Nassim Taleb, the Angry Version of Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve now read most of Taleb’s new book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.  Not sure why I read Taleb.  I’m ashamed to admit it.

His stuff is certainly entertaining. Really entertaining.  But it’s just narcissistic drivel (I mean, the heights of arrogance in this book are something else, somebody should put together a web compilation of the best Taleb drivel) — basically advice on how to be more like Taleb.  But, more importantly, it’s hard to really evaluate everything that he covers.

The Antifragile book is about everything – thoughts on diet and exercise (go paleo), ideas on personal interactions (don’t go to lame parties with boring people), and of course lots of genius advice on the economy.  Everything is not-so-neatly packaged into his (anti-)fragile scheme/a.

The formula of his book seems simple enough: invent a name/concept (antifragile), package everything under that scheme, include lots of swearwords and epithets directed at “the other” (e.g., fragilista), sprinkle in some citations to science, mix in some chicken soup stories (you know, about the time when you stormed out of the conference because everyone was being so unreasonable) – and voila, you’ve got your book.

It’s sort of a twist on the Malcolm Gladwell genre.  Though, Taleb is perhaps an angry version of Gladwell.

I think there might be some interesting points in the book, perhaps, but I’ll try to post about those later.   Mostly I see lots and lots of re-packaging and popularizing (moral hazard, the principal-agent problem, learning from failure, self-organization and information aggregation, competition, unintended consequences, etc, etc).  Popularizing things of course has it’s place too.

Meanwhile, strategy scholars were also amongst the heap of academics ridiculed in the book.  Here’s Taleb on his MBA experience:

When I was in business school I rarely attended lectures in something called strategic planning, a required course, and when I showed my face in class, I did not listen for a nanosecond to what was said there; did not even buy the books.  There is something about the common sense of student culture; we knew that it was all babble.  I passed the required classes in management by confusing the professors, playing with complicated logic…

He does thankfully recognize that strategy scholars themselves have noted the planning problem in existing work (e.g., he cites Bill Starbuck’s work – but that argument goes back to Alchian, 1950 etc).

Taleb then goes on to say:

Almost everything theoretical in management, from Taylorism to all productivity stories, upon empirical testing, has been exposed as pseudoscience.

Cute.  I love any argument that in wholesale fashion dismisses a field like that.  Is there pseudoscience in management?  No question.  There is in any field.  And the field of management might even have a disproportionate share of pseudoscience in it.  But the whole book is characterized by those types of glib dismissals (very few are spared), which then makes it hard to evaluate anything novel that Taleb himself might have to say.

Is the Resource-Based View (RBV) Useful? Yes.

I am visiting Lund University this week – and they have conclusively shown that the Resource Based View indeed is useful.  Useful for what?  As a door stop to their conference room.  (I also sent the proof/picture to Jay, one of the originators of the theory.)

Organization design: articles and videos

Nicolai’s post at O&M made me aware of a new journal, Journal of Organization Design.  I definitely think org design deserves to experience a renaissance/comeback, so I welcome a journal dedicated to the topic. (Though, I do think we have far too many journals in strategy/management – many of them are of suspect quality.)

 I just now checked out the web site of the journal and they have some killer features, including short videos of the authors describing their papers:

I like the video feature.  Nice.

Welcome Sheen Levine

We’re excited to have Sheen Levine join us here at  Sheen is currently a faculty member at the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University.   His research focuses on social networks, institutions and markets.  You can learn more about his research etc here.  You can also follow Sheen on twitter @sslevine.

And a quick plug: if you are going to the Academy of Management in Boston (Aug 3-7), be sure to check out Sheen’s (co-organized with Shayne Gary) cool Behavioral Strategy 3.0 workshop (learn more here). It promises to be a great session with lots of interdisciplinary interaction.

Great to have you here Sheen!  We look forward to your posts.

Retractions and Fraud in Strategy and Organization Theory

[H/T to several folks on Facebook talking about this: Nicolai Foss, Russ Coff, Marcel Bogers etc.]

We’ve talked about the extensive fraud of Diederik Stapel before, but apparently there have been retractions even closer to home: the journal Strategic Organization retracted an article.  And, over at the blog Retraction Watch there is an active discussion about Dirk Smeesters’ retractions and recent resignation.   A bit more in a short Wired magazine piece.  A Nature journal interview with Uri Simonsohn who discovered the Smeesters fraud.

Melissa Schilling

We’re excited to welcome Melissa Schilling to!  Melissa is a Professor of Management and Organizations at the Stern School of Business, NYU.  Her research focuses on strategy, innovation, and technology.  You can learn more about her work here.

We look forward to Melissa’s posts!

Tony Fadell: Constraints, Ignoring Experts and Embracing Self-Doubt

My co-blogger Russ Coff’s 2010 Strategic Management Journal piece on the coevolution of rent appropriation and capability development used Tony Fadell and the development of the iPod as an example.  Here Tony Fadell talks about constraints, ignoring experts and embracing self-doubt: