The Economist published a challenging article about management research: "Practically irrelevant". The tile speaks for itself. It is observed that business schools (as all other academic disciplines) are evaluated on the quality of research and this according to its academic qualities. It is published in journals that never ever a business man will read, and I would even suggest more, that also most academics don't read. How the hell could you read all the publications appearing today? We have indeed created a self-fulfilling prophecy where the volume and the rankings are more important than the contribution. The Economist suggests that while preparing their students for the real world, they research a theoretical world: does academic research contribute anything to business ?
It is AACSB (amongst others) that have refueled the debate (that is an old one anyway). They forget for a moment that it are mainly those accrediting bodies and periodicals like the Financial Times that have an almost extravagant impact on that publications policy.
Academic tradition (as in any discipline) became publish or perish, not contribute or perish. Careers depend on it. The Economist correctly suggest that mindsets need to be undone. It is not about disciplines but about contribution to innovation. And how to rank the outsider; the outsider that is probably really extending the frontiers of knowledge.
I am not convinced that the solution suggested (more implication of business) is the right one. Since the pharmaceutical companies are sponsoring most of pharmaceutical research it is not surprising that most research goes to diseases of the wealthy world (that can pay the drugs) and not to the most devastating diseases. The problem is career technical (how to succeed an academic career; something which could be managed differently by the business schools) and epistemological (do we really only need rational, quantitative and reductionist research). The economist puts the finger on that sour spot: quantitative, reductionist research doesn't add a lot to the understanding of human behavior. We know it, but we continue. And at the end of the day, the researcher is inventing an interesting problem that can be researched (technically) but that has no relevance anymore.
We should not become consultants, though, since we have many of them already and they don't contribute necessarily either to progressing a deeper understanding of management. We need another epistemology, searching for non discovered roads yet. Re-search (searching what already has been searched) can only lead to re-finding (finding what already has been found.
Maybe we should be courageous enough to start searching into a new management paradigm, as was suggested on the Global Compact summit in Geneva, July 2007 (see my earlier post), or during the IONS conference last August in Palm Springs (also see my earlier post).
I agree with the analysis of the Economist, but not with its remedy. Let us be a bit more courageous and contribute indeed a new conceptual (conceptual indeed) understanding of management practice (and not theory). Most probably, we are not going to find that in our A journals.