Creating a colorful model of change

Reflection on developing a theory as scholar-practitioners

Hans Vermaak, Léon de Caluwé- Journal of Management Inquiry, 2017

This article describes how, almost twenty years ago, we came up with a meta-theory of change, now referred to as the “color model,” and how that theory has developed over time. We look back, using Smith and Hitt’s four-stage model of theory development, to better understand how one creative idea took on many manifestations, became a robust theory and is now widely used.

The case illustrates that journey was spurred on by breakdowns in meaning, influenced by context and serendipity, and shaped by incremental elaboration. We identify three distinct periods of development: inception, storming and norming, and maturity. In each of these periods we discern a similar pattern of activities: tension, searching, elaboration and proclamation.

We review the case history in order to contribute to our understanding of theory development and suggest some additions to Smith and Hitt’s model. As academic practitioners, we discuss how our position in the field impacted the way we approach theory and theory development. We conclude the article with a discussion on the downside of originality and a suggestion for how to bridge the gap between academia and practice more effectively.

The article in the Journal of Management Inquiry is based on a paper that was awarded the Rupert F. Chisholm Best Theory-to-Practice Paper Award by the Organization Development & Change Division at the Academy of Management Annual Conference in 2015. An abbreviated version of the paper is  included in the Best Paper Proceedings  2015 of the Academy of Management and can be downloaded here.