The Philosophy of I/O: Which Tradition(s) Shall Guide Us?

Topic: Hodge-Podge
Publication: Academy of Management Review (APR 2011)
Article: From Blue Sky Research to Problem Solving: A Philosophy of Science Theory of New Knowledge Production
Authors: M. Kilduff, A. Mehra, & M. B. Dunn
Reviewed By: Thaddeus Rada

I believe it is impossible not to take certain things for granted in our lives. Whether it be the jobs we hold while others are unemployed, the food we eat while others go hungry, or the spaces we live in while some live on the streets, I think it is a basic characteristic of human beings that we, at a certain point, take for granted those things that are familiar and consistent.

I think this same tendency catches up with us in our professional lives. We are trained, in school and on the job, in a certain way, we are involved in projects that encourage us to think a certain way, and over time, we may take for granted the underlying assumptions behind what we do and why. In some sense, we are asleep at the wheel. To this end, a new article by Martin Kilduff, Ajay Mehra, and Mary Dunn goes a long way towards re-awakening us from this accidental slumber, by encouraging readers to think about some of the basic philosophies that may guide scientific action and discovery.

Kilduff and colleagues primarily address four different approaches to the philosophy of science: realist organizing, instrumentalist organizing, foundationalist organizing, and strong-paradigm organizing. The authors describe how the assumptions and methods associated with each approach determine, to a large extent, the types of knowledge that can be generated using each perspective. Kilduff and colleagues also give examples of real-world organizations or teams that can serve as prototypical examples of each method in action, such as the Large Hadron Collider project for structural realism, or Apple Computer for strong-paradigm organizing.

With some risk of overstatement, I would encourage all I/O researchers and practitioners to read Kilduff and colleagues’ article. As an article that addresses a very different topic than most psychology journal articles, I believe this article may ultimately become a seminal contribution to our field. From my humble perspective, I suggest that we, as the I/O community, use this article as a springboard to hold a collective discourse, to decide which philosophies of science we should emphasize in our training, our research, and our practice.

Kilduff, M., Mehra, A., & Dunn, M. B. (2011). From blue sky research to problem solving: A philosophy of science theory of new knowledge production. Academy of Management Review, 36, 297-317.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management