How To Improve Your Writing Skills
What distinguishes a good paper? The idea should be creative, the methodological approach should be flawless, and there should be a theoretical contribution. Sure. However, good communication with the reader is at least as important as all of the rest. Unfortunately, very often I have reviewed manuscripts that contain interesting theories, data, and results, but are simply not well-written. As academics we are often busy, but there is one thing we all should do: read a book about academic writing. The reading time is well invested. I have two book recommendations. The first is Natalie Reid (2018), Getting Published in International Journals: Writing Strategies for European Social Scientists. An academic friend of mine once wrote on LinkedIn that this was the best book he had ever read. And it is really good. My favorite chapters deal with “paragraphing” and “constructing and argument, sentence by sentence”. My second recommendation is aimed at German-speaking academics: Gerlinde Mautner (2019), Wissenschaftliches Englisch: Stilsicher Schreiben in Studium und Wissenschaft. This is one of the best books I have ever read.
Reid, N. (2018): Getting Published in International Journals: Writing Strategies for European Social Scientists. Revised Edition. ISBN 0692929959
Mautner, G. (2019): Wissenschaftliches Englisch: Stilsicher Schreiben in Studium und Wissenschaft. 3rd Edition. ISBN 3825252191
The Map Is Not the Territory
One of the most interesting articles I have read recently is The Map Is Not the Territory: A Boundary Objects Perspective on Supply Chain Mapping by Fabbe-Costes and her coauthors (IJOPM, 2020). The authors argue: “Most past conceptions of SC mapping have involved identifying one map of a supply chain as a common reference point for all actors concerned. As such, a supply chain map, like a geographical map, is supposed to represent the SC ‘territory’.” They then show that no map can actually include everything, that is, “the map is not the territory”. The authors compare three paradigmatic positions: In positivism, a supply chain map is simply a representation of what the supply chain is (i.e., the territory). In interpretivism, a map is a mental individual representation of the supply chain. In constructivism, a map is what is needed to work and reach the shared goal – it is what is “at stake” for each “social world”.
Fabbe-Costes, N., Lechaptois, L., & Spring, M. (2020), “The Map Is Not the Territory”: A Boundary Objects Perspective on Supply Chain Mapping. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 40 (9), 1475–1497. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOPM-12-2019-0828
Social Network Analysis in Supply Chain Management
It is time to take a closer look at Borgatti & Li’s (2009) important article: On Social Network Analysis in a Supply Chain Context. The article has become part of the canon of SCM literature since its publication and it is now a mandatory reading in many SCM master programs across the globe. In simple language, the article offers a very good introduction to the subject of social networks and relates social network concepts (e.g., ego network, node centrality, structural hole, structural equivalence) to the supply chain context. Even ten years after its publication, the article has not lost its relevance for our discipline. Last year, it was one of the ten most downloaded articles from the Journal of Supply Chain Management. The authors argue “that the network perspective has the potential to be a unifying force that can bring together many different streams of management research, including SCM, into a coherent management science perspective”. I agree.
Borgatti, S.P. & Li, X. (2009). On Social Network Analysis in a Supply Chain Context. Journal of Supply Chain Management, 45 (2), 5-22. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-493X.2009.03166.x
Issues in Supply Chain Management
Lambert & Cooper’s (2000) paper Issues in Supply Chain Management has certainly been one of the most influential articles of our discipline. Herein, they presented a framework for SCM as well as questions for how it could be implemented. The framework contained a set of cross-functional, cross-organizational business processes that could be used as a way to manage relationships with customers and suppliers. The article continues to be an important cornerstone in research on the topic of integration. Now, more than fifteen years later, Lambert & Enz (2016) present an updated version, Issues in Supply Chain Management: Progress and Potential. Herein, the authors “review the progress that has been made in the development and implementation of the proposed SCM framework since 2000 and identify opportunities for further research”. Interestingly, they have changed their minds about some statements made in the 2000 article, for example that competition is no longer between companies, but between supply chains, which they now argue is not technically correct. The authors also present a revised version of the framework from 2000.
Lambert, D.M. & Cooper, M.C. (2000). Issues in Supply Chain Management. Industrial Marketing Management, 29 (1), 65-83. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0019-8501(99)00113-3
Lambert, D.M. & Enz, M.G. (2016). Issues in Supply Chain Management: Progress and Potential. Industrial Marketing Management, 62, 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indmarman.2016.12.002
Justice as Fairness in the Supply Chain
Among the most interesting SCM articles I have recently read is Jack et al.’s (2018) recent study, titled Accounting, Performance Measurement and Fairness in UK Fresh Produce Supply Networks. Why I highlight this study here is because this is one of the rare interpretive studies related to SCM and it could therefore serve as a blueprint for those of us who struggle with the dominance of positivist studies in our discipline. The authors build on John Rawls’ theories of justice as fairness and apply it to the supply chain relationships between suppliers and supermarkets. They then ask three questions: First, “how performance measurement, risk management and communication of accounting information are used by intermediaries in an allegedly unfair commercial environment”. Second, “the extent to which the accounting and control practices observed support perceptions that suppliers in supermarket-dominated supply networks are treated unfairly”. And third, “what accounting and control practices would be indicative of fair commercial relationships?” I wish I could see more studies like this.
Jack, L., Florez-Lopez, R., & Ramon-Jeronimo, J.M. (2018). Accounting, Performance Measurement and Fairness in UK Fresh Produce Supply Networks. Accounting, Organizations and Society, 64, 17-30 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aos.2017.12.005
Thinking Critically about SCM Practices
The Guardian has just published an interesting opinion piece by van der Kolk, titled Business Education Helps Create a Culture where the Profit Justifies the Means. Herein, the author, who is a university teacher of accounting, writes: “We need to see a much stronger integration of ethical considerations into business education. This is how managers make real-life business decisions. This could be achieved through a discussion on the technics and ethics of transfer pricing in one and the same accounting class, using a case that highlights both aspects. Business education should also challenge its own underlying assumptions about human behaviour, and bring in other disciplines such as the humanities to help students think critically about business practices that are taken for granted.” The author makes an excellent case for accounting, but his arguments certainly also apply for other business disciplines, including supply chain and operations management. If that is the case, how should we change our ways of teaching?
The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships
What would supply chain management be without interorganizational relationships! Interorganizational relationships are always great, right? Maybe it is not that simple, if we look at a brand-new article by Oliveira & Lumineau, titled The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships: An Integrative Review and Research Agenda. What they mean by the “dark side” of interorganizational relationships are negative dimensions or, in their words, “damaging aspects” of such relationships, including detrimental outcomes, ill-intended behaviors or unethical practices. These aspects are driven by competence or integrity issues. Based on a review of the literature, the authors identified antecedents, ex-ante and ex-post moderators as well as consequences that are rooted in the country, industry, interorganizational relationship, partner and individual levels of analysis. The authors “not only discussed actionable research steps aimed at addressing lacunae in the current knowledge but also presented a research agenda to advance the theory on the dark side of IORs”. I am sure this piece will be inspiring also for many SCM researchers.
Oliveira, N. & Lumineau, F. (2018). The Dark Side of Interorganizational Relationships: An Integrative Review and Research Agenda. Journal of Management, https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206318804027
The Supply Chain of a Computer
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. A map of our globe enables us to reflect upon key issues in SCM: Who is actually producing our computers? Where does value creation take place? What are the core competencies of the brand company? Who is governing the computer supply chain? What is the role of contract manufacturers? Why is final assembly being done in China and not in the EU or Canada? Why is packaging being done in Eastern Europe or Mexico and not in China; and why not in Northern Europe or Canada, where the consumers are located? What modes of transport should be used? How long does it take to move a container from Hong Kong to Hamburg? What is the size of a container? What are typical container shipping rates? What can be problematic about sourcing raw materials from the Congo? How would you calculate the CO2 emissions of a computer? How could a linear supply chain become circular? What role will machine learning play? How will the supply chain change in the age of automation? What is the potential role of 3D printing? Is a “supply” chain about “supply” or is “demand” actually the factor that we should be looking? Is a supply “chain” actually a “chain”?