How should researchers construct research questions for their academic work? One intuitive answer is by spotting a gap in the existing academic literature. This is certainly an effective approach that follows the Popperian scientific method. In addition to gap-spotting, there is a second approach that deserves a little more attention: problematization. Alvesson and Sandberg (2011) describe this approach in their famous article Generating Research Questions Through Problematization (a must read!). They write that “[t]he dominance of gap-spotting is surprising, given it is increasingly recognized that theory is made interesting and influential when it challenges assumptions that underlie existing literature.” This is what problematization does: it is about identifying and challenging assumptions that underlie existing theories and generating research questions that lead to the development of more interesting and influential theories. Of course, we will still need gap-spotting in the future. But I do believe that SCM research could benefit from more problematization.
Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2011). Generating Research Questions Through Problematization. Academy of Management Review, 36(2), 247–271. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2009.0188
The “No-Excuse” Framework to Accelerate the Path to Net-Zero Manufacturing and Value Chains is a new white paper that aims to provide businesses with the information they need to operationalize their commitments to reducing carbon emissions and addressing the climate crisis. The framework is intended to be a central tool for the World Economic Forum Industry Net Zero Accelerator initiative, which is designed to bring together leaders across industry sectors, academia, government, and civil society to jointly shed light on global insights and best practices for reducing emissions. The framework is divided into four stages: (1) build the foundations, (2) change the game internally, (3) drive systemic collaboration, and (4) make it simple, inclusive and exciting. Each stage of the framework consists of a combination of research-based insights, well-established action areas, and emerging themes. The goal of the framework is to be applicable across key industries and geographies. This white paper is the first output of the Industry Net Zero Accelerator initiative and further resources are available for chief executive officers at the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders.
As in previous years, I am making a prediction about what could be important topics in supply chain management research. Here are three predictions: (1) OpenAI has demonstrated the incredible potential of machine learning, and this will have numerous implications for the management of supply chains. It is important for our discipline to consider the potential and drawbacks of this technology at an early stage. (2) Supply chain resilience remains a critical issue. For example, the recent resurgence of Covid-19 cases in China could lead to the closure of ports and factories, which would disrupt global supply chains. This topic will continue to be relevant in the future. (3) The climate and biodiversity crises continue to worsen, and their solutions are closely tied to supply chains. Human-caused emissions and the destruction of rainforests are directly related to supply chains, and new laws, such as those in Germany and the EU, reflect this. I wish you all a Happy New Year 2023.
OpenAI has attracted a lot of attention in recent weeks, and for good reason. The research institute, which focuses on developing artificial intelligence technologies and promoting their safe and responsible use, has made significant strides in advancing the field of AI. One area where OpenAI could have a significant impact is in the field of supply chain management. The ability to analyze large amounts of data quickly and accurately could be useful for optimizing supply chain processes, identifying inefficiencies, and making more informed decisions. However, there are also potential drawbacks to the use of AI in supply chain management. There is a risk that the technology could be used to automate jobs and potentially displace human workers. There are also concerns about the ethical implications of using AI in decision-making, such as the potential for bias in the algorithms that drive the technology. Overall, the use of AI in supply chain management has the potential to be both beneficial and detrimental. It is important for researchers and educators in this field to carefully consider the potential impacts of this technology and to develop strategies for addressing the challenges it presents. This blog post was generated using ChatGPT, a chatbot platform developed by OpenAI.
Due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union is currently experiencing a massive increase in gas prices. This threatens the resilience of many supply chains. An analysis by the Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) now shows that a small group of just 300 products causes a large part of almost 90% of the gas consumption of German industry during their manufacture. The five products with the highest gas consumption per euro of sales belong to the basic chemical industry. The analysis also shows that rising gas prices mainly lead to production cutbacks in gas-intensive products that can easily be replaced by imports. Therefore, despite domestic production outages, no significant disruptions to the supply chains are to be expected. “German industry can save a lot of gas with a small drop in sales if gas-intensive products are no longer manufactured in-house but imported,” says Steffen Müller, one of the authors of the analysis.
Have you ever wondered what supply chain literature is most commonly used in the classroom? Open Syllabus, a non-profit research organization, currently has a corpus of nine million English-language syllabi from 140 countries and data on class readings is available for a large proportion of these syllabi. I checked which readings with the term “supply chain” in the title are used the most in the “Business” category. Here are the top 15 readings (from highest to lowest appearance count; only first authors/editors): Chopra (1,380 appearances), Christopher (1,361), Jacobs (1,246), Simchi-Levi (1,148), Chopra (608), Bowersox (595), Lysons (503), Lalwani (484), Cousins (463), Russell (447), Coyle (387), van Weele (372), Monczka (365), and Krajewski (359), Cachon (329). These books are great, otherwise they wouldn’t be so popular. It is noteworthy though that Western and male perspectives on supply chains clearly dominate, despite calls for more diverse perspectives. I could also have imagined at least a few more critical and sustainability-focused books in the list. Of course, my simple approach has limitations due to the search for only one term and, therefore, some books may have been overlooked. Also, I have not cleaned the data, which may be why Chopra appears twice.
Something that I, as a reviewer and editor, have unfortunately seen too often in academic manuscripts is a lack of cohesion and coherence. Cohesion is the glue that holds sentences together. Coherence makes sure ideas connect to create a clear “whole”. In this video, Write to the Top looks at the elements that create strong cohesion and coherence.
The International Energy Agency has just released a new special report entitled Solar PV Global Supply Chains. It examines solar PV (= photovoltaic) supply chains “from raw materials all the way to the finished product, spanning the five main segments of the manufacturing process: polysilicon, ingots, wafers, cells and modules”. The authors argue that “[p]utting the world on a path to reaching net zero emissions requires solar PV to expand globally on an even greater scale, raising concerns about security of manufacturing supply for achieving such rapid growth rates – but also offering new opportunities for diversification”. It becomes clear from the report that China currently dominates such supply chains and that diversification can reduce supply chain vulnerabilities and offer economic and environmental opportunities. According to the authors, policy makers need to aim for (1) diversifying manufacturing and raw material supplies, (2) de-risking investment, (3) ensuring environmental and social sustainability, (4) continuing to foster innovation, and (5) developing and strengthening recycling capabilities.
Language in academic texts should not only be used to list arguments, to summarize methodical steps, or to report results. Too often, as a reviewer, I have read manuscripts that have not effectively used what I consider to be the most important function of language in academic texts: Above all, language should serve to communicate with the reader. In some cases, I could not believe how imprecise sentences were formulated, how unconvincing arguments were developed, and how the language simply lacked “beauty”. In fact, there is no contradiction between a neutrally worded text, if that is desired, and the pleasure that a reader feels while reading it. Unfortunately, authors often also lack vocabulary. I can only recommend every academic author to read an English novel at least once in a while and to pay attention to the language. Of course, the language in academic texts differs from that in novels. But there is still a lot to learn.
Should academic articles be interesting? At least that is the main message of the famous article That’s Interesting! Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology by Davis (1971). Generations of Ph.D. students have read it, and those who have not should definitely do so. However, there are also authors who have criticized Davis’s arguments. In an article entitled That’s Interesting! A Flawed Article Has Influenced Generations of Management Researchers, Tsang (2022) recently identified five detrimental outcomes that result from “obsession with interestingness”: (1) promoting an improper way of doing science, (2) encouraging post hoc hypothesis development, (3) discouraging replication studies, (4) ignoring the proper duties of a researcher, and (5) undermining doctoral education. Similarly, Academy of Management Journal’s editor Tihanyi (2020) titled his recently published editorial From “That’s Interesting” to “That’s Important”. As so often, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. In order to find it, it is definitely worth looking into these three articles during the summer holidays.
Davis, M.S. (1971). That’s Interesting! Towards a Phenomenology of Sociology and a Sociology of Phenomenology. Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 1(2), 309–344. https://doi.org/10.1177/004839317100100211