Q&A on the ONE Emerging Scholar Award

In August, at the 2017 annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, I received the ONE Emerging Scholar Award from the Organizations and the Natural Environment Divison of the Academy of Management. Today, in its Fall Newsletter, the ONE Division Published a nice Q&A with me, which I have excerpted below.

What is your current position?

I am assistant professor of strategic management and organization and Nova Faculty Fellow at the University of Alberta in the Alberta School of Business. I also am affiliated with the Canadian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, headed by Dev Jennings.

Can you describe your background?

Before becoming an academic, I spent 13 years working in industry, mostly in the areas of digital strategy and marketing. Along the way, I became really interested in what was happening at the intersection of sustainability and innovation. I saw an opportunity to be part of figuring out what that meant intellectually. So, in 2007 I began to pursue a Ph.D. Since graduating from Penn State in 2012, I’ve been a professor at the University of Alberta. Because of this background, I like to think one of my strengths is an ability to move fluidly between the worlds of business and academia.

Could you please tell us about the ONE award you recently won?

I am thrilled to have won the 2017 ONE Emerging Scholar Award. This award was first given in 2008 (to Nicole Darnall), so I am its tenth recipient. According to the call for nominees, the award “recognizes early career academics who have already made outstanding research contributions in the area of organizations and the natural environment, and who appear to have a strong potential to continue making such contributions in the near future.”

Can you describe the research or body of work for which you won this award?

Over the past five years I have built a research program centered on what I call the organization of concerns. I study the strategies and innovations organizations pursue in response to societal concerns related to sustainability and values, how cultural and institutional arrangements shape those organizational responses, and how organizational actions and cultural and institutional arrangements affect the emergence and trajectory of those societal concerns. In approaching these questions, I draw primarily on organization theory, together with insights from strategic management, and science and technology studies. Additionally, my research takes a process perspective, focusing on the organization of concerns over place and time.

Where is this research going? What are its future directions?

Building on our recent AMJ paper, I am pursuing several studies of Certified B Corporations with Matthew Grimes (Indiana University). In one study, we are developing theory about why organizations oversell or undersell (i.e., greenwashing vs. brownwashing) their sustainability commitments. In another study, we are examining why so many B Corps do not stay certified. Another stream of my research looks at various aspects of hydraulic fracturing, a technology used to extract oil and gas from unconventional shale formations. With Dror Etzion (McGill University) and Helen Etchanchu (Montpellier Business School), I am studying regulatory inspection regimes. With Dan Cahoy and Zhen Lei (both at Penn State), I am studying how the controversies surrounding hydraulic fracturing have shaped patenting activity. A third stream of my work, with Tima Bansal and Sylvia Grewatsch (both at Ivey Business School), looks at innovating for sustainability as part of a 7-year, $2.5 million grant from the Canadian government. Connecting several of these threads, I am co-convening a standing working group on Institutions, Innovation, and Impact for the next four years through the European Group for Organization Studies. For the latest on my work, check out my website: joelgehman.com

Is there any advice you would like to give ONE members on how to pursue their best work?

This is a key question we all need to answer for ourselves. For me, a few slogans come to mind that I like to think are reflected in my work. First, I subscribe to the notion that good is the enemy of great. I try to never be satisfied with good enough. Second, and relatedly, I have really tried to risk myself for things that I think matter. This has required me to have not only the courage of my convictions, but also a willingness to expose myself and my ideas to others, not knowing the outcome.

How do you get (and stay) inspired?

I get inspired—and like to think I stay relevant—by paying attention to what is going on in the world. Real world concerns are never far away. Basically, each of my research projects can be traced back to something I read that perturbed me, made me curious, raised doubts or elicited some other strong response. For me, inspiration is never farther away than the latest issue of a newspaper or magazine. At the same time, intellectually, I like to think I remain open to new ways of seeing the world. For me, this means staying open to ideas from other fields and disciplines. I collaborate widely with people from outside management, or even business schools. I try to expose myself to engineers, scientists, lawyers and others who study similar issues, but use different theories, practices, and tools.

For the original interview, see pages 13-14 in the newsletter below.