The Fate of Ideals in the Real World: A Long View on Philip Selznick's Classic on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
International Journal of Project Management, Forthcoming
Posted: 27 Sep 2017
Date Written: May 17, 2017
Philip Selznick’s first book — TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study in the Sociology of Formal Organization, 1949 TGR — tells the story of how the the ideals of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) were thwarted by the reality of political pressures from its environment. Although TGR boasts one of the highest citations for a scholarly work in management, project management scholars do not cite it. Why has project management scholarship lost one of its founding classics? We investigate why TGR meets the criteria of a classic. We show that TGR’s focus on societal outcomes and ideals is an improvement on conventional project management’s focus on technical outputs and efficiency. Moreover, TGR contributes process theories — e.g., goal displacement and values depletion — for how major projects often fail. We conjecture that project management scholars ignore TGR because it represents uncomfortable knowledge. Project management discipline is in a crisis. We call for a humanist paradigm shift.
Keywords: TVA and the Grass Roots, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Philip Selznick, Social Ideals, Temporary Organizations, Megaprojects, Institutional Theory, Goal Displacement, Values Depletion, Outputs versus Outcomes
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