People often ask me how long will a doctorate will take? I guess this is an understandable request, given that all modes of education prior to a PhD follow a structured and time-determined path. A PhD though is very different, I guess. I’d presuppose that a PhD is a personal journey that gives an individual the freedom to immerse themselves in a particular field of study, and more importantly an opportunity to make a knowledge contribution to that field.
It is a scientific process, whereby we need to understand the problems and challenges relevant to our particular field and peers, and not simply produce an irrelevant collection of facts and observations. This is discussed to a greater extent in ‘A.F Chalmers, What is this thing called Science?’
Given that a PhD is a scientific endeavour it is important to take time to think about the nature of the problem under study, and also how science itself works and allows a scientist to make a thoughtful and interesting contribution to knowledge. Let us not forget that science itself has developed and transformed over the life of man: for example, we once believed that the sun circled the earth, and that elements were made up of fire, earth, water, and air. In fact, many of our scientific teachings and ideas were often bred and drawn from the bible.
“Knowledge was based largely on authority, especially the authority of the philosopher Aristotle and the authority of the Bible. It was only when this authority was challenged by an appeal to experience, by pioneers of the new science such as Galileo, that modern science became possible” A.F Chalmers, What is this thing called Science?
Galileo himself, and more importantly his philosophies and ideas are critical to the construction of a PhD. He has been referred to as the “father of modern physics,” and the “father of science”. Such philosophies are evident in the ‘management sciences’, particularly in the post-war era where science was seen as the machine that triumphed. The role of management scientists, therefore, was to improve management practice in a capitalist society. However, economics itself and other classic theories of scientific management have brought up failings and widespread criticisms.
“In general, pure Taylorism views workers simply as machines, to be made efficient by removing unnecessary or wasted effort. However, some would say that this approach ignores the complications introduced because workers are necessarily human: personal needs, interpersonal difficulties, and the very real difficulties introduced by making jobs so efficient that workers have no time to relax. As a result, workers worked harder, but became dissatisfied with the work environment. Some have argued that this discounting of worker personalities led to the rise of labor unions.” Wikipedia.
In respect to Economics:
“One of the marks of a science is the use of the scientific method and the ability to establish hypothesis and make predictions which can then be tested with data. Unlike natural scientists and in a way similar to what happens in other social sciences, economists are generally unable to test their theories due to its impracticality. Unlike the natural sciences, economics yields no natural laws or universal constants, so this has led some critics to argue economics is not a science, or at best, is just a soft science.” Wikipedia.
The problem faced by economics and management scientists is the changing nature of the research setting. We cannot readily define management as a profession like any other. There is no control over tasks and the way in which output is derived. For me, this is my very reason for operating within such a field. It must be the only profession whereby an individual can become a successful entity (millionaire perhaps?) without knowing any of the fundamental theories or knowledge claims that underpin it. This just wouldn’t happen in any other profession such as medicine, law, or accounting.
According to Richard Whitley (Philosophy Professor at MBS) the reason stems from the fact that innovation is built into the process of managing. Why? Because we operate in a competitive market and this cannot be controlled.
However, in ‘The Nature of Managerial Work’ Mintzberg suggests that:
“…although almost none of the manager’s work is explicitly programmed, research suggests that all managerial decision making behaviour can be described in terms of high-order programs. A few managerial programs may be amendable to full automation. Many others require flexible human responses and will be difficult to reprogram”.
In “Managerial Work: Forty years later”, Mintzberg states many of the difficulties inherent when operating in a scientific (or positivistic) way. I need to find a copy of the article but in it I believe he suggests the difficulties of bringing about order from ambiguity and also the lack of established procedures and scientific control within management practice.
Having said that, I particular like Mintzberg’s original proposition towards the reprogramming of strategy making. In it, he describes several areas where managers and analysts may be able to cooperate to reprogram strategy making.
• The analyst can undertake systematic search for opportunities and problems that require action.
• The analyst can conduct cost-benefit analysis as a means of clarifying the policy issues that managers face.
• Analysts can undertake formal model buildings to expose the manager to powerful descriptions of the complex phenomena he faces.
• The analyst can take time to forecast contingent events that may have disruptive effects on the organisation and then undertake contingency planning.
There is no conclusion to draw from this entry. It is simply a set of discussions that will hopefully bode well when designing the structure of scientific discovery among business and management. However, I can probably conclude that we have to be aware of traditional approaches to scientific development. Business and management is social and operates in an open system. We are not working in a controlled environment whereby a set of variables can be isolated and formally tested (for example, place a manager in a different organisation, performing the same role, and the outcomes might well be very different; in that instance, how do you defend your theory?).
It is also cited that by proposing a piece of knowledge to professionals workers, it is highly likely that the audience will change their practice and as a result their whole social system. A change in the system will then, perhaps, make the original theory redundant or false. As put by Prof Richard Whitley: The bad news is that I, or any other social scientist, will find it impossible to find an ultimate law. The good news however, is that we’ll all be kept busy as the world continues to innovate and change.