New ways of seeing: radical theorizing

02 Jul 2018

At AMJ, we encourage authors to produce novel, interesting, and theoretically bold work, and recommend that authors ask themselves how their manuscript challenges, changes, or advances what we know at a theoretical level before submitting their paper for review. The strength of a manuscript’s theoretical contribution is a key element that is considered by reviewers and associate editors alike when evaluating the merits of a study. In our endeavor to stimulate New Ways of Seeing in management research, this editorial focuses on “radical theorizing,” which is the generation of completely new theoretical insights that may lead to a substantial departure from existing paradigms. Theorization, in general, may be viewed as disciplined imagination (Mills, 1959; Weick, 1989) and allows scholars to systematically explain and predict outcomes of interest (Cook & Campbell, 1979). Radical theorizing, though, emphasizes the achievement of significant creative leaps as evidenced, for instance, by drawing on pertinent distal theories, and formulating novel relationships (cf. Colquitt & Zapata-Phelan, 2007). It can be viewed as the process by which we accomplish theoretical prescience (Corley & Gioia, 2011; Kuhn, 1962)—creating understandings that resolve existing ambiguities over future states. Interestingness is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the outcome of this process (an idea that is original and has both scientific and practical utility); it is not a process to derive ideas that are merely counterintuitive or painfully obvious. Through radical theorizing, scholars introduce new research directions that may fundamentally shape future discourse on a topic. This editorial offers ideas on how scholars might want to think about radical theorizing. We borrow from research on innovation and organizational learning as well as the philosophy of science to discuss the important role of radical theorizing in achieving scientific progress, different approaches to radical theorizing, and insights one may obtain from observing the work of radical theorizers in the past. We conclude by offering some practical tips on how one can get started with radical theorizing in their own work.