A question posed at a faculty seminar held at Massey University recently has set me thinking. My supervisor was the primary presenter, and I was there as one of his protégés that had been asked to make a contribution. My task was explore the importance of access (to make first-hand observations of what actually happens in boardrooms) and, given access, to discuss the implications for both research and knowledge. The seminar was a low-key affair. However, one of the questions gripped me. In asking, the person demonstrated that their understanding of business was quite different from mine. The question was valid and needed to be answered (and it was), despite my judgement that is was rather inconsequential given my worldview.
This brief exchange highlighted one of the main challenges of doctoral research: communication. How does one summarise their ideas and findings into a cohesive story that will be read and accepted by three learned people (examiners!) with a critical mindset? I have a fair idea of what I want to say, but what is the best way to get the message across?
The answer seems to lie in one word: pedantry. And therein lies the challenge, for me anyway. While I know my topic pretty well—having lived and breathed it for nearly three years now—an examiner will arrive at the cover page of the thesis document 'cold'. Researchers need to take readers on a journey, starting with a descriptive title and ending with a solid conclusion. The question taught me that the journey is probably as important as the destination. The introduction should simply state the problem and position the research. The historical view of the research literature, the approach taken by me and the findings all need to be revealed in the pages that follow. The summary of findings should be reserved for the final chapter. Positioning the research is also important. The question reminded me that every term that is subject to multiple interpretations needs to be defined, to avoid misinterpretation. I've had to go back to the literature many times in recent weeks, to check things and to make adjustments. Finally, the spelling, grammar and referencing needs to be 'perfect'.
While the going has been tough of late, the good news is that I am stepping closer to the goal with every passing day, even though my arrival is now more likely to be in January. But I'm relaxed about that.
I've been deep in thought in recent days, lost in the depths of my research; trying to get to the bottom of something that has been troubling me—to the extent that I neglected to post a research update last week. Sorry! Thankfully, some clarity started to emerge in the last two or three days.
The concept that has been troubling me has been behaviour, or more specifically, the necessary behaviour of directors as they seek to make meaningful contributions to effective board practice and business performance. Several researchers—including, notably, Larcker and Tayan—have suggested that the behaviour of directors in the boardroom is crucial to the achievement of performance outcomes. Various attributes have been described. However, that is where the research seems to stop: at description. I'm still working through the literature, but am yet to find anything approaching a robust, explanatory argument.
The question that I've been pondering builds on this: Does a link exist between the social mechanisms that my research seems to suggest are important, and certain fundamental (personality level) behaviours of directors? Further, might the link be such that these crucial behaviours are yet another layer in the stratified view of reality that is emerging from my research? The tentative answers seem to be yes and yes. This is exciting because it could mean that a couple of disparate threads of corporate governance research can be brought together. However, I am not confident enough about this new dimension yet, to know whether it is credible or not. Notwithstanding this, if you have any experience, or can point to any research to guide me, I'm all ears.
It's Labour Day in New Zealand: notionally a statutory holiday to recognise and remember the struggle (fight?) for the eight-hour work day. While it's a worthy marker peg in our nation's history, I've never really subscribed to the notion of an eight-hour work-day nor a 40-hour work-week. Blame it my farming heritage or madness if you wish, but I think in terms of working until the work is done. Today is no exception. The thesis writeup is very much to the fore of my mind every day of the week just now.
In the last seven days, I have been working on the Discussion and Theory Development chapter, hoping to assemble a cacophony of ideas into the first complete draft. A couple of days were really slow going, but the great news is that the first draft is complete (save a series of diagrams)! Having laboured away on this chapter for a couple of weeks, I can now look back and see that, while the distance has not been great, some of the insights that have emerged could be quite significant in the overall scheme of things.
I also received three pages of notes, suggestions and comments from my second supervisor during the week: her review of two chapters that I'd asked for feedback on back in August. While the slow turnaround has been frustrating, and some of the comments quite 'left-field', the overall tenor of the commentary has been helpful. Thanks Kate.
Where to from here? The DTD chapter needs more work (this week's job), as does the Conclusions chapter (next week). Once these two pieces are done, the focus will move from creating content to refining that which has already been written—a significant milestone, in my mind anyway!
This is the second of my soon-to-become regular updates written for folk who have asked to be kept up to date with my PhD write-up. I have provided updates irregularly in the past. However, I recently made a commitment to provide an update every week, in response to several requests to do so.
The week gone has been characterised by paper: lots of it, everywhere. As mentioned last week, my focus has been on the discussion and theory development (DTD) chapter. This is the piece of the thesis whereby the various threads and ideas that have been mentioned elsewhere are brought together—hopefully in a cohesive and coherent manner. As a digital immigrant, this process involves a pen and a keyboard: yes, I rely on pen-and-paper to augment what I do with computers. While the word processor is my go-to tool when writing new material, my default approach to reviewing and editing material is to print copies and mark them up with my trusty Waterman Expert rollerball. Thus the paper. I also have three piles of dog-eared research articles—each about six inches high—that receive periodic attention as I build arguments and refer to prior research work.
The biggest challenge this week has been to assemble my thoughts and ideas into a logical structure and sequence, and then to write material into each section. The process is quite easy to describe. However, it is somewhat harder to implement. Ideas can flow at any time of the day or night, so I have taken to writing when the ideas flow rather than when my schedule says I should write. It will be interesting to see what effect the change has on my productivity. I'll let you know.
My hope had been to complete the DTD chapter—to a first draft form anyway—by the end of this weekend. However, I have adjusted the structure of the chapter three times in recent days, and have opened up the conclusions chapter as well: the result of which has meant quite some re-work. I'm hoping to break the back of this work and re-work cycle in the next few days because, when I do I can start on the assembly and integration process, of pulling all of the chapters together. While there is some short-term frustration that things are taking a little longer than expected, I'm convinced that the extra effort being put in now will make the thesis easier to read later. Fingers crossed.
"So, how's the research going?"
"Pretty well, thank you for asking."
I've been party to this brief exchange, or a close variant of it, most weeks this year. It's usually originated by someone who knows me; or someone who has an interest in what I'm doing; or, someone who finds it odd that I stopped working a couple of years ago to investigate how boards influence performance. My response has typically been quite private—as above—without wanting to appear to be rude. That someone might actually be interested enough to listen to me wax on for a few minutes is an assumption I have wished to avoid, However, with the project now in its final couple of months and the write-up well underway, and seemingly increasing levels of interest in the findings starting to come from business people and academics, I've decided to write a weekly update from here on in. Please let me know if they are helpful or not. If you have a specific question, please post a comment below or send a note, and I will do my best to provide an answer. My goal, of submitting the completed thesis by Christmas Day, remains intact. It'll be tight—because work has an innate capacity to expand to fill the time available—but doable.
The thesis will be six chapters long. Two of the three longest chapters (Literature Review and Research Methodology) have been out for review for a couple of weeks now. Last night, I finished the third of the 'big three' chapters (Data and Initial Analysis, the chapter that contains a summary of all of the data that has been collected and starts to makes sense of it). The first drafts of the Introduction and Conclusion chapters are completed as well. The satisfaction of having broken the back of the thesis writeup was palpable. The remaining chapter is entitled Discussion and Theory Development. It will be somewhat shorter than the big three and, as the title implies, it will hopefully answer the question that I set out to address. So, it needs careful thought. Thankfully, I have a fairly good sense of what needs to be written, although the proof of whether I'm on track will come as the week progresses and the mixed bag of notes and sentence fragments congeal (or not!).
However, there is hardly a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind in the air this morning. The sun is streaming in the window and a tui is happily calling from a nearby tree. So, I have decided to take the day off. My wife and I are going to visit a famous rhododendron and azalea garden, in our old car, with a picnic. The joys of Spring! No doubt we will chat about the real sense I have, of now closing in on the prize and of handing over the final draft so it can be examined. But one must not get ahead of themselves, for there is much to be written yet.
I'll keep you informed.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.