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Smith Professor Sets Tone for Global Conference

Aug 18, 2014
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Business and policy leaders looking for answers in the transformed world of social media need research that balances academic rigor with relevance, the Academy of Management’s new president-elect told participants Aug. 3, 2014, during the group’s annual meeting in Philadelphia, Pa.

“Business is not as usual,” said Debra Shapiro, the Clarice Smith Professor of Management & Organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.

As the Academy of Management’s program chair for the annual meeting Aug. 1-5, 2014, Shapiro chose the conference theme, “The Power of Words,” and explained its significance during the welcome session. “Everything across the program shows that words have consequences,” she told participants.

The theme resonated with the academy’s membership of nearly 20,000 educators, consultants and managers from 115 countries. About 10,000 of these members attended nearly 2,000 sessions comprised of professional development workshops, scholarly paper presentations, discussion papers and caucuses. The participation represented a 20 percent increase over the size of the 2013 meeting.

Smith Associate Professor Sunil Mithas also contributed to the meeting by serving on Shapiro’s All-Academy Theme Committee. Overall, 30 Smith professors and PhD students participated as panelists, moderators and presenters during 48 sessions.

Shapiro’s role as vice president and program chair during 2013-14 is part of a five-year commitment to serve on the Academy’s Executive Committee and Board of Governors. During the next year she will work as president-elect with Academy of Management President Paul Adler from the University of Southern California before starting her term as president in August 2015.

During Shapiro’s keynote remarks, she described how words affect the lives of people, firms, governments and their networks due to the reach and speed of Internet postings, the substance of which are not always accurate and whose sources are often faceless and untraceable. As a result, the consequences of words can be good or bad.

She said social media also has amplified the power of words by giving voice to the masses and blurring the lines between thought leaders and followers. As a result, governments and traditional media that try to control the messages people hear face new competition. “The Internet has changed how much talk comes from just the higher-ups,” Shapiro said.

Since Plato, Aristotle, Robert Frost and other inspiring writers identified poetry as an especially powerful medium for words, Shapiro delivered the bulk of her keynote address in rhyme.  She said words, like stones, sting here and there, and then asked: “Where is there and where is here? / The answer is no longer clear. / Twenty-four-seven, three sixty-five / While we’re sleeping, words go live.”

She concluded with a call for Academy members to revisit the consequences of their own words and to try to eliminate the “either/or” that often characterizes conversations and to replace those divisive words with and.” For example, Shapiro said: “Rigor or relevance: Why this war? / Why those two words: Either-or? / Both are needed. Both need tweak. / Both should therefore be our speak.” (Read the full text of Shapiro’s poem.)

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.