James G. March

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James G. March

James Gardner March (January 15, 1928 – September 27, 2018) was an American business theorist and professor emeritus in management, sociology, political science, and education at Stanford University. Widely recognized as a pioneer of organization and management theory, March coauthored the classic books Organizations (1958) and A Behavioral Theory of the Firm (1959).


  • In recent years there has been increased interest in the effects of internal communication on decision processes. A number of hypotheses relating the bias in information to the final decision have been proposed. In this paper we discuss two laboratory experiments which were designed to test two such hypotheses. The first experiment tests the hypothesis that cost and sales estimations are made with the implicit assumption that a biased pay-off structure exists. The second experiment tests explicitly the effects of biased and unbiased pay-off structures on estimation within an organization. An analysis of the data for the two experiments is made and some implications for further research are drawn from the results.
    • Richard Cyert, James G. March, William H. Starbuck. (1961) "Two experiments on bias and conflict in organisational estimation," Management Science, 254–64; Abstract
  • Contemporary theories of politics tend to portray politics as a reflection of society, political phenomena as the aggregate consequences of individual behavior, action as the result of choices based on calculated self-interest, history as efficient in reaching unique and appropriate outcomes, and decision making and the allocation of resources as the central foci of political life. Some recent theoretical thought in political science, however, blends elements of these theoretical styles into an older concern with institutions. This new institutionalism emphasizes the relative autonomy of political institutions, possibilities for inefficiency in history, and the importance of symbolic action to an understanding of politics. Such ideas have a reasonable empirical basis, but they are not characterized by powerful theoretical forms. Some directions for theoretical research may, however, be identified in institutionalist conceptions of political order.
    • James G. March and Johan P. Olsen. "The new institutionalism: organizational factors in political life." American political science review 78.03 (1983): 734-749.
  • They [human beings] are unwilling to gamble that God made those people who are skilled at rational argumentation uniquely virtuous. They protect themselves and others from cleverness by obscuring their preferences.
    • Jame G. March "How Decisions Happen in Organizations"; Human-Computer Interaction, 1991, Volume 6 pp. 95-117
  • Pure rationality and limited rationality share a common perspective, seeing decisions as based on evaluation of alternatives in terms of their consequences for preferences. This logic of consequences can be contrasted with a logic of appropriateness by which actions are matched to situations by means of rules organized into identities.
    • James G. March (1994), A Primer on Decision Making: How Decisions Happen, p. 57
  • Unfortunately, the gains for imagination are not free. The protections for imagination are indiscriminate. They shield bad ideas as well as good ones—and there are many more of the former than the latter. Most fantasies lead us astray, and most of the consequences of imagination for individuals and individual organizations are disastrous. Most deviants end up on the scrap pile of failed mutations, not as heroes of organizational transformation... There is, as a result, much that can be viewed as unjust in a system that induces imagination among individuals and individual organizations in order to allow a larger system to choose among alternative experiments. By glorifying imagination, we entice the innocent into unwitting self-destruction (or if you prefer, altruism)
    • March cited in: Robert I. Sutton (2002) Weird Ideas That Work: 11 1/2 Practices for Promoting, Managing, and Sustaining Innovation. p. 192

A behavioral theory of the firm, 1959


Richard M. Cyert and James G. March. A behavioral theory of the firm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ. 1959, 1963.

See Richard Cyert#A behavioral theory of the firm, 1959

Rediscovering institutions, 1989


James G. March and Johan P. Olsen. Rediscovering Institutions: The Organizational Basis of Politics. Simon and Schuster, 1989; New York: Free Press, 2010.

  • Social, political and economic institutions have become larger, considerably more complex and resourceful, and prima facie more important to collective life. Many of the major actors in modern economic and political systems are formal organizations, and the institutions of law and bureaucracy occupy a dominant role in contemporary life.
    • p. 1-2

Ideas as Art (2006)

James G. March & Diane Coutou "Ideas as Art". Harvard Business Review 84 (2006): p. 83-89
  • If a manager asks an academic consultant what to do and that consultant answers, then the consultant should be fired. No academic has the experience to know the context of a managerial problem well enough to give specific advice about a specific situation.
    • On academic consultants.
  • No organization works if the toilets don't work, but I don't believe that finding solutions to business problems is my job.
    • On artistic sensibility.
  • … we sometimes find that such heresies have been the foundation for bold and necessary change, but heresy is usually just crazy. Most daring new ideas are foolish or dangerous and appropriately rejected or ignored. So while it may be true that great geniuses are usually heretics, heretics are rarely great geniuses.
    • On leadership and the relation between madness, heresy, and genius.
  • I am not now, nor I have ever been, relevant.
    • Said each year during the beginning of classes at Stanford.

Quotes about James G. March

    • James March, a Stanford-based social scientist... is much more a gurus’ guru than a guru to the general public. He finished second on the gurus’ gurus list and 48th on the original list.
    • Laurence Prusak, Thomas H. Davenport, "Who Are the Gurus' Gurus," Harvard Business Review Survey, December 2003, p.14–16
    • Comment: According to a 2003 survey for Harvard Business Review conducted by Laurence Prusak and Thomas H. Davenport, March is second in prominence only to Peter Drucker.
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