In this paper, we develop a new understanding of research impact that has far-reaching consequences for strategy and management research in the context of grand challenges. Through this new approach, we highlight how not only practices and practitioners are changed in impact, but how impact also changes theory and researchers.
Wegener, F., Mascena, A., Lee, J.Y., Sharma, G. & Bansal, P. (Tima) Working paper under review. Identifying information removed to protect the double-blind review process. Please correspond with the first author to request a draft.
In spite of the explosion of interest in sustainability, management research is still nascent in addressing these pressing grand challenges confronting society, such as climate change, inequality, and biodiversity loss. In this article, we review the emergence and development of the field, which we argue can inform future research opportunities.
The early days of sustainability research were marked by two very different approaches to sustainability research. The first extended management and organizational studies incrementally. The second challenged the prevailing dominant management and organization paradigm and argued for a systems perspective. In more recent years, a third approach has emerged that sits in the liminal space between the dominant paradigm and a systems perspective.
In this paper, we argue that sustainability researchers need to re-engage with a systems perspective, which not only spans across levels of analysis, but also across disciplines. By doing so, we argue that sustainability researchers will be better equipped with new theories and methodologies that solve the increasingly urgent and large-scale problems facing society and assure a prosperous future for all.
Lee, J. Y., Bansal, P. (Tima), & Mascena Barbosa, A. Working paper under review. Identifying information removed to protect the double-blind review process. Please correspond with the first author to request a draft.
We are living in an era of overlapping crises: one crisis catalyzes subsequent crises, resulting in a vast array of overlapping crises. In these times of crises, senior executives are asking for more innovations, while at the same time becoming ever more risk averse. How can a company move forward with innovations during times of crises, when the future is so unpredictable?
We have identified four critical principles for innovators to integrate systems thinking and move forward with innovations in turbulent times: 1) purpose with profits, 2) ecology of nested problems and actions, 3) participatory processes and perspective-taking, and 4) acting incrementally to innovate radically.
Mascena, A., Lee, J.Y., & Bansal, P. (Tima) Working paper under review. Identifying information removed to protect the double-blind review process. Please correspond with the first author to request a draft.
Corporations are currently confronting major, interlocking crises, including climate change, biodiversity loss, inequalities, and social isolation. When under threat, executives tend to focus inward and on the short term. This is particularly unfortunate because it is in such crises that executives need to see beyond the here and now in order to ride the storms. In this paper, we argue that corporate purpose helps organizations fight such myopia and offer four mechanisms through which this works: exposing new insights, seeing issues holistically, helping to sustain focus, and bringing unity and direction.
Lee, J. Y., Bansal, P. (Tima), & Mascena Barbosa, A. 2023. Seeing Beyond the Here and Now: How Corporate Purpose Combats Corporate Myopia. Strategy Science. Forthcoming. https://doi.org/10.1287/stsc.2023.0183
Society faces many wicked problems today such as climate change, income inequality, and biodiversity loss. Not only has business contributed to these problems but it also plays an important role in addressing them. Problems are “wicked” because they are embedded in complex systems that are continuously evolving. As no single actor can understand and solve a wicked problem, prior research has suggested that multiple actors, such as researchers and managers, come together to cocreate solutions. The cocreation process typically relies on the existing knowledge of the actors involved in the process. Yet, the dynamic nature of wicked problems requires actors to not just rely on cocreating on past knowledge but to cocreate tools that address future emerging or evolving problems.
In this paper, we seek to explain how researchers and managers can cocreate forward to address wicked problems. We illustrate the concept of cocreating forward through an innovation lab located at a Canadian business school. The lab brings together researchers, managers, and practitioners from various sectors to cocreate corporate innovation processes for addressing wicked problems. By cocreating forward, we show that research, learning, and practice need not be sequential but rather simultaneous activities.
Sharma, G., Greco, A., Grewatsch, S., & Bansal, P. (Tima). 2022. Cocreating Forward: How Researchers and Managers Can Address Problems Together. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 21(3): 350–368. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2021.0233
In 1843, Søren Kierkegaard said, “ It is perfectly true, as philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.” Management researchers are often attracted to the business and society domain because of a desire to impact management practice to create a better world. However, they often do not have the impact that they hope, because researchers tend to rely on historical data, but managers seek insights that inform future actions. In this commentary, we describe our impact journey in three distinct moments in time. In the last one, both researchers and managers live forward.
Bansal, P. (Tima), & Sharma, G. 2022. Three Different Approaches to Impact: Translating, Cocreating, and Performing. Business & Society, 61(4): 827–832. https://doi.org/10.1177/00076503211015926
In this chapter, we describe a process in which managers co-create tools and knowledge with researchers to help navigate the turbulence and unpredictability of global crises. This co-creation process provides managers with a private space to reflect and the tools to act. We draw insights from our experiences with a lab within Innovation North, which is based on the principles of American Pragmatism.
Bansal, P. (Tima), & Sharma, G. 2021. The important role of management researchers in addressing global crises: Insights from Innovation North. In J. M. Bartunek (Ed.), Social Scientists Confronting Global Crises: 23–31. London, UK: Routledge.
Strategy scholars are increasingly attempting to tackle complex global social and environmental issues (i.e. wicked problems); yet, many strategy scholars approach these wicked problems in the same way they approach business problems—by building causal models that seek to optimize some form of organizational success. Strategy scholars seek to reduce complexity, focusing on the significant variables that explain the salient outcomes. This approach to wicked problems, ironically, divorces firms from the very social-ecological context that makes the problem “wicked.”
In this essay, we argue that strategy research into wicked problems can benefit from systems thinking, which deviates radically from the reductionist approach to analysis taken by many strategy scholars. We review some of the basic tenets of systems thinking and describe their differences from reductionist thinking. Furthermore, we ask strategy scholars to widen their theoretical lens by (1) investigating co-evolutionary dynamics rather than focusing primarily on static models, (2) advancing processual insights rather than favouring causal identification, and (3) recognizing tipping points and transformative change rather than assuming linear monotonic changes.
Grewatsch, S., Kennedy, S., & Bansal, P. 2021. Tackling wicked problems in strategic management with systems thinking. Strategic Organization. Forthcoming. https://doi.org/10.1177/14761270211038635
In this essay, we argue that by taking a systems lens, sustainability researchers can better understand the implications of COVID-19 on business and society and prevent future pandemics. A systems lens asks management researchers to move from a firm-level perspective to one that also considers the broader socioecological context. We argue that for business to prevent future pandemics and assure future prosperity, business must recognize the limits to growth, alternative temporalities that do not pit the short against the long term, the nestedness of local phenomena in global systems, and leverage points that can reduce entrenched systems of social inequalities.
Bansal, P. (Tima), Grewatsch, S., & Sharma, G. 2021. How COVID-19 Informs Business Sustainability Research: It’s Time for a Systems Perspective. Journal of Management Studies, 58(2): 602–606. https://doi.org/10.1111/joms.12669