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Bridging the Academia - Business Gap

Having worked in the business world for the largest part of my career, in the past few years I gravitated back to academia in a kind of “bridging” role: tasked with finding ways to help academic organizations become more effective and efficient by applying tried and tested managerial practices. In the latest evolution of this bridging role, I have also been involved in knowledge exploitation activities – setting up the structures, processes and mechanisms for commercialising scientific research output.

One of the problems one comes up against when trying to bridge this gap is that the language, challenges and priorities of these two worlds are quite different. Ultimately, businesses need to find solutions to organizational problems within set time and resource constraints. We continually try to reduce complexity by breaking down problems and solutions to a number of workable steps. Furthermore, we need to deal with the interconnectedness of organizational variables, such as strategy, people, processes, and systems. So, when gleaning insights from scholarly research, the key is to ascertain whether academic knowledge is:

  • relevant

  • readily applicable

  • simple and concrete (and can support a compelling narrative)

Juxtapose this against the academic perspective, which is often open ended and on-going, focuses on novelty (rather than necessarily context relevance) and is driven by the need to publish in peer reviewed journals with an academic focus.

A practitioner is often comfortable with knowledge derived from experiential sources (case studies, own experience, common sense.). He/she often identifies best practices based on the experience of others who are viewed as leaders in a given field. This lends credence to a chosen course of action. Indeed, something is deemed to have credibility because it has been found to “work” and because an expert/leader espouses it. ”Best practice” therefore becomes a powerful argument for adopting a particular solution.

On the other hand, scholars tend to focus more on developing theoretical versus practical knowledge. Rigorous tests of verification are absolutely important in academia whilst in business, the prevalence of variety and exception often leads to an acceptance of “satisficing” objectives (a chosen course of action being good enough as opposed to exhaustively robust). This typically involves triangulation across methods and forms of data, as opposed to an insistence on robust definitions of theoretical constructs and methodologies.

There are also differences which stem from how we understand “evidence.” The scientist will insist on rigorous, controlled data as the most valid source of evidence (eg for clinical claims) while those who practice may rely more on subjective observation and intuition.

The growth in collaborations between scientists and practitioners creates opportunities for mutual benefit, and for narrowing the gap to some extent. Bridging it entirely, however, is neither feasible nor perhaps desirable given that the two worlds are driven by different objectives, motivations and incentives. In that light, we may have to live with the gap whilst attempting to draw lessons and learnings for mutual benefit.

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