In a landmark 2005 Harvard Business Review article, USC business professors Warren Bennis and James O’Toole argued that the skills imparted by most business schools were not relevant to students and their eventual employers. The authors blamed business schools’ scientifically rigorous research into arcane areas – studies whose theories didn’t have to be proved to work in the real world, only to the academic journals in which they hoped to get published (and, they maintained, on which tenure depended). Do management professors “believe that the regard of their peers is more important than studying what really matters to executives who can put their ideas into practice?” Bennis and O’Toole wrote. “Apparently so.”
Nearly 10 years after the article was published, we believe this problem is even more acute, and that as such business schools need to get serious about making research more relevant to business. The best way do that is to emulate the world of medical research: conduct research and then put it into practice with real companies.
The rise of rigorous research in business schools has fostered an unfortunate paradox: business schools have become increasingly disconnected from practice. The reason is that business school faculty are almost exclusively rewarded on two metrics. First, they are rewarded for the number of scientific papers that they write that are published in prestigious journals that are exclusively controlled by, and read by, other academics. Second, they are rewarded by their citation count—the number of times their articles are cited by articles from other professors.
These incentives play a powerful role in how business schools are ranked. In fact, professors are often terminated during tenure evaluation if they do not perform well on these two dimensions. These incentives mean business professors spend most of their time searching for research topics they think will interest other business professors, conducting that research, and attending academic conferences to promote their work to other professors and increase citation counts. Professors who attend industry conferences or immerse themselves in the practice of business decrease the chances of performing well on publication and cite counts.
The result of this scholarly activity is a closed system. Business faculty create a body of knowledge that is scientifically novel, interesting, and important. But far too often, the research doesn’t address the real problems of entrepreneurs, managers, investors, marketers, and business leaders.
While many business professors view putting research into practice as incompatible with modern research universities, they only need to look across their campuses to academic medical centers to see that this view is outdated. Medical schools understand that patients are not well served by research driven solely by biologists, chemists, psychologists, and other research faculty who never treat patients.
Academic medical centers integrate research with practice through what the medical community refers to as “translational research.” Translational research takes scientific research conducted in the lab and makes it useful to people. Fully integrated translational research faculty are tenured professors who practice medicine and use the latest scientific techniques to answer questions about those techniques from practicing physicians. In addition, they often coauthor research papers with basic scientists and collaborate on clinical initiatives with clinical faculty.
The work of translational medical scientists means the knowledge production engines of medical schools advance basic science, applied science, and the practice of medicine. Why should business research and business professors be any different?
Five changes would initiate a new era of highly relevant business school research:
- Create translational business faculty appointments for professors who are trained in scientific research techniques and also want to be involved in business practice.
- Create and treat as prestigious translational business journals. Then make sure business school “scientists,” translational scientists, and practitioners jointly make publication decisions.
- Create translational business doctoral programs to build a cadre of future faculty who integrate research on business with practice by doing both.
- Actively seek out businesses to fund studies, and reward faculty who obtain corporate-funded research and thus reduce the reliance on university funding.
- In evaluating faculty performance, include business consulting activity (that comes out of research) and its impact on businesses.
To be sure, corporate funding of medical research for some time has been accused of biasing findings in favor of for-profit interests. Corporate-funded business school research has the potential for conflicts of interest as well. But the way to resolve them is through full disclosure of funding sources and high research standards. The academic journal referrees of any business study should look closely at whether its findings and research methodology could have been biased. For their part, researchers must specifically explain how their methodology eliminated such bias.
Getting business professors to change their research agenda requires deans who embrace fundamental institutional change. While such change is never easy, the good news is that business schools have a strong scientific capability to build upon. They only need to apply that capability to issues that are much more relevant to the organizations that will employ their graduates.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.
Powered by WPeMatico