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New research: “the decentered translation of management ideas”

New research on innovation explores how management ideas change workplace practices while workplace practices change management ideas.

How do ideas about how to conduct management in the workplace change or "become translated" as they become integrated into work practices? Most prior research into this question sees this process as orchestrated and influenced by influential actors, such as experts, consultants, and managers. The underlying premise is that management ideas are translated into a work setting because influential people drive this process.

New research, conducted in part at the House of Innovation, explores how practices themselves translate management ideas. Under this framework, the ideas do not exist apart from the practices, but only within the practices. Influence, or agency, comes from the constant flow of changing practices - it should not be thought of as being located within or between individual actors, as is typically done.

The research welcomes a new vocabulary of words that do not make individuals into heroes but instead brings practices into the center of attention. This new vocabulary, signified by phrases like "conditioning flow of action," is useful in revealing how management ideas can be understood as radically unstable, subject to translation, or change, through the flow of practices rather than as a result of deliberate implementation efforts.

This study, conducted in cooperation with the Swedish Migration Board, revealed that changes within the SMB workplace could not be sufficiently understood while only accounting for actors' intentional decisions. The study revealed that practices produce change, and "people" respond to these changes partly by understanding ideas, in light of how they seem to manifest through the practices. This means that there is no true or false, right or wrong, way to implement lean management ideas.


Lotta Hultin
House of Innovation, Stockholm School of Economics

Lucas D Introna
Lancaster University Management School

Magnus Mähring
House of Innovation, Stockholm School of Economics

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