Teppo Felin refers in orgtheory, one of my favourite blogs, to a list of the 100 world-changing discoveries and ideas that resulted from research projects developed at UK universities in the past 50 years. The list is published in a report produced by Universities UK and subsequently summarised in an article published in The Guardian last week. One of the objectives of the report is showing how basic research is linked to the improvement of society and well being and it comes at a time when the UK government plans to change the current system of funding university research, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and replace it with a metrics system which is currently under consultation.
Sadly, the report’s list does not include any discoveries found at business schools. Nevertheless it lists contributions originated at schools of social and political sciences: for example LSE, the London School of Economics of the University in London is credited with a significant number of new ideas that transformed society. The absence of b-schools in the list of research innovators is not a consequence of their relative youth as compared to other academic institutions, since many b-schools were founded more than 50 years ago, the lifespan surveyed in the study. Is there any other reason justifying the lack of creativity at business schools?
Some months ago, a prestigious colleague from Europe told me that he believed there were very few ideas –if any- generated at business schools that have contributed to the transformation of real management practices. He sustained that the process of innovation in business knowledge works the other way round, that it starts with the analysis of real world practices and not in an academic vacuum. Management knowledge is made of human experiences, an amalgamation of “human devices”. Since the only management facts to be discovered exist in the real world –and not in some other ideal, platonic, sphere- the development of management knowledge is distinctively clinical. A similar solid line of reasoning can be found in a popular article by Bennis and O’Toole published in Harvard Business Review.
I agree with Teppo that “Knowledge-building and research is about a systematic effort to explain, understand, and predict - driven by careful theory-building and data collection” but I am a little puzzled when he adds “that inherently choices need to be made as to which type of knowledge should be privileged, particularly in a b-school and university environment. Do we value scholarship (and teaching) that is theory-driven, or teaching (scholarship?) by executives that is experience-driven?”
For a long time academia has strongly emphasized the excellence of “basic research”, and the lesser value of the so called “applied research”. It is probably time to reconcile the two and it seems that the “attached view of business schools” defended in a previous post works in this direction.
I am happy to find Herbert H.L.A Hart´s contribution to Jurisprudence among the “ideas for ideals” selected among the 100 world-changing discoveries mentioned above. Hart was an exponent of how academia and practice could be combined almost perfectly and I was lucky to be tutored by him at Oxford in his later years as member of the University College. Interestingly, my understanding is that most of the ideas elaborated in his “The Concept of Law”, a work that transformed the way Law is taught at most western schools, were generated in his practice as a barrister, before he joined the academia. Indeed, Jurisprudence and the theoretical analysis of Law has been a typical area of clinical research. Business schools and law schools could exchange best practices on research and producing inventions that transform the world.