Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Minding the gap: Academia and Business

After a 7-year hiatus, I've been back on the UT campus, teaching, for about two months now. Each week, I notice different aspects of the great divide between academia and business. Each week it seems larger, but I'm beginning to better understand some ways to bridge it.

I've been toying with the idea with respect to social science for a few months now. It began with a small frustration: Why aren't social scientists more involved in conversations about 'our' work with the general public-- the way some journalists are? For example, discussions of collective action and all things collaboration and co-creation show little awareness of the early work on the pitfalls of brainstorming, groupthink, social loafing, or even social identity theory to name a few.

Last week I spoke with UT Psychology alumni and proposed a few possibilities:
  1. Terminology: Academics and businesspeople speak different languages -- in content and style.
  2. Comfort: Academics have safeguards against going beyond the constraints of an experiment; businesses often make 'business decisions' with more directional insight.
  3. Information flow: (Right, chicken vs. egg.) There's very little flow of information from one world to the other. No means to efficiently access research (PsycINFO!) and firewalls that protect business questions.
  4. Currency: While everyone wants fame and glory, it seemingly comes in different forms for academics and businesspeople.
Or does it? Do they?

In his UT Game Changers talk this evening, Bob Metcalfe laid out three broad reasons as to why it's difficult to build an entrepreneurial culture at research universities. Paraphrased below, his reasons overlap with some of mine above, and otherwise extend the list:
  1. Stigma: Some believe commercialization is crass
  2. Reward structures: Participation in entrepreneurial activity is not aligned with incentives
  3. Means. Some researchers believe they don't know how
Why do you think the gap exists? How could the theories and ideas from social science have so much relevance to business today, yet play so minimal a role in the broader conversation?

PhotoCredit: flickr.com/BlazerMan