Bill Edgar on Core Competences and the Importance of Long-Form Presentation

Two illuminated question marks in a pile of unlit ones
The authors write that the idea of core competence—its essence, its discovery, and its contribution to corporate success—is neither mysterious nor difficult. But it helps to shine a little light on the process to find, define and refine those competencies. (Image: Qimono/Pixabay)

Before the pandemic, SAGE Publishing – the parent of Social Science Space – entered the then-simmering debate over whether academic monographs were long for this world by adding open access monographs to the existing platform for SAGE Open, the company’s flagship open access megajournal for the humanities, social sciences, and behavioral sciences.

SAGE Open Long Form provides peer-reviewed, “Gold” open access monographs in an online-first format and demonstrates SAGE’s belief in the vibrancy of the medium. Some research will only have its full impact when presented in a longer format. Especially in the humanities and social sciences, it is crucial to approach complex problems with equally complex solutions. Monographs — those longer, but shorter than book length, academic works on a single subject — are an important vehicle for disseminating this kind of research.

SAGE Open Long Forms aims to offer a new, affordable route for authors who would like to share their research through a trusted publisher in the form of open access, peer-reviewed, and professionally copyedited monographs. If you’re intersted in exploring this option for presenting your own research, SAGE Open offers a portal with FAQs and a proposal form.

The first SAGE Open Long Form monograph, “Corporate Core Competencies’ Essence, Contexts, Discovery, and Future: A Call to Action for Executives and Researchers,” come out in December. In it, authors William B. Edgar, an information educator at Kent State University, and Chris A. Lockwood, a management consultant and emeritus faculty at Northern Arizona University, discuss how even though researchers and managers value and even extol the importance of core competencies, they often present “a sprawling, even fragmented picture of core competencies’ essence and contribution.” Edgar and Lockwood see their monograph as “present[ing] a clear empirical model of corporations’ core competencies’ essence” along with methods for divining those competencies and then mobilizing them to create value from C-suite to customer.

Bailey Baumann, a managing editor on SAGE’s Open Access Journals team, talked with Edgar about his research and the monograph process for the SAGE Perspectives blog. We’ve reposted their conversation below.

Bailey Baumann: I understand that you wrote this monograph with a couple of different audiences in mind. Tell us about your target audiences and how this work addresses their needs.

William Edgar: We wrote this monograph for two audiences. The first is researchers, primarily faculty members, in management, especially strategic management. The second is key executives, managers, and intellectual leaders within corporations. We intend this monograph to serve both academics and professional managers simultaneously. As we mention in the Introduction, we hope we have made the monograph sufficiently conceptual to support academics’ research on core competencies and sufficiently practical to support managers’ understanding and application of core competencies. 

Head shots of William Edgar and Chris Lockwood
William Edgar, left, and Chris Lockwood

Our combined experiences as researchers, managers, and professionals have led us to believe that American culture often requires a strong separation of ideas (thinking) and practice (acting), to the substantial impoverishment of both. Or stated differently, ideas pursued through research and action pursued through managerial practice would be greatly enhanced through this research and practice’s contact and interaction with each other. When integrated, ideas improve action and action enriches ideas.

We hope very much that this monograph can serve as a bridge between research and practice and as a guide as to how thought and action can collaborate to understand and apply core competencies better.  Academic researchers, especially in the discipline of management, can bring their general expertise in social sciences, research, and organizations. Corporate managers can bring their specific expertise as to their own corporations and these firm’s managerial practices and challenges. When combined, these complementary areas of expertise can powerfully reveal specific firms’ core competencies and underlying patterns of these competencies across corporations.

Baumann: Could you summarize the key questions and contributions of your work?

Edgar: The monograph’s contribution to the research literature is to be a broad conceptual treatment of the social phenomenon of core competencies. The monograph examines these competencies along several dimensions: empirically (Chapters 1 and 4), theoretically (Chapters 2 and 4), methodologically (Chapter 3), and socially (Appendix to the Introduction). This kind of broad treatment has become rarer, as the culture of publishing has shifted toward narrowly defined journal articles, each of which often examines only one dimension at a time. 

Our work addresses a fundamental issue as to how industrial societies operate. Before the Industrial Revolution, work was generalized, meaning that most people lived in extended families, usually working family farms. This meant that people knew how to do many things generally (e.g. make clothes or build a house) but did not do them in great depth or in great numbers. The Industrial Revolution transformed this pattern, shrinking family size and moving people into organizations of unrelated people delivering huge amounts of specific, complex products and /or services. As we discuss in the Appendix to the Introduction, this specialization of labor led to the specialization of knowledge that eventually evolved into core competencies.

Baumann: Why is interdisciplinary research important? What has your experience been working within and across disciplines?

Edgar: The essential point to remember is that disciplines are artificial, sustained by human beings as conveniences to advance study. On the one hand they support deep study of their “claimed” phenomena but on the other hand, unlike the phenomena they study, they are not inherent to reality. But as they become larger and more complex, disciplines can impede rather than support study of phenomena, as disciplines become ends in and of themselves by settling into patterns of supporting certain types of study and inhibiting others. Interdisciplinary work is important because it corrects this by deliberately, simultaneously studying phenomena normally “claimed” by two or more disciplines to be in their own domains. This reminds researchers that disciplines are means and not ends—and generate knowledge about studied phenomena that would not be generated within an already established discipline.

The genesis of this monograph lies in such interdisciplinary work, which examined the mutual effects between core competencies—usually studied by the management discipline of strategy—and the selection of intellectual resources by corporations’ corporate libraries—usually studied by the discipline of Library and Information Science (LIS). This interdisciplinary work continued as Chris Lockwood—a professor of Management—and I—a professor of LIS—worked together over many years to deepen understanding of core competencies.  Each of our areas of knowledge—and of ignorance—related to each other’s disciplines contributed to the success of our work. For instance, I brought a deep understanding of information and knowledge from my discipline, Library and Information Science. Chris brought a deep understanding of strategic thought and practice from his discipline, Management. And each of us brought ignorance of each other’s knowledge. All this integrated and cumulated well into our understanding and presentation of corporate core competencies.

Baumann: Why is longer-form research important? What did you do with the monograph format that you couldn’t with the research article format?

Edgar: Long-form research is vital because it allows authors to present their work at several “levels” of aggregation. Our monograph can be studied and used in at least two of these levels. First, it presents essentially five stand-alone papers through its four chapters and its Appendix to the Introduction, each of which could have been published as articles. Each of these contributes substantially but differently to research or management of core competencies.

However, the monograph also allows for the integration of these chapters and this Appendix into a larger whole which the smaller confines of a journal article could not encompass. This is vital because core competencies’ essence, contexts, discovery, future, and social contribution all affect one another simultaneously to generate core competencies’ importance to industrial society.

Moreover, the long form allows for presentation of supporting conceptual and methodological tools to enable examination of these aspects of core competencies. Presented in the monograph’s Appendices B through U, these tools include core competence charts, interview instruments, and sets of systematic research and managerial questions related to core competencies.

The long form supports providing supporting material, in this case the monograph’s Study Guide, which condenses material from the monograph to support identifying corporations’ value provision situations and their specific core competencies. It also presents the monograph’s questions for managers and researchers to answer through collaboration in advancing the study and use of core competencies.

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