Knowledge Creation Methods: Literature Synthesis

Despite the clarity with which each scholar appears to arrive at a conclusion for which organizational theory is most suitable, it is nevertheless, near impossible for one to determine which theory is best for which context. Indeed, for over 20 years, the problem of organizations theory has been the center of discourse and controversies, but no solution has been found yet with regard to the matter. A solution can be helpful to many firms across the world because the management teams can apply it to solve problems, and to achieve exemplary performance outcomes. From a scholarly point of view, one can nevertheless compare the different theories that have been proposed and then attempt to synthesize them into a working framework that can be practically applied in the field. More particularly, it is critical to underscore that synthesized data are important in supporting various management approaches that are applied by managers in organizations across the world.

In the article “Vita contemplative-Following the scientific method: How I became a committed functionalist and positivist”, Donaldson introduces his argument that structural change in in an organizational context is often triggered by low performance. After carrying our extensive empirical research, he came up with the organizational portfolio theory (Donaldson, 2005). This theory draws “on finance to explain the fluctuations in finance as well as the consequent organizational changes that ensue as result” (Donaldson, 2005, p. 1080). According to him, an organization is a positivist concept in numerous senses, especially the fact that the causal process required for its determinist operations are evidences of the above supposition.

In addition, the fact “those material factors such as the size and number of members are instrumental in its determination” (Donaldson, 2005, p. 1078). Jackson and Carter (1991) present a defense of the paradigm of incommensurability arguing that it is necessary to prevent against the inherently authoritarian scientific methods advocated for in theories such as positivism and functionalism (Morgan, 1980). Their works also mount a staid defense of the concept from attacks that emerge from critical intellectual traditions. In addition, it is critical to note that they seek to restore the authority of scientism based on the postmodern reactions. In fact, it is commendable to appreciate their scholarly arguments that can be applied in the area of organizational management to improve performance outcomes (Van Maanen, 1991).

Scholars in organizational theory have extensively tried to establish the relationships between the diverse paradigms although many of these are considered conflicting and irreconcilable. They have however found that many of these have ended up becoming so controversial that they are referred in some quarters as part of the paradigm war (Willmort, 1993). Although some students have attempted to determine ultimate standards for research, others have commented on the possible legitimacy of such an endeavor, resulting in a four-pronged debate. The positions held in the debate are; back to the basics, anything goes isolations and multiparadigm perspectives. From an Isolationist point of view, the four paradigms should never be united and scholar should select one, which they find most appropriate instead of trying to marry them. Critically discoursing on all four even more than one is considered neither needful nor desirable (Van Maanen, 1991).

Back to the basic scholars on the other hand propose the unification or the theories by going back to the fundamentals and resembling the facts on the concepts to try and retrospectively unite them. For obvious reason anything goes is a relativist position in which anything is considered acceptable based on the particular situation. The multiple paradigm research figuratively lies between anything goes and back to the basics, for majority of scholar the position is regarded as the intermediate between relativism and dogmatism. This perspective also known as the pluralism perspective tends to be more valuable to scholars in organizations theory as well as strategic management. Despite the fact that its adherents will accept the incommensurability thesis, they at the same time argue that a dialogue between the paradigms is possible given they are not after all completely isolated.

This dialogue is considered necessary for the advancement of knowledge as it is deemed to lead to a more comprehensive explanation and understanding of a variety of social phenomenal. Proponents propose that its implementation is made possible by a sequence of parallel studies where each one of the paradigms is applied. An example of this is the Hassard (1991) case study in which all the four were applied in a framework to study the work behavior of the British Fires Service. However, from a practitioner perceptive, this is an ill-advised method of discoursing on organizational management. Such an approach cannot be utilized to improve performance outcomes of various organizations, yet it is notable that managers are interested in achieving the best outcomes for their firms.

Given that each of the others has a set of challenges and shortcomings, combining them without taking into account the differences arising from the non-specification that characterizes incommensurability is likely to result in confusion and failure. As demonstrated, scholars in organizational management and theory had still not arrived at a consensus on how the problem of incommensurability should be handled. In the attempt to identify a reasonable basis for determining between competing paradigms they have invariably run into the trilemma that is dogmatism. Clearly, incommensurability is a problem that challenges both practitioners and theorists. It also creates challenges on the meta-level when it comes to determine which the best research methods are (Jackson & Carter, 1991). This question does not at present have any accepted answer because of the existence of multiple meta-level paradigms. Ergo, when there is a conflict between two of more of this one may be forced to contend with the possibility of a meta-meta level to establish the ultimate reference frame. This way, they can facilitated the reconciliation of the conflicting ideologies on the primary level. This challenge I nevertheless compounded by the fact that no such levels can realistically exist in a situation of incommensurability since the higher meta-perceptive will be questioned. Consequently, circular arguments will end up being repeated and these are no less problematic or infective that the dogmatic interpretation of the process.

In order to assess whether a certain philosophical viewpoint is the best among others, it is important to give all viewpoints considerations. In this context, it can be thought that the theory of positivity and functionalism to be the most appropriate since they are based on empirically provable notions. Like Donaldson, the author of this paper holds that organizations are fundamentally functionalist since they are created for the sake of their instrumental benefits. I on the other hand concur because to me an organization is a problem-solving entity. Therefore, by viewing it as such, I can conceptualize its usage as a tool to perform tasks that would otherwise be impossible for and individual to do on their own. Nonetheless, it can also be admitted that in some occasions, it is important to combine the dominant theory with others since the contexts in the business organization setting are in subject to frequent and unprecedented changes.

Hassard (1991) proposes a combination of the four frameworks to examine a problem under the assumption that it allows for a more comprehensive analysis of underlying social phenomena. In the operation of a work environment such as a fire or police station or hospital, I also hold that this method can be applied effectively. This is because in such a workplace, there is constant interaction between the social and professional. This is because “clients” are often forced to put their personal problems in the practitioner’s hands making it difficult for either side to retain objectivity. Therefore, a framework that examines all the factors can come in particularly handy in such a case. Paradigms and metaphor represent abstract and theoretical concepts that can be nevertheless contexturised in real life situations when necessary. Problem-solving is a field that requires one considers all the possible options and potential outcomes in a given environment before they take any actions. Ergo, the paradigms and metaphors are instrumental in helping managers conceptualize and anticipate scenarios in which a problem can be solved before it even occurs.

Finally, knowledge creation is more of an art than a science since, according to Cunliffe (2010), it does not require specific methodologies. On the contrary the most important method for creating knowledge is to provide the society for which the knowledge is intended with the resources that will enable them to develop new ideas and empower them to apply them (Cunliffe, 2010).


Cunliffe, A. L., (2010). Crafting qualitative research: Morgan & Smircich 30 years on. Organizational Research Methods, 30(3), 24-31.

Donaldson, L. (2005). Vita Contemplativa Following the Scientific Method: How I Became a Committed Functionalist and Positivist. Organization Studies, 26(7), 1071-1088.

Hassard, J. (1991). Multiple paradigms and organizational analysis: A case study. Organization Studies, 12(2), 275-299.

Jackson, N., & Carter, P. (1991). In defence of paradigm incommensurability.Organization Studies, 12(1), 109-127.

Morgan, G. (1980). Paradigms, metaphors, and puzzle solving in organization theory. Administrative science quarterly, 25(4), 605-622.

Van Maanen, J. (1991). Style as theory. Organizational Science, 6(1), 133-143.

Willmott, H. (1993). Breaking the paradigm mentality. Organization Studies, 14(5), 681- 719.