orgtheory.net

business school research and teaching

Matt Symonds at Forbes.com wonders whether funding academic research is a worthy pursuit of business schools. Given the hard economic times (and yes, even the wealthy business schools are having to cut back), it might seem odd that research budgets are one expenditure most top schools are not willing to cut. In the article a number of business school professors and deans speak out, justifying the importance of research to actual MBA training. The usual arguments appear, including the idea that business school training should be more about professionalizing management than providing soft or hard skills. According to this vision research should be tightly linked to the professionalization  process.

Since joining the Academy of Management several years ago, one major difference I’ve noticed between b-school academics and sociologists is the priority Academy members give to integrating research with teaching. Although there are some movements within the ASA to improve teaching and link what goes on in the sections to what goes on in the classroom, this is mostly treated as a low status endeavor.  It doesn’t work in the same way in the Academy. Teaching, perhaps because our constituency is paying so much more for a good education than what you see in most undergrad social science departments and because of the related resource dependence, is an important part of the management scholar’s identity. Because research is also valued and because there is some distance between what we research and what we actually teach, b-school scholars spend a lot of time thinking about how we can integrate the two. It seems especially important for org. theorists because the gap between research and relevance is somewhat bigger (compared to, for example, strategy scholars). As evidence, check out the useful list of teaching resources the OMT Division has made available.

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Written by brayden king

August 10, 2009 at 12:39 pm

15 Responses

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  1. Here’s a thought experiment: would it be absurd to declare a moratorium on all research from b-schools until what is known becomes common practice, adopted by b-school grads and propagated among organizations that can benefit from that knowledge? This wouldn’t be a permanent moratorium, by the way–maybe three years or so. Enough that what we claim actually improves organizations and their contribution to society.

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    josephlogan

    August 10, 2009 at 8:38 pm

  2. I think that’s an absurd idea. A lot of b-school research doesn’t have direct implications and so it’s hard to imagine how one could so directly affect “common practice.” The function of social science research of any kind is knowledge development, not to be a laboratory for practice innovation. The point I was trying to make is that the classroom is the place where research knowledge bleeds into practice (or at least different frameworks for thinking about practice). The two complement each other, and so there’s no need to do a moratorium.

    Imagine if you were to make the same suggestion to medical researchers. Even in the medical field there is a gap between knowledge and practice, but most people would balk at the idea of putting an end to medical research until the knowledge had fully diffused among practitioners.

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    brayden

    August 10, 2009 at 8:46 pm

  3. Heh… Of course it’s preposterous. My point is that we know a lot of things that do not “bleed into practice”–even though they have been fairly well proven to work. Some of those ideas have been established for decades.

    Similarly–and I know this from having worked for a leading pharmaceutical company–there exists knowledge about treatments known to work that are not making it into practice. In that case, patients suffer. In the previous case, organizations and the people in them suffer.

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    josephlogan

    August 10, 2009 at 8:53 pm

  4. Sorry Joseph, I went back and edited my earlier comment to take out the word “preposterous.”

    I’d just add a couple of other points. First, we don’t know what will work in practice in the field of management until it’s actually put into practice. Like I said before, the purpose of most organizational research is to build general knowledge, not to innovate practices. Second, a lot of research in organizational theory, especially, isn’t even managerial in nature. The knowledge of our field might be useful for people other than managers. My point of view is that organizational theory ought to be somewhat critical of pure managerial approaches. It’s quite possible that the real beneficiaries of our research are organizational stakeholders, communities, etc.

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    brayden

    August 10, 2009 at 9:00 pm

  5. All good points, actually, and I stand by the assertion that a moratorium would be preposterous.

    As for what works and doesn’t work in management–one slice of org theory–we have both historical-explanatory and normative-predictive. We presumably have some ideas about what better practice might look like. At the very least, I think we have diagnostic insight (though far short of what one might expect in medicine). On the whole, I think the practice of management ignores a lot of the insight org theory has produced.

    In the broader environmental view, I think org theory has far more to say than the limited view of management. What remains unclear to me is what that knowledge adds up to; what is the societal contribution to knowing a thing (if there is one at all)? My opinion from both sides of the divide is that both managers and the broader stakeholders of organization are ignorant of or dismissive of the knowledge created by scholars, and that scholars are often dismissive of promoting that knowledge to the people for whom it might benefit. I suppose that’s a criticism, but it is not intended as a harsh one. It’s not a new insight at all.

    By the way, I like this discussion.

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    josephlogan

    August 10, 2009 at 9:12 pm

  6. “Teaching, perhaps because our constituency is paying so much more for a good education than what you see in most undergrad social science departments and because of the related resource dependence, is an important part of the management scholar’s identity.”

    I think that this is a really interesting proposition and wonder if it might be applicable to my area of training in demography. One of the reasons that I have really enjoyed being in a demography program and going to the Population Association meetings is because there is a much stronger focus on training and supporting junior scholars. Rather than having a paying corps of students, most population centers are funded by NIH grants as training centers and, thus, there is a strong financial (and organizational) incentive to emphasize teaching and/or training.

    I think that this has also led to a tighter integration of research with practice, particularly with many scholars serving as either employees or advisors to the Census and various state agencies as well. I don’t know enough about b-schools to know what the similarities and differences might be — either resulting from cultural differences or where/what type of financial incentives there are — but it could be an interesting test case/comparison to make.

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    mike3550

    August 10, 2009 at 9:52 pm

  7. Interesting discussion.

    The OMT list is pretty weak.
    Jerry Davis and David Touve put together this wiki a little while ago to <a href="http://teachomt.pbworks.com/help with the range of organization and management theory resources available.

    There is more on it. The OMT AOM site (always pretty straggly looking) used to link to it.

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    Jordi

    August 10, 2009 at 10:05 pm

  8. Aaarg. With correct link.

    Interesting discussion.

    The OMT list is pretty weak.
    Jerry Davis and David Touve put together this wiki a little while ago to <a href="http://teachomt.pbworks.com/&quot; help with the range of organization and management theory resources available.

    There is more on it. The OMT AOM site (always pretty straggly looking) used to link to it.

    Like

    Jordi

    August 10, 2009 at 10:06 pm

  9. “The purpose of most organizational research is to build general knowledge, not to innovate practices.” That is a very good thing to keep in mind.

    I’d add that research is a way for faculty members to satisfy their curiosity, i.e., pursue leads and develop ideas. It is a way to keep their minds active, which is crucial to effective teaching. A teacher that is unable to do any research (i.e., has no funding to do so) will have a hard to time maintaining the interest of her students, mainly because she will have a hard maintaining her own interest in her subject.

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    Thomas Basbøll

    August 11, 2009 at 8:30 am

  10. Ummm… I may not have been as clear as I would have liked during part of the above. I would not at any point want to see research stop–in fact, I would like to see more of it. The purpose of the “thought experiment” was to provoke the discussion about b-schools improving practice through their teaching, and continuing to create knowledge through research.

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    josephlogan

    August 11, 2009 at 9:19 am

  11. JL: I wonder if you were intentionally implying that the (only) purpose of research is increase our store of knowledge about practice? But that certainly seemed to be the implication of your thought experiment. A moratorium would only make sense (i.e., would not be “absurd”) if research had no other purpose than to inform practice. It seems to me that research can inform (and even transform) teaching without have any consequences for practice. In fact, research might make the teacher better able to deliver those practical insights that are already “known” to us. Research, that is, can help us to better understand what we already know.

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    Thomas Basbøll

    August 11, 2009 at 1:23 pm

  12. No, not really. I see a real value in basic research, and I also see a value in teaching that has no direct link to application. I think there are two things that struck me about Brayden’s post:

    1. Any question about funding research begs to put a (perhaps numeric) value on it, which the professors in the article wisely avoided. The thought experiment was a not-very-clever attempt to spark a discussion articulating the good arguments for preserving basic research.

    2. There is a lot of research that probably should be adopted as practice but isn’t, giving the impression that academic research contributes less to the practice of management than it actually does (as evidenced by Symonds’ question).

    Whether the theory doesn’t make it into the classroom or the classroom experience doesn’t make it into practice, there is applicable knowledge created that could improve the lot of organizations but doesn’t. This could be from ignorance, resistance, difficulty of implementation, or any of a number of other reasons. I’m actually applauding research here and asserting that more of it bleeding through into practice would be a good thing, but I’m not saying that all of it should or could.

    I would say, though, that teaching has pretty strong consequences for practice.

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    josephlogan

    August 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  13. That was actually quite clever. (It worked, didn’t it?)

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    Thomas Basbøll

    August 11, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  14. At my “Life for Sale” symposium at AOM, Miranda Joseph discussed how the quest for measuring effectiveness of university expenditures tends to drive out other reasons for doing research that can not be justified in terms of revenue streams. This is a familiar complaint, but she had been in the trenches of a strategic planning committee and has been actively looking for ways to account or measure effectiveness that support other purposes such as, you know, educating students or keeping professors’ minds active.

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    Jordi

    August 12, 2009 at 3:13 pm

  15. Just saw yesterday that the this discussion of teaching and research in business schools may have a different meaning for a new PhD/MBA dual degree program at Dartmouth and their graduates: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~news/releases/2009/08/10.html

    Like

    Hillbilly

    August 14, 2009 at 10:36 am


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