4: Carnegie Mellon Series #1 – Organizational Routines

With Special Guest Katharina Dittrich

Richard Cyert, Herb Simon, and James March

The Carnegie Mellon School refers to a group of scholars that have worked/studied/were associated with the Graduate School of Administration (GSIA) of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh in the of 1950’s and 1960’s. Its main exponents (but not the only ones!) are James March (‘the’ star in organization theory still alive); Herbert Simon (Nobel laureate for the work on decision making / boundary rationality); and Richard Cyert (not only a great academic but also the Dean and person behind the transformation of Carnegie from a technical school to a major university as it is today).

The work of these authors is clearly important to organization and management issues but it goes beyond disciplinary boundaries having had an impact in economics, public policy, computer science, psychology and others. As a matter of fact, the school was founded on the idea that “to explain organizations, it was necessary to have an integrative understanding of how psychology, economics, sociology, and political science all shape organizational decisions and outcomes”.

The three main works associated with this school are the books: A Behavioral Theory of the Firm, Organizations and Administrative Behavior. There are of course numerous important papers and other publications – by way of example the famous paper on the “Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice”. These three books are the ones which we plan to cover during our series (in this episode only the first two will covered).

In the history of organization and management thought, the Carnegie school can be considered as the moment in which the foundations of the modern development of organization (and management) scholarship were set. As a matter of fact, before this moment we could not actually refer to a proper separate field of organization studies since works dealing with firms and management could only be placed within a pure economic framework, with the typical assumptions of profit maximization and perfect rationality. In this sense the school highlights a shift to a non-normative lens in organization and management research, marking the way for what has become the current spirit in the field. Also, while previous authors – such as Taylor or Fayol – wrote mostly from a practitioner position, we are now observing the rise of professional academics, Simon, March and Cyert, whose work is primarily committed to scholarship and based on science, mathematics, quantitative modeling and simulations.

Join us for Episode 4 as we discuss organizational routines with the assistance of our very first special guest Dr. Katharina Dittrich, who is an expert on the subject and will help guide us through these readings in our much loved, and by now familiar, discussion format!

You may also download the audio files here:  Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Read with us:

March, J. & Simon, H. (1958). Organizations. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

              Chapter 1 (Organizational Behavior) and Chapter 6 (section on Performance Programs)

Cyert, R. & March, J. (1963). A behavioral theory of the firm. Eastford, CT: Martino Fine.

Preface Second Edition, Chapter 1 (Introduction), Chapter 2 (Antecedents of a behavioral theory of the firm), Chapter 5 (Section on Standard Operating Procedures), Chapter 7 (A summary of concepts)