Compassion as a generative force

By: Jane Dutton, Kristina M. Workman

Dutton , J.E., Workman, K. (2012). Compassion as a generative force. Journal of Management Inquiry, 20, 401-406.


Twelve years ago, Peter Frost called upon us to consider why compassion counts. More than a decade later, we can see, feel, and understand why compassion counts both in the field of organizational studies and in our lives as scholars. As he was so many times during his career, Peter was prophetic in identifying and animating a core idea that is central to our field and to our lives.

We approach this essay with three goals in mind, all focused on elaborating how compassion is a generative force. By generative, we mean that compassion as an idea opens up new vistas, expands resources, and creates new insights (Carlsen & Dutton, 2011). It is a force in the sense that it propels and motivates action. Given these definitions, we hope this essay achieves three goals. First, we aspire to celebrate the generative capacity of compassion by illustrating the wisdom and insight contained in compassion stories, and in particular in one of Peter’s compassion stories. Second, we invite reflection on the meaning of being a compassionate scholar through immersion in stories about Peter left by his colleagues after he died. Third, we discuss how compassion alters our focus, our work, and our imagination in organizational studies. Together, we hope all three angles on how compassion counts celebrate the contribution that Peter’s article is continuing to make in our field and in our lives.