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Umbrella Advocates Versus Validity Police: A Life-Cycle Model

Paul M. Hirsch

Northwestern University

Daniel Z. Levin
Rutgers University

Organization Science, March–April 1999, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp. 199-212.


The rise and fall of organizational effectiveness, an “umbrella construct” once at the forefront of organizational theory, is traced through four life-cycle stages: emerging excitement, the validity challenge, “tidying up with typologies,” and construct collapse. Although the study of effectiveness has declined, research on its component elements continues to thrive. Using the effectiveness story as an exemplar, we develop a more general model of this process for all umbrella constructs, defined here as broad concepts used to encompass and account for a diverse set of phenomena. This life-cycle model—driven largely by a dialectic between researchers with a broad perspective (“umbrella advocates”) and those with a narrower one (“validity police”)—leaves open the possibility that some umbrella constructs may ultimately be made coherent or remain permanently controversial rather than collapse, as effectiveness has done. We propose that umbrella constructs will arise most frequently in academic fields without a theoretical consensus, will inevitably have their validity seriously challenged, will have a shorter life than their constituent elements, and will be more vulnerable to validity challenges when they lack support from practitioners. This model’s implications for the future direction of such current umbrella constructs as organizational learning, culture, strategy, and performance are also explored and elaborated. Ironically, some evidence suggests that studies around the construct of organizational “performance” have arisen to replace the nearly identical, but fallen umbrella construct of organizational effectiveness.

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