For 28.11.17

  • Finding Your Way
  • Research Questions
  • Sources
  • Concepts/issues
  • How do you transform your initial topic into a conceptual problem?
  • How do you prepare for class?

Finding Your Way

Your mission for the next week is

  • To make progress on your term paper in a personally meaningful way
  • To write up your findings in a way that will invite support and advice from me and your classmates
  • To follow as much as the advice from the last weeks

Research Questions

To help you and everyone else understand your current research, at the top of the page write up your Research Question in all of its glorious four parts!

  1. It must be interesting to you, and thereby be motivating and something you will want to own
  2. It must be of interest to relevant professionals, people you can identify, research, and ultimately join; otherwise, nobody cares
  3. It must feature a number of concepts, high-level issues that transcend any particular problem or firm, otherwise you have nothing to talk about outside of your firm
  4. It must be associated with a real world business problem, something f Your assignment this week is to reformulate your four part research question and with emphasis on your question’s third part.

You do well to review Chapter Four of The Craft of Research, especially 4.2.1 and 4.2.2, and especially the third, conceptual part

  • It must be associated with a real world business problem, but at a higher, conceptual level
  • This higher level will include concepts, factors, or other high-level issues which relevant professionals are discussing
  • While you get to specify the first, second, and fourth parts, this third part is, by definition, something the professionals define as important
  • These professionals you will likely find in high-level reports such as those produced by the consulting firms EY, KPMG, PWC, Deloitte, and possibly such journals as HBR and Wharton
  • Be sure to include your references, so we can look them up together, and best is when you organize them in Mendeley and paste a complete bibliographic entry in your discussion


Again, for topics in business, one of the easiest ways to do this is to search for “current trends 2017 YourTopic xxx” where xxx stands for any of the major consulting firms or business journals that survey your field, such as PWC, KPMG, Deloittte, McKinsey, and often more narrowly, Harvard Business Review, Wharton, The Economist, etc. If you are working with NGOs or less general topics then look for specialised journals. For some topics, the World Bank and other organizations offer better reviews of current professional discussion


Compare the following two entries, from a student and a Deloitte report

  1. Bonded warehouse improves companies’ cash-flow: example of a foreign company with a European bonded warehouse”
  2. How will industry disruption affect our cash flow models? What are the balance sheet implications of using a shared platform?

The first entry asserts a topic as if it were truth and in a prejudicial way: you are supposed to believe this without question. The second presents the topic as a problem, something that we cannot take for granted and which we might examine from different perspectives

  • For Deloitte, they when they add “model” to “cash flow”, they shift the emphasis from the every day term to the “model” and as a question: how do models change?
  • They also tell us where to look for this change, in this model’s disruptions, and so they invite us to imagine context, agency, and forces of change.

This is what we mean by problematizing a concept: you reframe it as a question and look for multiple factors, things that transform “cash flow” from an everyday use to a matter for research and so ask us how it is to be understood, measured, adjusted, forecasted, etc.

Here’s another comparison:

  1. Complexity of setting up a bonded warehouse in the EU — But from the perspective of an interviewed Strategic Manager clear that logistic and compliance folks don’t speak the same language
  2. How might the changing landscape impact our operating model, decision rights, and funding mechanisms? How can we create and sustain a new ecosystem within the organization?

Here, too, we find a profound difference.

  • In #1, the writer speaks of “complexity” but does not problematize it, and he speaks of a mismatch between two groups, but not how and why this might be important
  • In #2, the writer reframes the same topic as a question and suggests how we might look at it in terms of alternative concepts (“model”) and such factors as stakeholders, finance, and institutional change. More profoundly, he invites us to look not simply at a warehouse, but as one piece in a larger “ecosystem” puzzle

How do you transform your initial topic into a conceptual problem?

  • Look for how relevant professionals discuss it on a higher, conceptual level
  • Explore search terms which will lead you to these higher levels, such as “current issues third party logistics bonded warehousing deloitte”

Here we found and where, by skimming the sections, we look for and find these higher levels:

  • We work strategically when we look for such passages, looking for formulations as sophisticated issues
  • We read them carefully, to note how they are reframed as questions, how they emphasize the dimensions and agency of change, and so how they transform everyday terms into research problems of interest to top-level researchers and managers

The better part of research, then, is not simply collecting a bunch of facts to prove the point you started out with, but,

  • Finding relevant research that has addressed your questions already and which you can learn from
  • Discovering how they problematize the issues into questions of interest to professionals — the professionals you want to join — and which admit of no easy answer

How do you prepare for class?

  • You explore your methods for addressing your topic as one piece of exploring your topic, so that when you do not find what you are looking for, for example, you change your method, stepping back or to the side or changing your sources
  • You see your problem in collective terms, working with partners as often as possible, asking and offering help, and working a little bit every day or two so you keep the project alive (and not wait until the last minute)
  • You see the homework assignment as a structuring framework to support your exploration and not simply “homework”
  • You prepare your homework to present to others so you might ask for and offer help, as materials for discussion