Do you require “unexpected” results as an acceptance criterion for M&SOM? This is a common question I received from colleagues and some editorial members over the last few months.
To educate myself, I asked my colleagues why they asked me this question to begin with. Apparently, there is a perception that publishable OM papers must contain surprising results. This perception is not exactly baseless: many OM researchers now claim their papers contain results that are surprising, unexpected, counter-intuitive, unanticipated, etc.
Unexpected results are certainly intriguing, but it is “beauty in the eye of the beholder.” I wonder whether “unexpected” results are truly that “unexpected.” For example, when I read a paper that examines dynamic interactions among multiple players who engage in transactions that involve moral hazards, information asymmetry, hidden agendas, dynamic games, mechanism designs, etc. The analysis of these kind of articles is highly sophisticated and is usually based on certain simplifying assumptions. I often wonder if my measure of “unexpectedness” is due to my limited capability to anticipate the results correctly, my limited understanding of the subject matter, or my limited understanding of the implications of certain simplifying assumptions.
As I ponder over the issue of “unexpectedness,” I would argue that unexpected results are not required as an acceptance criterion for M&SOM. Instead, we should require each paper contains meaningful knowledge that can lead to more efficient and effective processes for the creation and delivery of goods and services.” My argument can be easily justified: it is the original mission of M&SOM.
What is meaningful knowledge in OM?
The mission of academia is to create knowledge (via research) and to disseminate knowledge (via teaching and practice (e.g., consulting)). The OM academic community needs to think about creating a body of knowledge (innovative and/or practical OM ideas) that is either testable (in terms of hypotheses, experiments, etc.), verifiable (in terms of empirical evidence), applicable (in terms of usability by practitioners), or extendable (in terms of applicability in other contexts). After reading a paper, I often ask myself: “did I learn something new and/or something meaningful to me as a researcher and to a potential practitioner?” The answer to this question should definitely go beyond unexpected results.
Ultimately, our OM research community must work together to build a body of OM knowledge for our end consumers (the practitioners) even though we share our findings with our colleagues and our students along the way. A body of OM knowledge is essential: it defines who we are!