Dissertation Steven F. Freeman
I want to thank MIT and everyone associated with it for providing me this opportunity to learn, think, and write; to better understand myself and connect with the world. Too often we get caught up in the daily difficulties of life and fail to appreciate that we have been given a precious freedom rare in human experience: time, resources, and community to support open inquiry about anything we want to know.
I doubt that there exists any place anywhere with greater commitment and support for such inquiry. I have never been channeled into a narrow academic niche here, nor asked to pursue a subinterest of an advisor, but rather have been encouraged to develop and pursue my own interests and to formulate all phases of major intellectual projects. To equip us for these tasks, we have had the benefit of a wide range of perspectives represented at Sloan. Rather than learning one approach, I have learned many.
John Carroll has been an extraordinary advisor in the best tradition of this institution. Faculty often use doctoral students much like pieces in a private chess game, to extend their own work and influence, but he has worked with me to develop my thoughts on what to pursue and how to pursue it. Even when offering advice, he would add that I'm free to follow it, follow someone else’s, or not follow anybody’s. He has been steady and supportive in critiquing papers, helpful in clarifying ideas, willing to both entertain big questions and attend to minute details. His broad range of interests and knowledge makes him an excellent scholar to consult on almost any research problem.
Lotte Bailyn has been my voice of reason and wisdom. Her research colloquium was the most useful course I took here – an ideal introduction to the craft. Her criticisms are gentle, but honest, direct, and uncannily sensible. She has provided perceptive counsel, recognizing my particular strengths and shortcomings. Emphasizing the importance of connection, she encouraged me to approach my work from literature domains rather than idiosyncratic questions. Noting my greater ease with theory than data, she has kept gentle but steady pressure on me to dig into empirical work. When I wondered if “loss” wasn’t too far afield for a school of management, she strongly supported my continued inquiry. She helped me keep my anxiety from soaring in times of stress and helped make heavy loads much more manageable.
Professors Carroll and Bailyn are model scholars and citizens as well as teachers and advisors: they show up every day, attend the department seminars and make valuable contributions. They are ethical both with respect to research – keeping an open mind and making sure others do too – and people - giving everyone their say and respecting all opinions. Beyond that, they are helpful and down to earth. I have often felt that they are inadequately compensated for what they do as advisors, so I'm glad at least to have this opportunity to publicly acknowledge how much I have appreciated them.
The other members of my committee, John Van Maanen and Maureen Scully, are also first and foremost terrific people: ethical, independent thinking, smart, widely-read, and fine writers. Both taught me an appreciation of good writing and style as well as sociological and critical perspectives. One of the tenets of Symbolic Interactionism, which John inspired me to learn and which I explicate in Chapter 1, is that we are amalgams of all the people we have known and cared about. I am so much the richer for having known these people and incorporating part of them into me.
I’m also indebted to other members of the OSG faculty: Deborah Ancona, who provided useful practical critiques of my often airy philosophizing; Ella Bell, who counseled me to explore my passions and reminded me that there are many constellations in the sky; and many fine teachers at MIT and Harvard including Vicky Alexander, Erik Brynjolfsson, Richard Hackman, Jim Rebitzer, Ed Schein, John Sterman, Andy Walder, and John Willet.
One of the nice things about the Organization Studies Program is the opportunity second year doctoral students have to run the weekly seminar series. Among the outstanding guests whom I invited and got to know are Harrison White, Jim March, Jane Dutton, and Thierry Pauchant. All of them have profoundly influenced my work and life. I am also grateful to Paul Lawrence of Harvard for taking an interest in my work, and sharing his current interests with me.
I owe a special debt to Willie Ocasio, who was my primary advisor my first two years. Willie had the thankless task of turning me from an independent thinker into a social scientist appreciative of the work that has come before me. Regretfully, I resisted this process for a long time. Nevertheless, he provided countless hours of introduction to the field and general discussion. He is a first rate thinker, dedicated scholar, and has been a good friend. It was a great loss for me and MIT when he left.
Charlie Fine provided extremely generous financial support and encouragement. He took a chance on funding my research and I am grateful for it. I was quite concerned before my first presentation to the International Motor Vehicle Researchers Conference. It was on “loss” (Chapter III), and I thought that they might be upset that this was how I was using their money and cancel my funding on the spot. The concern increased when the opening address stressed the importance of producing the kind of research that the industry sponsors wanted. Although my talk went well, Charlie reduced my anxiety by extending my funding before I presented, and, just for good measure, sharply addressed the opening speaker in his presentation, saying that sponsor interests should not and would not determine the kind of research that we would do.
Peter Senge and Tom Malone also provided me with funding and interesting work experiences. Both also serve me as models of soft spoken intelligence and careful listening. One might not imagine listening to be a highly distinguishable skill, but both of them impressed me as no one ever has before or since with a hard-to-describe dedication to the conversation, all the more remarkable for how busy they are and how potentially distractible with myriad competing demands. Finally, I want to acknowledge my appreciation to the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business for providing the generous scholarship that funded my first year.
I suppose that doctoral studies are never easy, but the downside of MIT’s lack of structure and direction is that it can make life very frustrating, uncertain, and difficult. So I want to thank my classmates and friends – Sandy Rothenberg, Pek Hooi Soh, John Hammond, Maw Der Foo, Annabelle Gawer, Luis Lopez, Guk Hyun Cho, Jean Jacques DeGroof, and Jeffrey Furman – for having made the experience tolerable, and even a bit fun.
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It is customary to mention loved ones in these pages, which strikes me as odd way to show appreciation – like a dog sharing a well-chewed bone with a beloved owner. The dog values the bone as I do this manuscript, but surely no normal person sees these “gifts” in the same light the giver does. Nevertheless, I gladly accede to convention to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation to:
My pre-MIT friends, teachers, and long dead authors who instilled in me a love of learning, ideas, and inquiry, and whom I have largely ignored, but not forgotten these past five years.
My children for looking up to me. That’s mostly because they’re little and I’m tall, but because they do, it makes me want to be worth looking up to.
My mother and father for loving me and doing the best they could in raising me. I’m sorry that my dad died before I could share with him what I’ve learned in college and beyond, but my mom perseveres. I’m grateful for her continued support and encouragement.
and, most of all,
My wife, Aurora, the one great love of my life. Too many marriages do not survive an MIT Ph.D. That our marriage has and that our family continues to thrive despite the rigors of this program is due almost entirely to your creativity, resilience, wisdom, and superhuman efforts. Please accept my dedication of this thesis to you. However inadequate a gift, it’s a special bone to me, one that I’ve been chewing for several years now.
Steve Freeman, Cambridge, MA May 1998