Executives don’t give a shit about academic research; that’s a chasm

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There’s a literal metric ton of research out there about work, often conducted by academics. Heck, some of it is even used in the above-average white papers that people peddle left and right. The below-average white papers are just cut-and-pasted from top Google results, but I digress.

This makes sense: academic researchers are interested in proving things, and we spend a huge percentage of time at work. Work has interesting variations on teamwork and control and reporting structure and nuance and organization and project development, so it’s a very beautiful tapestry for an academic to dive into. No doubt.

But there are two problems we can’t avoid.

Problem 1: Academics vs. executives

This is how each side typically views each other, with the caveat that every situation is different:

Academics look at execs and say “Whoa, that’s an extremely inefficient way of doing things. They should look at my research. And what’s with the all-consuming focus on money? That said, I want access to their ecosystem to do my work, because I must publish, lest I perish…”

Execs look at academics and say “That’s ivory tower bullshit. These guys are eggheads with protected jobs. If I don’t produce, I don’t eat. I’m out here doing it every day. Who cares what the research says? They’re not in here living it. I know my vertical.”

Generalized? Yes. Often true? Also yes.

Problem 2: Is the research helping?

From an article about “how social science can become more solutions-oriented,”I need you to pay attention to this sequence:

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So, Microsoft … one of the most successful companies of the past 20–30 years, minus maybe the Ballmer downturn and the miss on the iPhone. OK. Microsoft has billions upon billions of dollars in resources, and we (as a society) have 100+ years of “management science,” whatever exactly that means. Despite the potential intersection of “We can pay you lots of money” and “You should have some science here that’s worth a damn,” well … the problem is that a lot of “management science” doesn’t lead anywhere. It would not help Microsoft get where it needs to go in terms of a massive re-org.

And if management science doesn’t exist to serve the biggest and baddest companies with their people needs, then what the hell is it anyway? Is it “a science” at all?

The chasm

You absolutely need to understand the psychological mindset of these two sets of people:

  • Those who want to run a big company

Those are very different types of people. The former is probably interested in a specific market, a specific set of products, and making money. The latter is interested in discourse, discussion, data, and research. The former probably speaks in acronyms and cliches over time, if not from the beginning of their career. The latter is more measured and uses bigger words (that are often as much bullshit as the words an exec uses).

Regardless, they are extremely different types of people. Why would we ever believe that the research generated by the latter would be respected and put into practice by the former?

This is part of the reason why trade shows are still around, too: the digital world confuses a lot of executive-types. They “came up” in business on the idea of discussing solutions and tactics all the time. But digital marketing is all about these fluffy bullshit white papers and research and “Here’s a new study saying…” in hopes you click it and become a lead. The vendor ecosystem confuses a lot of execs. They would probably rather see a sales one-sheeter because that’s the world and vocabulary they understand.

Trade shows allow you to be face-to-face with potential prospects, which is more effective anyway, and it allows you to have the types of discussions you’re comfortable with. No research BS. No fluffy academia. Let’s just hit the pain points and get that sale, or at least get ’em down the funnel!

It’s weird to me that more people don’t see this chasm as a major input into how many of us perceive work.

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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