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Theory Construction as Disciplined Imagination (Weick, 1989)
Current Interest
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Academy of Management Review 1989, Vol 14 No. 4 516-531

p.516 Theorists often write trivial theories because their process of theory construction is hemmed in by methodological structures that favor validation rather than usefulness (Lindblom, 1987, p. 512).
p.516 Theorizing consists of disciplined imagination that unfolds in a manner analogous to artificial selection.
p.517 By theory we mean "an ordered set of assertions about a generic behavior or structure assumed to hold throughout a significantly broad range of specific instances" (Sutherland, 1975, p. 9).
p.517 The lesson to be learned is that any process must be designed to highlight relationships, connections, and interdependencies in the phenomenon of interest.
p.518 Campbell (1974, p. 415) argued that the process of knowledge building is an evolutionary sequence that involves trials in the form of conjectures and errors in the form of refutations. Thus, as Popper (1966) said, imagination becomes a "benign environment that permits our hypotheses to die in our stead." Learning is viewed as a cumulative achievement, and theorizing is viewed as "selective propagation of those few social constructions that refer more competently to their presumed ontological referents" (Campbell, 1986, p. 118). Selection of these more competent social constructions is done either by the external environment or by mental selectors that represent that external environment and select on its behalf (Campbell, 1974, p.430).
p.519 Most existing descriptions of the theorizing process assume that validation is the ultimate test of a theory and that theorizing itself is more credible the more closely it simulates external validation at every step... These concerns can be counterproductive to theory generation.
p.519 researchers should view theory construction as sensemaking (e.g. Astley, 1985). Durbin (1976) pointed the way to this usage when he remarked that "a theory tries to make sense out of the observable world by ordering the relationships among elements that constitute the theorist's focus of attention in the real world" (p. 26).
p.519 When theorists build theory, they design, conduct, and interpret imaginary experiments. In doing so, their activities resemble the three processes of evolution: variation, selection, and retention.
p.519 These evolutionary processes are guided by representations of the environment, not by the environment itself. The radar emissions are a substitute for actually moving through the environment.
p.520-521 The theoretical problem that trial and error thinking tries to solve is equivalent to the adaptation problem that trial and error locomotion tries to solve... the likelihood of a solution is determined in part by the way the environment is represented or perceived... solutions... are more likely to be discovered where the representations are fuller. Whether the problem is to find an explanation or a competitive advantage, fuller descriptions suggest a greater number of possibilities.
p.522 In general, a theorizing process characterized by a greater number of diverse conjectures produces better theory than a process characterized by a smaller number of homogeneous conjectures.
  The key property is heterogeneity among thought trials. The advantage of blind-variation, after which thought trials are modeled, is that the process can be "smarter" than the people who run it.
p.522 Blind alleys will be searched longer and more deeply when classification is weak or ignored than when it is strong and heeded.
p.524 Given the laboratory for rejecting hypotheses, science will develop most rapidly when the widest range of guesses is being tried [Campbell, 1961, p. 21]
p.524 In an earlier example... it was argued that a reaction such as "that's interesting" was sufficient to selectively retain a conjecture, independent of efforts to verify it. Eventual attempts at verification may occur sometime later but, for reasons discussed... the value of a theory does not ride on the outcome of those tests. The reason it does not is that validation is not the key task of social science. It might be if we could do it, but we can't - and neither can economists
p.524 If valid knowledge is difficult, if not impossible to attain in social science, then this puts theorizing and selection in a different light. Theorizing is no longer just a preliminary to the real work of verification, but instead it may involve a major portion of whatever verification is possible within the social sciences.
p.524 The generic selection criterion that seems to operate most often in theorizing and that substitutes for validation [JLJ - Weick is referring here to the social sciences] is the judgment, "that's plausible."
p.525 Whenever one reacts with the feeling that's interesting, that reaction is a clue that current experience has been tested against past experience, and the past understanding has been found inadequate.
p.525 A disconfirmed assumption is an opportunity for a theorist to learn something new, to discover something unexpected, to generate renewed interest in an old question
p.526 A disconfirmed assumption interrupts a layman's well-organized activities and plans, but it accelerates the completion of the theorist's well-organized activities and plans. Those differential effects suggest that each should experience quite different emotional reactions to the experience of disconfirmed assumptions... theorists should like disconfirmed assumptions because they accelerate the completion of their intention to build interesting theory
p.526 Generalists, people with moderately strong attachments to many ideas, should be hard to interrupt and, once interrupted, should have weaker, shorter negative reactions since they have alternate paths to realize their plans... Generalists should be the upbeat, positive people in the profession, while specialists should be their grouchy, negative counterparts.
p.528 The view that theory construction involves imagination disciplined by the processes of artificial selection has a variety of implications and raises a number of questions.
p.529 The assessment that's interesting has figured prominently throughout, because it has been viewed as a substitute for vaildity... The reaction that's interesting essentially signifies that an assumption has been falsified.
p.529 The choice is not whether to do mental testing. Instead, the choice is how well this less than ideal procedure can be used to improve the quality of theoretical thinking.

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