December 18, 2009
The Mosaic Theory of Developing Scholarship
Posted by Trey Drury

As a junior faculty member, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to develop into a productive scholar, and one who has an impact on my field.  When I look at senior people whose careers I respect, it seems as if they sprouted from the womb as fully-formed intellectuals, born with a complete, big-picture understanding of corporate and securities law, and with a clear and compelling perspective on where that law should go.  They address fundamental issues, and they make me think about them in a way that I hadn't before.  If that picture is accurate, if those criteria are the standard to be met, I am, in a word, doomed.

But, instead of throwing in the towel, maybe it would be better to think about how to turn into one of those people, rather than bemoaning the fact that I am not one today.  In fact, as I meet more and more of my peers, it strikes me that very few of us have achieved that sort of mastery early in our careers.  Frankly, and with a couple of notable exceptions, most beginners who think they have are wrong.  

So, in comes my Mosaic Theory.  In essence, it advocates treating the work of corporate law scholarship like the creation of a mosaic - laying small tile after small tile, and eventually using those individual pieces to create a larger, coherent picture.  The name comes from the famous description of a securities analyst, whose job is to "piece seemingly inconsequential data together with public information into a mosaic which reveals material non-public information."  Specifically, it rejects the idea of beginning with a theory of everything and then applying that theory to your prospect of choice.  Rather, it advocates picking a discrete area, and writing in a convincing and thorough manner on a small topic in that area.  Then, do it again.  And again.  And again.  After a while, step back. 

If you have spent enough time laying the individual tiles, if you have taken care to lay them properly and with skill, the full picture will begin to come into focus.  When you see it, you are ready to write your big article(s).  If you don't, keep doing what you have been doing.

So, does this approach make sense to anyone else?  Am I fooling myself?  Is this just an overly elaborate way of saying "start small"?  I find this characterization useful and will explain in future posts how it can help candidates on the job market in crafting their research agenda, and how it is playing out in my own scholarship.

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