, at least as defined here, are suspect explanations. What is more crucial, it is precisely because of the conceptual grounding that we are encouraged to move off these explanations to find better ones. This was not news, even back in 1956. But what made it worth saying then, and worth reaffirming now, is the tendency to pursue either abstractions or particulars by themselves, independently, as if they had a life of their own and self-contained meaning. Meaning lies in the connecting of particulars with abstractions, which is why Thompson worried about relationships, abstractions, and bridges.
Fourth, the analysis of tool dropping gains some of its bite because it engages the criterion problem. The "obvious" criterion of survival becomes a good deal more complex when we begin to see that physical survival does not dominate everyone's attention at the same moment, nor is it connected to other issues in a homogeneous manner, nor does it mean the same thing to everyone. Furthermore, other criteria, such as effectiveness of fire-line construction, efficiency and speed of line construction, and ability to overcome challenges, obstacles, and risks, all compete for attention. Survival is only one among many criteria that are operating when firefighters try to interpret a fire that intensifies in ambiguous ways. It is precisely because people persist in making complex tradeoffs among multiple criteria amidst ambiguous cues that they fail to realize they are in serious trouble. The criterion issue, in this case, "what constitutes safe fire suppression," is at the heart of the 10 reasons people refuse to drop their tools, as Thompson said it should be.
Tool Dropping in Organizational Studies
What does all of this have to do with the anniversary of ASQ? That question itself invites a search for parallels between the situation of endangered firefighters who forego changes that would reduce danger and the situation of organizational researchers who may be vulnerable in analogous ways. Specifically, the occasion of ASQ's anniversary provides a good pretext to ask questions like, Are organizational researchers in danger of being overrun by issues that threaten their survival?; What are the heavy tools that weigh researchers down and make them less agile?; What are the light tools researchers should keep in order to preserve options?; and What does it take to get people to drop the heavy tools that endanger them! These are questions of renewal to be discussed in the organizational community at large, not something to be answered in a single essay. These are questions on which serious scholars, working in a low-paradigm field, will differ. To illustrate how the allegory of dropping one's tools might be used to stimulate reflective stock taking, I want to reinvoke Thompson's founding emphasis on relationships, abstractions, bridging, and criteria.
The question of what danger, if any, threatens to overrun organizational studies can be answered in several ways. There are growing concerns that the business sector will replace universities as seats of knowledge creation (Davis and Botkin, 1994), that economists will displace nuanced models of organized human behavior with their data-free simplifications (Pfeffer, 1994: 96-100), that business firms will increasinaly ignore those components of change programs that provide good data about the worth of the intervention (Hackman and Wageman, 1995), that theory detached from practice will be dismissed (Schoen, 1995), and that a preoccupation with traditional decision making tells us much about something that no one does (Langley et al., 1995). Readers undoubtedly know of more severe threats than these. Those are the very things we need to discuss. None of the threats listed here approaches the scale of the Mann Gulch blowup. Then again, when the smokejumpers landed at Mann Gulch, they saw nothing on the scale of a blowup either. What is interesting about the illustrative threats listed here is that taking Thompson seriously would reduce most of them. Consider just the first three I mentioned.
Knowledge creation by business firms is apt to be firm-specific and problem-specific, meaning that the knowledge acquired is not preserved in abstractions and must be invented anew with each internal change. It is this very tinkering and customizing sans systematic evaluation that lies behind many of the failed quality interventions that Hackman and Wageman (1995) discussed. Continuous updating of what is known within the firm, coupled with continuous monitoring to determine if updating is necessary, is expensive, not to mention susceptible to political manipulation. Consequently, assessment is short-circuited, learning is superstitious and misleading, and what appears to be knowledge creation in fact becomes the enlargement of ignorance. Normally, that would mean a secure place for organizational studies conducted in universities. It doesn't. Researchers often adopt atheoretical lay language that stays close to practice and simply recapitulates what organizations feel they already know and say. The explicit and general theories that Thompson wants to cultivate are replaced by implicit and specific theories that continually need to be reinvented by academics and practitioners alike. When two groups are found to be doing the same thing, one is probably dispensable.
Potential threats from economists have a different set of dynamics. Economists typically employ fictions that ignore relationships, theory-data linkages, and values other than financial performance. For example, McCloskey (1988) noted that economists are united in their assumption that people are driven by self-interest. He illustrates this assumption by positing the axiom of modest greed--people pick up five-hundred-dollar bills left on the sidewalk. The problem is that economists who endorse the greed axiom are far less likely to notice the Five-Hundred-Dollar-Bill Theorem: "If the Axiom of Modest Greed applies, then there exists no sidewalk in the neighborhood of your house on which a five-hundred-dollar bill remains" (p. 394). The axiom, in other words, is meaningless because it asserts something that never happens. This spurious profundity points up what happens when investigators overlook relationships and bridges between induction and deduction.
Organizational studies may also be overrun by growing indifference toward empirical findings that do exist. There is an irony in the fact that it was the very focus on relationships (e.g., p. 321), abstractions (e.g., p. 337), induction-deduction linkages (e.g., p. 330), and criteria (p. 332) that enabled Hackman and Wageman (1995) to discover that TQM intervention often didn't work because firms failed to implement data collection, scientific methods, and statistical tools (p. 332). Without these data, firms implement TQM imperfectly. Potentially even more serious is the fact that firms also have a poor sense of who they are, what they are doing, and why they face the outcomes they do.
Aside from the question of potential threats, there is the question of what are the heavy tools that make researchers move more slowly and with less agility and make them more susceptible to being overrun. A partial answer is implicit in the arguments between Pfeffer (1995) and Van Maanen (1995) about the future of organizational studies. Their debate is partly a difference of opinion about which tools we should keep and which ones we should drop, a difference typified in Kant's rich assertion that "perception without conception is blind; conception without perception is empty" (Blumer, 1969: 168). Pfeffer is worried about blindness and wants better-developed paradigms to prevent it. Van Maanen seems more worried about conceptual emptiness and wants more particulars to fill it. Pfeffer's plea for focused concepts to remedy blind precepts and Van Maanen's plea for nuanced discourse to remedy empty concepts can both be read as admonitions to drop tools. Pfeffer sees people weighed down by too many half-formed paradigms, just as Van Maanen sees people weighed down by too many half-formed sentences whose words reinforce the conceit that phenomena are represented rather than created.
We need go no further than Thompson to see what to do next. We need, first, to reaffirm and modernize the importance of relationships, abstract concepts, operational bridging, and criteria. One form of modernizing is to incorporate those four into a Kuhnian version of science. To take Thompson seriously would then mean "obeying the normal conventions of your discipline, not fudging the data too much, not letting your hopes and fears influence your conclusions unless those hopes and fears are shared by all those who are in the same line of work, being open to refutation by experience, not blocking the road of inquiry. ... [These practices] are names for a suitable balance between respect for the opinions of one's fellows and respect for the stubbornness of sensation" (Rorty, 1982: 194-195). With those modernized reaffirmations in place, we should then be able to select paradigms that enable us to see with richness--which may produce a short half-life for many paradigms of economics. Those reaffirmations should also allow us to choose those words and images that reflect perceptions back into systerns of thought--which may produce a short half-life for much precious postmodern prose.
Pfeffer and Van Maanen certainly have no monopoly on the question of which heavy tools should be dropped. Others who weigh in include those who advise us to drop our departures from naive lay explanations (Jones, 1993: 96), our non-Darwinian insights (Dennett, 1995), our obsession with time-series data (Starbuck, 1994), our axiomatic treatment of requisite variety (Walsh, 1995: 307), our assumption that organic processes resolve uncertainty (Eisenhardt and Tabrizi, 1995: 108), our assumption of permanent organizations (March, 1995), and our need to be seen as professionals rather than amateurs (Said, 1994).
There is no shortage of candidates for tools that weigh us down and preclude lightness. Common to most of them, and of singular importance in making them hard to drop, is the last of the ten reasons discussed for firefighters, identity. Identity, the fusion of tools with group membership, makes it hard for firefighters to consider tools as something apart from themselves that can be discarded, just as it makes it hard for scholars to consider concepts as something apart from themselves. The lightness associated with "the play of ideas," improvisation, and experimentation disappears when dropping ideas or keeping them becomes confused with dropping or keeping group ties. Research on groupthink (Janis, 1982; Tetlock et al., 1992) shows how easily group identity and thinking fuse, such that one cannot be evaluated apart from the other. Campbell (1979) has shown how the learning theory developed in the tight research group surrounding Kenneth Spence was less powerful than the learning theory developed within the much looser group surrounding Edward Tolman. These differences are explained in part by the relative ease people in Tolman's group had evaluating and changing ideas without regard for the effect of these changes on their reputations and the relative difficulty people in Spence's group had when they tried to do the same thing.
As dualities within organizational studies (e.g., macro/micro) harden into positions with which people identify and that in turn identify them, the tools associated with these positions take on excess weight, which ironically makes it harder for them to be dropped. The result is that attention is deflected from ideas to people. And as attention is drawn toward the field's internal issues, people lose the struggle that remains against outside threats.
Firefighters worried about who they are if they drop heavy tools cannot pay close attention to unfolding dramas that could suddenly turn dangerous. The same distraction, albeit with smaller stakes, faces ASQ readers in the 40th year of the journal, just as it has in the preceding 39 years. What's different this time is that there is a declared pretext, the 40th anniversary, that legitimates stock taking and invites renewal. There is no shortage of mutation and diversity to be accepted in this 40th year. The threat is one of being overwhelmed by mutations for which one is unable to find meaning, a situation analogous to Mann Gulch and South Canyon. But organizational scholars have an advantage. They have a set of remembered values from ASQ's founding that infuse meaning into the present and provide a platform for renewal. When Thompson urged us to focus on relationships, use abstract concepts, bridge observations and abstractions, and articulate the values that matter, he did so to improve the field, not to have groups pair off with ideas and block inquiry. To remind ourselves of that is to restore lightness.
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