Before Thomas S. Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it was accepted that science develops in a gradual chain of new truths that build on existing truths. Scientific progress, as mentioned by Karl Popper, can then be achieved just by consequently applying the scientific method. However, Kuhn’s book proved to be as revolutionary as its title may suggest. Besides “normal” phases of a science, in which the scientific method will be applied, there are also “revolutionary” phases. For example, researchers applied the scientific method within Newton’s paradigm, but Einstein’s revolution abruptly created a new paradigm. In addition, Kuhn describes sciences that are still searching for their paradigm (i.e., “pre-paradigm” phase). A broad range of different theories are used in SCM research, e.g., transaction cost theory and resource-based view. But these theories refer to the system “transaction” or the system “resource” rather than to our system, the “supply chain”. This indicates that our discipline has not yet found its paradigm.
Students may not need to learn from PowerPoint slides, if they own a good textbook. But what happens, if a lecture doesn’t follow a textbook? When I was an undergraduate, we were fobbed off by some lecturers with buzzwords and sentence fragments on their PowerPoint slides. We had to learn the 7 advantages and the 6 disadvantages of outsourcing. Sometimes, I even strung together the initial letters of the advantages to memorize all of them for the examination. Sustainable learning? A didactic catastrophe! But how much content should ideally be on slides, if they are used in SCM teaching lessons? One of my former lecturers gave the following answer: “My slides are jam-packed with text. For sure, this is way too much text for a good presentation. But my slides are a hybrid between presentation slides and a textbook. You will like my slides when preparing for the examination.” The lecturer was right. Instead of memorizing disconnected keywords, the slides enabled us to really understand the topic.
The Journal of Supply Chain Management has published an interesting forum that discusses the conceptual theory development approach within the context of our discipline. In his introducing essay, the co-editor-in-chief Craig C. Carter describes the JSCM’s perspective/philosophy towards conceptual theory development and introduces guidelines for both authors and reviewers. Choi and Wacker examine selected papers over a time period of the last 10 years to reveal good theory-building practices. Ketchen and Hult observe that powerful tools for guiding the theory building process have been developed within the organizational sciences, but have not yet found widespread application within our field. They describe several of these tools and explain how they can be used to enhance theory building within SCM. In her article, Rindova emphasizes the process through which ideas develop into a value-added theoretical contribution. Finally, Skilton’s essay discusses the process of developing theory during the review process for conceptual articles in contrast to empirical articles.
References made to the “increasing globalization” seem to be the icing on the cake for a good introduction. But can this mantra be trusted? Firstly, the fall of the Berlin wall led to sudden opportunities for Western companies to exploit pay differentials. During the last years, however, wage growth was substantially lower in advanced countries than in Eastern Europe and Asia. Hence, wages are getting closer to each other! Secondly, globally dispersed supply chains are enabled by low transportation costs. But will transportation costs rise in a peak oil world? And will new regulations aimed at mitigating climate change or enhancing supply chain security push up transportation prices? Thirdly, managers realize that global supply chains are vulnerable, if even an earthquake in Japan can impact manufacturing in Europe. They might increasingly prefer local rather than global suppliers. Is there an “increasing localization”? How can your SCM research contribute, if the answer is “yes”?
Today, it’s time to share one of my favorite SCM readings with you: Supply Chain Management Research and Production and Operations Management by Kouvelis et al. (2006). The authors reviewed SCM manuscripts published in Production and Operations Management between 1992 and 2006. The paper can help researchers to identify possible research streams, lecturers to enrich their lessons, and practitioners to gain theoretical insights. Among the topics identified by the authors are: supply chain design, uncertainty, bullwhip effect, contracts, coordination, capacity and sourcing decisions, and teaching SCM. The authors offer comments which highlight opportunities and suggest ideas on how to usefully expand the body of work in the field of SCM. In addition, emerging areas in our field are mentioned: risk management/supply chain disruptions, closed loop supply chains, and “green” issues. We will continue to cover these topics, for example, in our recent posts about supply chain disruptions caused by the Tōhoku earthquake and CO2 emissions caused by supply chains.