management research: basic science? applied science? neither?


Providing commentary at the recent Atlanta Competitive Advantage Conference, Dr. Dan Levinthal noted that the debate on whether strategic management should concentrate on studying problems or on providing solutions is far from settled. But as we examine our applied work — what kind of knowledge do we provide to practitioners, how accessible it is, and how it compares to the advice dispensed by other applied fields? “How does Harvard Business Review compare to an IEEE journal?” asked Dan, noting that both aim to publish applied science, whether in business or in engineering.

Expanding to another applied field, medicine, one can only admire the level of technical sophistication and the specificity of the problems discussed in a journal such as JAMA, yet the journal maintains among its goals, “to provide physicians with continuing education in basic and clinical science to support informed clinical decisions”, and “to enable physicians to remain informed in multiple areas of medicine”. In other words, JAMA is a practitioner-oriented publication.

Why is it that engineers, physicians, or lawyers can read, understand, and apply scientific research in their field, while managers make use of management research so infrequently? Why is it that an article in leading law journal can quickly make it to the front pages of the New York Times, while a paper in one of our top journals will typically end up on the desks of only by a handful of scholars? Why is there a gap of decade (or two) between developments in research and their eventual adoption by practitioners? 


Written by sslevine

June 23, 2006 at 6:45 pm

One Response

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  1. Basic science is valuable for its own sake, but it frequently pays off by providing insights that can help managers improve their operations/corporate strategies. Of course, many of us believe that managers aren’t the only people that should benefit from our research. Other stakeholders can also find useful knowledge.

    I think the rubber meets the road in journals like SMJ, where both basic and applied science are valued.



    June 24, 2006 at 3:24 pm

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