In the book Strategy Safari, management guru Henry Mintzberg said that no single perspective or theory can sufficiently cover strategy (or management) as a field; the field is an elephant that requires many eyes and minds to properly understand . Mintzberg is one of the speakers at the Academy of Management (AOM) annual meeting in Boston this weekend. But he’s not alone: more than 11.000 people (!) choose to spend the best time of the year in clammy conference rooms to present and discuss their incomplete opinions on management. (This is the point where I would make a funny remark about that, but the joke would literally be on me). At this mammoth conference, the elephant of management is—for the 72nd time—under attack.
I usually attend other conferences—aimed specifically at operations management—the largest of which usually attracts less than thousand participants (POM). AOM, on the other hand, collects thousands of researchers from all over the world and across many, many fields. Here you can delve into specific tracks for “managers’ inner peace”, “managers’ generational differences”, and hundreds of other more mainstream topics. But be sure to prepare for confusion; the conference program is overwhelming. It’s nothing but impressive that AOM is able to pull of a successful conference of this size year after year (…on a second thought; if not exactly the AOM-people are able to do it, who would…?)
A first sign of the jungle is the “telephone directory of a program” that you get with your check-in-package. A second sign is all the AOM badges attached to all types of academics muddling around in the beautiful Boston city centre. A third sign is the physical distance between the conference hotels. However, despite the size—and in contrast to many other conferences—much is very smooth and well-designed at AOM: responsibilities for each division are hierarchically distributed and follow standards, participants do self-check-in at counters, the web page is functional and up-dated, and there is even a smart phone app for the conference that is useful for navigation between tracks and breaks. Even in this jungle of presentations, it is possible to keep a sort of overview.
I could probably go on forever about what is actually discussed at the meeting. However, even if 11.000 people talk and think simultaneously, not a single one can participate in and keep track of more than a handful of discussions and ideas (Mintzberg’s elephants is still alive). Here is the theme for this year’s meeting: The Informal Economy:
The informal economy refers to commercial activities that occur at least partially outside a governing body’s observation, taxation, and regulation. (…) The informal economy’s size and scope is noteworthy and impressive. This economy accounts for noticeable portions of economic activity in developed countries such as Finland (18.3 percent), Germany (16.3 %), France (15.3 %), and the United States (8.8 %) to name but a few. At the other end of the spectrum, informal economy activity accounts for between 50 and 75 percent of non-agricultural employment in many developing countries. Its influence is certainly pervasive. Partly because of this, the informal economy poses significant challenges—but perhaps also opportunities—on both a human and a policy level. (…) 
If you—for any reason—got intrigued by this post; check out AOM  or join next year’s conference in Orlando, Florida, August 2013. The rumor has it, at the AOM annual safaris, there are some pretty wild free-bar “receptions”…