Meet the editor of... Advances in Strategic Management
An interview with: Professor Joel Baum
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus
Professor Joel A.C. Baum, series editor of Advances in Strategic Management, is associate dean, faculty and Canadian national chair in strategic management (from July 2009, George Connell chair in organizations and society) in the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, Canada, and holds a cross appointment to the department of sociology.
His research interests focus on patterns of competition and cooperation among firms, and their influence on firm behaviour and learning. He is currently studying the dynamics of inter-firm networks in Canadian investment bank syndicates, the causes and consequences of the strong geographic clustering among biotechnology firms in Canada, and the origins, evolution and legitimation of private military companies since the end of the Cold War.
About the book series
Advances in Strategic Management is a major book series dedicated to new research that advances theory and practice in the field of strategic management. One multi-authored volume is published every year, offering in-depth exploration of a particular topic: the volumes consolidate research streams, address significant current theoretical and practical problems, and explore promising new research directions. Recent volumes have focused on network strategy, real options theory, and ecology and strategy, and 2009 will see the publication of Economic Institutions of Strategy.
What is the difference, apart from the obvious one of format, between an annual book series and a journal? I'm thinking here about their functions as a means of scholarly communication.
These series are actually unique. Although they're new to Emerald they're well established. This is the third publisher I've worked with on this volume: originally the series was published by JAI, then Elsevier and now Emerald.
There are both similarities and differences with journals. The similarities are in the distribution: we have standing library and institutional contracts, as well as electronic access.
The differences lie in the review process. We don't use blind reviews; nor do we typically make open calls for submissions, rather we tend to receive submissions directly, which are then considered by reviewers as worthy of publication or not.
Although not the case for all Emerald book series, each volume of Advances in Strategic Management is focused on a particular topic. In that sense it's like a journal special issue. We identify a topic that is ripe for advance, in need of a rethinking, or an opportunity to reach a critical mass. The contributions to the volumes are generally solicited, either through direct invitations or referrals from the volume editors, who are alert to the most interesting work and influential people in the area.
There is also more flexibility in terms of style and scope. Authors can be more provocative, speculative and creative than in a journal article. In a journal, speculations are usually reined in, and provocations typically unwise given that they may be directed at your referees. Without blind review, there are fewer constraints.
The review process is still rigorous. It's run by the volume editor and often involves volume contributors as well. All articles are reviewed and revised at least once, and sometimes more to meet the standards of the volume. But the review and revision process is a developmental dialogue.
So, the series is open to more deviant papers, and there's more scope to advance novel and varied ideas that might not find favour in blind-reviewed journals. Indeed, Volume 27 (2010) is deliberately seeking out "emerging approaches" that challenge current thinking and that may not be receiving the attention they deserve as a result.
You've referred obliquely to what one might term the "blindness" of blind peer review. Do you think your approach, which is rigorous but not blind, is better?
Different fields have different reviewing protocols. I think the worst scenario is where the authors are blind to who the reviewers are, but the reviewers know who the authors are. Reviewers are much more likely to be hard on and question a junior author they don't know than a well established person they do know.
Of course, blind reviews are good in some circumstances, but what they aren't very good at is developing conversation, communication, exchange, and interaction. When we do editorial reviews it's much more of a conversation with the Advances contributors, a highly developmental process.
The editors (there are typically two or three) are always heavily involved in the topical area of the volume, so there's also community building going on. And on top of the review process we'll often organize a small, focused conference at which the contributors present and discuss their work. The process we use is designed to develop a conversation about that particular thematic area and foster the cohesion of groups of scholars who get to know one another and the area concerned.
What is the target audience for Advances in Strategic Management?
Primarily management academics and practitioners, about an 80/20 split between the two, but varying somewhat from volume to volume. Some volumes are particularly academic, for example, the Ecology and Strategy volume (2006) examined the debate on the extent to which managers can influence the fates of their firms. We identified nine different topics and involved researchers working on them from both "adaptation" and "selection" perspectives. For each topic, the contributors read each other's papers and discussed it in their own. That's reflective of the kind of conversation we try to foster – one that can be shared with the reader.
The publishing process
Can you tell me about the publishing process of this series? In particular, how do you decide what topic to cover, and the treatment of the topic? How do you source the contributors, and work with the volume editor?
Typically, once the topic is in place the volume editors develop a list of key potential contributors – not only senior people, but also junior faculty who are doing state-of-the-art work in the volume's topic area. There's also a discussion about whether to solicit all contributions directly, or obtain commitments from three or four key people and use their participation to attract additional submissions through an open call circulated through relevant e-mail listservs, and the Advances website. The last fully open call we issued for the Strategy Process volume (Volume 22, 2002), co-edited by Gabriel Szulanski, Joe Porac and Yves Doz, resulted in 75 to 80 submissions.
We also try to hold a small conference. For one conference, which we held at the Rotman School, we invited 25 submissions, of which, after revisions, we published 18 in the final volume. The conferences are typically funded by the editors' home institutions. For example, this year's Economic Institutions of Strategy was preceded by a developmental conference co-funded by the schools of the two editors, Rotman and Olin Business School (Washington University in St Louis).
The conferences add value to the developmental process, and benefit both the contributors and the publisher: great feedback, networking and potential future collaborations for the contributors, and great volumes for the publisher.
Actually coordinating the process of authoring a multi-volume work must be quite a task. What are the main challenges and how do you meet them?
Not really. The volumes aren't huge projects, and we set generous time lines. The real challenge lies in identifying and structuring the idea so that it achieves the goals of the volume, which are to advance the field in conceptual as well as practical terms, by establishing the scholarly network and getting the conversation going between people who may be meeting up (at a developmental volume conference) for the first time.
How long does it take, from first discussing the idea, to publication?
Two years, typically. We are currently getting ready to invite submissions for the 2011 volume, and we hope by the summer to have some of the key people lined up. We'll think about having a conference in the winter; about 18 months from now contributors will be working on their final drafts and we'll be thinking about who will read each other's chapters. The manuscripts will be submitted in March 2011 and the target is to have the volume out by the Academy of Management conference in August, a key point in the academic publishing calendar.
Isn't there a problem in that over a two-year period empirical research is being done and the discipline moving on?
No, the field doesn't move that quickly, and we need to give people time to develop something that makes sense for the volume within the context of their ongoing research.
Editorial policy and subject matter
Your next volume, to be published in September 2009, is on Economic Institutions of Strategy. Can you say a bit about it?
It's being co-edited by Jackson Nickerson and Brian Silverman, two highly-regarded institutional economists. The volume's aim is to contribute to the strengthening of the disciplinary orientation in the field of strategy. To do that, the volume covers a range of topics, each containing a number of articles. There are sections on industry analysis, competitive advantage, corporate strategy, location, contracting and alliances; the idea is to show the relevance and insight of institutional economics frameworks for these typical strategy research topics.
And what about the next volume, out in 2010?
It will explore emerging perspectives on the margins of strategy but which promise to generate new research questions and offer further understanding of established topics. For example, there's recently been a push to employ discourse analysis, so we'll have several chapters on that. And there has been surprisingly little formal theorizing in the context of strategy research. A recent special issue of Academy of Management Review tackled that issue for the field of management more generally; we hope to demonstrate the value of formal theory for strategic management in particular.
You set out to encourage multi-theoretical approaches and innovative research methods. The editors of another Emerald publication, Journal of Strategy and Management, claimed in another interview on this site (see author interview) that many of the other research outlets concentrated on articles rooted in economics and rational decision management. Do you see a bias towards a particular disciplinary perspective?
No. I'm not afraid of economists. There may be a bias, but not that strong. The Journal of Economics & Management Strategy is devoted to economic approaches. But Strategic Management Journal is influenced by multiple disciplines, and Strategic Organization, which I co-founded, is explicitly multidisciplinary. We have representation from many disciplines in the field; by no stretch of the imagination is strategy dominated by economics.
Advances in Strategic Management is ISI listed. How does a book series get to be ISI listed, and how does it influence the reading public and potential contributors?
It was listed before I become editor-in-chief, but I think it would be quite difficult to gain inclusion now; ISI seems primarily interested in following peer-reviewed journals. Of course, the ISI listing is great to have. Perhaps most importantly, the series turns up when people search the ISI database.
But, because we are not a journal, and historically haven't been available online, we don't receive citations at the same level that a top journal does. That's changing though, now that we're increasingly available online, and as the quality of the volumes being published is increasingly recognized.
You place a quote on your website: "The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root it doesn't need its brain anymore so it eats it. It's rather like getting tenure". Does this reflect your attitude to the academic world?
It's a sarcastic comment on the North American tenure system in which, once granted tenure, pressures to remain research active are diminished. The idea behind tenure is to support academic freedom. If tenured faculty are not research active, it defeats the purpose. So, the point is to shame those tenured management faculty who are eating their brains and jeopardizing my academic freedom.
Margaret Adolphus interviewed Professor Baum in May 2009.
Visit the information page for: Advances in Strategic Management
Margaret Adolphus interviewed Professor Baum in May 2009.