Resolving the Disconnects Between Academics and Practice in Entrepreneurship

Resolving the Disconnects Between Academics and Practice in Entrepreneurship
Dr. Suresh U. Kumar (email: drkumar@email.phoenix.edu)

During the past few years, as an entrepreneur and a doctoral researcher, I had the unique opportunity to straddle the worlds of practice (founding Inc 500/5000 ranked firms) and academics (education research, and outreach) in the field of entrepreneurship. In mid 2008, driven by intellectual curiosity and the excitement of new learning, I went about exploring what lay at the intersection of the worlds of academics and practice. Since the United States has been the leading economy in the world for several decades now, prior to my study I had assumed that there would be a high degree of interplay between the world of academics and practice. To my great surprise I discovered how loosely connected (or disconnected) the two worlds were from each other. While there are many parts and players, large and small, involved in the complex yet highly evolved entrepreneurial eco-system of the United States, this article highlights some of the gap that exists between the worlds of academics and practice in the field of entrepreneurship.

The Entrepreneurial Eco-system in the United States: For those who are not fully conversant with the entrepreneurial eco-system in the United States, it will help to get an overview of the key players. Among the well-known government agencies and organizations that have entrepreneurship development as one of their primary objectives are the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and the state/county/township level Economic Development Authorities (EDA’s). There are several well known foundations such as the Kauffman Foundation and the Coleman Foundation that play important roles in promoting entrepreneurship. There are hundreds of reputed universities, business schools, community collages, and centers of entrepreneurship all over the United States that teach, conduct research and promote entrepreneurship. The premier associations that represent academic institutions include the Academy of Management (AoM), the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) – the U.S. affiliate of the International Council of Small Business (ICSB), and the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE). Advocacy organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, various state and city chambers, and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) play important roles in the formulation of policy related to small business and entrepreneurship. The more recent and fast growing part of the eco-system is represented by social and professional networks of successful minority and immigrant groups such as the Indus Entrepreneur (TIE) for South Asian Americans and the Monte Jade Science and Technology Association of Greater Washington for Chinese Americans. Popular national and regional media outlets such as Inc. magazine and Entrepreneur; publishing houses, and a host of blogs/ social media outlets are heavily invested in supporting and promoting entrepreneurship. Put together all these organizations, along with thousands of others that has a secondary focus on entrepreneurship, play vital roles in the development, education, research, advocacy, outreach, and in provide networking opportunities for entrepreneurs.

The Disconnect: As previously stated, I limit my observations to the world of academics and practice in the field of entrepreneurship. Many major academic and practitioner organizations such as AoM, USASBE, INC, and TIE conduct large annual conferences for their members. My experience attending some of the events has been that, barring a few exceptions, there is very little by way of strategic dialogue and sustainable partnerships between academic and practitioner organizations that tie in practice, research, education, advocacy and policy in meaningful ways. I have found that organizations charged with fostering the practice and education of entrepreneurship, at least for the most part, operate in silos that separate entrepreneurs from educators and researchers. For example, academic conferences that are focused on entrepreneurship organized by USASBE and ICSB are attended just by a handful of practicing entrepreneurs, usually those who have a recent success story and have been invited to speak. The reasons? (a) there is hardly any outreach by academic conferences to entrepreneurs, (b) entrepreneurs have busy schedules and select events where they can get proven and practical ideas that could address they immediate concerns and have can be applied to their businesses, not abstract research finding, and (c) entrepreneurs and the organization that represent them often lack the training to find and see the relevance in academic research that could contribute to better decision-making. The disconnects are amplified as you go down the line to state and local organizations.

I have invited some of my entrepreneur friends to attend academic conference and the response almost every time has been some version of either “How will it benefit me?” or “I don’t know anyone there”. Having being part of the doctoral consortia of USASBE and ICSB, I can testify that there are plenty of excellent mentoring and learning opportunities for researchers at academic conferences. However, the value proposition for practitioners is not the same as for the majority of the papers presented at academic conferences the practical applicability is suspect. Why? As was brilliantly argued by William Bygrave, Ph.D., (2007), professor emeritus of Babson Collage, one of the most highly regarded expert in entrepreneurship in the United States, I found that the primary reasons are the use of improper datasets (examples: mom and pop business thrown in with high-growth businesses; or findings from VC funded firms, which are relatively few in numbers used to make broader generalizations), widespread use of secondary data, research models based on weak theory, research questions that are irrelevant, and use of esoteric quantitative techniques that is for the most part far removed from the reality of what actually happens inside the complex and chaotic world of start-up’s. According to Dale Meyer, Ph.D., (2011), professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, the academic field of entrepreneurship is “stalled” due the use of econometric methodologies and secondary databases that “distance researchers from actual people and behaviors that catalyze entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship” (p. 7). Truth be told, having sat through over 25 research paper presentations, including many award wining ones, barring a couple of notable exceptions, there has not been many  ‘takeaway’s’ that I could apply to my business. And remember, I was the one who went to the academic conferences actively seeking research findings I could apply to my study and practice.

On the practitioner organization side, over the years, I have attended many events and annual conferences such as the Americas Small Business Summit organized by the US Chamber of Commerce, Tie-con of TIE, and the annual Inc. 500/5000 Conference by Inc. magazine. At each of these events I was hard pressed to find well respected experts from research and academia. The reasons for this missed opportunity? (a) there is hardly any outreach by practitioner organizations to the entrepreneurship educators and researchers, (b) majority of the organizations representing practitioners stick with a narrow agenda that is designed get the immediate attention of their membership at the cost of addressing long term systemic issues that are supported and validated by painstaking research, (c) educational institutions do not give tenure credit to researcher who conduct workshops, do research, or speak at non-academic conferences, (d) universities and business schools do not reimburse researchers the fee and expenses for non-academic conferences. So why would a researcher with limited time and resources who has the tenure sword hanging over his or her head, attend a practitioner conference? The irony is that practitioner conferences are attended by large numbers of entrepreneurs and has the potential to be rich sources of collection of raw data and can serve as excellent testing labs for theory.

Some Suggestions for Bridging the Gaps: Based on my personal experiences, I propose a few recommendations for bridging the gaps between academics and practice in the field of entrepreneurship: (a) practitioner conferences should take the lead in shifting the paradigm of conference agendas to incorporate cutting edge research and by inviting academic experts and organizations, (b) academic conferences should have more workshops devoted to practitioner oriented research that emphasizes field studies and case studies of entrepreneurs and their ventures, (c) given the applied nature of entrepreneurship a strong case can be made for the presentation of a workshop or research paper at a practitioner conference counting towards tenure credit. I cannot think of any thing more important that a researcher can do than informing and improving practice and in fact, given the opportunity, many researchers I have met really want to. This of course is easier said than done as it will necessitate getting various accreditation intuitions onboard so that the proposed changes are credible, systemic, and sustainable, (d) reserving few seats at national conferences and other events at discounted fees on a reciprocal basis so as to encourage participation from both sides, (e) practitioner and academic institutions can work together to co-develop specially tailored experiential learning programs for entrepreneurs and educators, that incorporates critical contextual factors like human capital, nascency, ethnicity, minority/immigrant status, industry expertise, culture, and social/professional networks, and (f) more applied approaches to developing research-based knowledge that team researchers with entrepreneurs with the objective of making research questions and methods grounded in reality and therefore more relevant to policy and practice.

Entrepreneurship Education: Challenges and Solutions: A related area of concern is about how entrepreneurship is being taught at schools and universities to students who have an interest in the topic, some of who would eventually end up as practitioners or educators or policy makers. Several experts have raised questions about the effectiveness of teaching methodologies currently used in the classroom. Carl Schramm, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation, one of the foremost thinkers on entrepreneurship and economic policy, has questioned the usefulness of business plans and case studies as teaching tools and has contended that what is being taught at our schools and universities has very little relevance to the real world in which entrepreneurs work. Schramm (2011) has called for a “New Learning in Entrepreneurship” that will entail re-thinking what is taught, how it is taught, and to whom, when, and where. The widespread use of education models that are based on entrepreneurship as a linear process has been called to question by Norris Krueger, Ph.D., of Entrepreneurship Northwest, one the pioneers of research into entrepreneurial cognition. According to Krueger (2007) education should focus on constructivistic methods such as field studies and teaming with real entrepreneurs.

The applied nature and the social impact of entrepreneurship education demand a close collaboration between educators, researchers, practitioners and policy makers. Acknowledging the limited utility of current approaches to entrepreneurship education in an unpredictable world, Heidi Neck and Patricia Greene (2011) of Babson Collage has recommended new approaches that emphasize methods that involve applying, using, and acting. According to Per Davidsson (2002), entrepreneurship professor at Queensland University of Technology, Australia, putting research-based knowledge in business to better use requires academics who care about practice in the ways they source their research questions and disseminate their results. My research on high-growth Asian American immigrant high-tech entrepreneurs (Kumar, 2011) indicated that successful entrepreneurs have an intuitive way of learning from prior experiences and gaining entrepreneurial expertise quickly. Entrepreneurs, especially those with high human capital, if equipped with the proper theoretical foundation using online and just-in-time learning programs (Schramm, 2011) made available by business schools and centers for entrepreneurship, working in collaboration with researchers, could play an important role in finding solutions to some of the challenges discussed in this section.

Conclusion: Despite the rapid growth experienced by the academic field of entrepreneurship and the practice of entrepreneurship as two distinct endeavors, the challenges faced at their intersection are deep and multifaceted. It can be reasonably argued that the primary focus of academic and practioners organizations is different. My response is that if the end goals of organizations, regardless of academic or practitioner focused, are more or less similar, then organizational leaders have the responsibility to ensure greater collaboration. While there may not be a one size fits all solution, it is critical for academic and practitioner organizations and their individual members to explore avenues for collaboration to find out what works and what does not. To advance the field of entrepreneurship the internal disconnects discussed have to be addressed.

The good news is that the solutions to some of the challenges highlighted in this article are already emerging from institutions that have leaders who think like entrepreneurs do. Some examples that I have come across are: (a) Kauffmans practitioner oriented programs such as Labs and Education Ventures, where carefully screened entrepreneurs who are ready to start their ventures are mentored and provided with the coaching and tools needed to grow rapidly scaleable firms; (b) the Startup Weekend – a 54 hour hands-on iterative experience that brings together aspiring entrepreneurs with experienced mentors to share ideas, build teams, and launch startups; (c) Babsons flagship Symposia for Entrepreneurship Educators’ (SEE) that pairs educators and entrepreneurs in cross disciplinary teams that combines entrepreneurship theory and practice in teaching; (d) the Experiential Classroom organized by Oklahoma State University which retools teachers new to entrepreneurship with the best educational practices; (e) the 3E-Learning exercise run by the George Washington University that is designed for educators, practitioners and researchers to collaborate on new ideas, new knowledge, and new skills. In particular, some of the initiatives taken by Kauffman and Babson Collage to collaborate directly with well run and highly networked practitioner organizations such as Inc. and TIE hold great promise and must not only be enhanced and accelerated, but also reciprocated.

In order to capture the richness and the subtle intricacies of a complex, nonlinear, and disjointed social phenomenon such as entrepreneurship, a broad nationwide policy framework is needed that promotes collaboration and information sharing. A need exists for the cross-pollination of ideas and best practices between the various government agencies, foundations, universities, chambers of commerce, media outlets, and other independent organizations that represent and promote entrepreneurship. I am greatly encouraged by the creation of such as forum at the Future of Entrepreneurship Education Summit (feesummit.com) sponsored by Kauffman Foundation and organized by Extreme Entrepreneurship Education which is scheduled to be held at DC in November 2011. For an applied field such as entrepreneurship that some experts think is still in its infancy, a need exists for collaborative approaches that will further the understanding of the antecedents of successful entrepreneurship and how it is practiced.  For the framework to be relevant to practice, the individual entrepreneur must have a central role within it.

Note: Dr. Suresh Kumar is the founder of INC 500 ranked firms Green Earth LLC and NexAge Technologies USA Inc. His doctoral research study titled “The Linkages Between Cognition, Behavior, Culture, and Opportunity Among High-growth Asian Indian Immigrant High-tech Entrepreneurs” has been presented at various international academic and practitioner conferences. Contact: drkumar@email.phoenix.edu; website www.drsureshkumar.net

References

Bygrave, W. D. (2007). The entrepreneurship paradigm (I) revisited. In H. Neergaard and J. P. Ulhoi (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research methods in entrepreneurship (pp. 17-48). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Davidsson, P. (2011) Putting business research to practice. Brisbane Business News, 2011 Annual Edition, Brisbane, Australia.

Krueger, N. F. (2007). The microfoundations of entrepreneurial learning and education. In E. Gatewood & G. P. West (Eds.), The handbook of university wide entrepreneurship. Cheltenham, UK: Elgar.

Kumar, S. (2011). Linkages between cognition, behavior, culture, and opportunity among high-growth Asian American immigrant entrepreneurs. Accessed online on July 25, 2011, from http://www.drsureshkumar.net/suresh/DoctoralStudy.aspx

Meyer, G. D. (2011). The reinvention of academic entrepreneurship. Journal of Small Business Management, 49, 1-8.

Neck, H. M., & Greene, P. G. (2011). Entrepreneurship education: Known worlds and new frontiers. Journal of Small Business Management, 49, 55-70.

Schramm, C. J. (2011). The “new learning” in entrepreneurship. Ninth anniversary address, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Kansas City, MO. Accessed online on July 30, 2011, from  http://steveblank.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/kauffman-9th-anniversary-speech-041511.pdf

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10 Responses to Resolving the Disconnects Between Academics and Practice in Entrepreneurship

  1. Julie Weeks says:

    A very well-stated blogpost by Dr. Kumar. As a practitioner who was recently on the ICSB Board, I can suggest that one way to build stronger bridges between the research/education and the policy/practice pillars of the ICSB is not only to be more mindful that the content at our conferences is relevant to a variety of stakeholders in the world of entrepreneurship, but that our board is diverse and representative of these populations as well.

    • Excellent suggestion, Julie. Happy to learn that you have been on the board of ICSB representing practitioners. It is critical that the boards of academic associations have accomplished members who are immersed in practice and policy and vice versa. This will certainly go a long way in resolving the disconnect I have outlined in my article. Thanks for the valuable insight.
      Regards
      Dr Suresh Kumar

    • Suresh Kumar says:

      Hi Julie
      Are you planning on attending the 2012 ICSB at NZ? I am working in a symposium on the topic of resolving the disconnect and I feel you could add immense value. Please let me know
      Dr Kumar

  2. Hi Suresh, very interesting post, thanks.

    I would add that we also need to look beyond the USA as the world is more global than ever. Many countries and regions are using entrepreneurial teaching and practice in ways that don’t even get mentioned in the USA system.

    In the field I’m researching – academic research-based entrepreneurship- industry has already recognized the immense value of knowledge and is taking huge steps to capture that value and create different business models.

    Perhaps part of the challenge is to define – once again- de field of entrepreneurship. I think we need to evolve from the Start up phase, a learning I got by attending Babson College and later the SEE program. The European Union is already taking action to introduce entrepreneurial learning as part of the curriculum so students are prepared to “manage uncertainty, develop self-efficacy and understand how to utilize creativity and innovation to foster economic development”.

    There are many good programs in the USA and elsewhere, I think we need to continue promoting them and take advantage of the ease of communication to share it with many others. Thinking locally – the USA – is not the way, collaborating so we can all win seems more appropriate.

    Many thanks for sharing your interesting thoughts,

    Alicia Castillo Holley

    • Alicia: No question that the disconnects have to be addressed on a global scale. In fact I believe that it may even be easier to bridge the divide in emerging economies that are inherently entrepreneurial such as the BRIC countries; the reason: the key players are not too entrenched and therefore protecting status quo is lot more difficult as compared to the U.S.
      Thanks for sharing your insights.
      Dr Suresh Kumar

  3. Post Script from Author:
    I would like to acknowledge with gratitude the tips and suggestions that helped me enhance this article from the following people: Carl Schramm, Ph.D., President/CEO of Kauffman; Norris Krueger, Ph.D., Entrepreneurship Northwest; and Dr. Mark Schenkel, Ph.D., Belmont University; and Tim Conway, Roosevelt University. I also thank my entrepreneur friends who validated some of my thoughts.
    I have received feedback via email from several readers. I request members of ICSB/USASBE to leave your comments in this section. It will help achieve the main purpose of this article- to spark a discussion and sharing of thoughts on the topic.
    Thank you
    Suresh Kumar

  4. Simon Bridge says:

    Dear Dr Kumar,

    I was very interested in your article on Resolving the Disconnects Between Academics and Practice in Entrepreneurship which was featured recently in the ICSB Exchange. It is something that I too have experienced.

    When I first approached entrepreneurship it was from a policy maker’s perspective when I got a job in the Northern Ireland government’s small business support agency. Because we were asked to sponsor a ‘policy and research’ conference I attended it and went back to its successors in subsequent years. Thus I built links to the academic community and, I think, learnt a lot from them. However some of my fellow policy makers, when they attended such conferences, reported that that they were not useful. At the time I thought that this was because their expectations were unrealistic – a bit like trying to buy oven-ready meals from farmers.

    After a while I left the agency to set up my own business as a consultant, thus also becoming a practitioner. But, because I thought that a lot of what I had learnt about enterprise wasn’t available to others in an accessible form, with academic friends I wrote a book about enterprise which is now selling as an academic text book:
    Simon Bridge, Ken O’Neill and Frank Martin, Understanding Enterprise, Entrepreneurship and Small Business, 3rd edition (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

    So I have come from the policy side to the academic and, from my perspective, I believe that there is often a significant gap between policy and academic teaching and research. It may seem strange to talk of a gap in this area because governments have been interested in this area for some time and have invested money in its exploration, including funding a lot of academic research. I also think that a lot of academics don’t realise that a gap exists because they haven’t tested it themselves.

    Nevertheless some do recognise it. One is Allan Gibb and, if you haven’t already read it, you might find this article interesting:
    A. A. Gibb, ‘SME Policy, Academic Research and the Growth of Ignorance, Mythical Concepts, Myths, Assumptions, Rituals and Confusions’, International Small Business Journal, Vol.18/3, Apr-Jun 2000 p.13

    In it Gibb suggests that: ‘since the 1980s … there has been an explosion of research into entrepreneurship and the small and medium enterprise. This is reflected in a substantial growth in both the academic literature and in the grey literature of the press, journals and consultant reports. Combined with ease of access to information through the new international information technologies the growth in `knowledge’ has been exponential. … [However] despite the increase in academic knowledge, indeed perhaps because of it, there has been a growth of ignorance. … A major manifestation of this growth of ignorance is the emergence of a number of outstanding “mythical concepts” and “myths” which are considerably influencing the establishment of policy priorities.’

    I have also written a bit about this issue in Chapter 8 of my most recent book – which I wrote to explore the reasons why we are now realising that, despite supposedly being based on much research evidence, the policies followed to stimulate and support more entrepreneurship aren’t working:
    Simon Bridge, Rethinking Enterprise Policy: Can failure trigger new understanding? (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)

    I feel that there are a number of reasons for the lack of connection between research and policy, and between research and practice. For instance:
    a) Policy makers, researchers and actual entrepreneurs have different aims. Policy makers want things like more enterprise, more business starts and more growth in existing businesses; academics want things like PhDs and publications; and an entrepreneur wants to run his or her business now. But what an entrepreneur wants from running a business, and thus how he or she should run it, can differ from business to business. Thus governments may fund small business support schemes because they want fast-growing businesses, whereas business owners want help with their individual businesses but are not necessarily trying to grow. A medical analogy could be that what individual people want of a medical system will be treatment and cures when they are ill and for that they look to doctors and hospitals, whereas a government may want a healthier population and for that health measures such as better health education, providing a good water supply, and reducing pollution by maintaining a good sewerage system may be a much cheaper way of achieving that than funding more hospitals – and research will follow the policy with the funding.
    b) Two successive processes are involved: first the research and then the development of the research output into something useful for people such as practitioners and/or policy makers. Despite what others might say, my experience is that the development has to be done mainly by the end-user. I like the milk-to-butter analogy in the following example which I found from a military situation (and I use it as an illustration in my book):

    An Example of Bridging the Research-Practice Divide

    ‘In the final phase of a revolutionary campaign as envisaged by Mao Tse Tung, armed insurgents come out into the open and fight the forces of the government by conventional methods, but in the earlier stages the war is fought by people who strike at a time and place of their own choosing and then disappear. Sometimes their disappearance is achieved by the physical process of movement into an area of thick cover such as a jungle, and at other times by merging into the population. In either case those who are supporting them by the provision of money, food, recruits, intelligence, and supplies rely for their security on remaining anonymous. The problem of destroying enemy armed groups and their supporters therefore consists very largely of finding them. Once found they can no longer strike on their own terms but are obliged to dance to the tune of the government’s forces. It then becomes a comparatively simple matter to dispose of them. ….
    ‘If it is accepted that the problem of defeating the enemy consists very largely of finding him, it is easy to recognize the paramount importance of good information. As a rule those taking part in counter-insurgency operations do quickly recognize it, and stress the need for a good intelligence service to be built up. It is even common to find commanders at every level laying the blame for such failure as may have attended their efforts on the shortage of good information given to them. But there is a fatal flaw in the thinking of those who put down their lack of success to the shortage of information given to them, which is that the sort of information required cannot, except on rare occasions, be provided on a plate by anyone, not even by the intelligence organization. If there was a system whereby an intelligence organization could do this, it would have been devised years ago, and there would be no such thing as insurgency: because enemy armed groups and/their supporters would at once be found, harried, tracked down and destroyed by the army and the police.
    ‘The fact is that although intelligence is of great importance, it does not usually come in the form of information which will immediately enable a policeman or soldier to put his men into contact with the enemy. The reason for this is inherent in the way in which intelligence organizations work, collecting information as they do by operating informers and agents, or by interrogating prisoners to mention only a few of their methods. Information collected in this way is immensely valuable for providing data on which policy can be worked out, and it forms the background to operational planning. But only occasionally can it be used to put troops directly into contact with the enemy because material about enemy locations and intentions is usually out of date before it can be acted upon by the soldiers. The sort of information which intelligence organizations produce has to be developed by a different set of processes to those used by the organizations themselves before it can be used for putting government forces into contact with insurgents. A cow can turn grass into milk but a further process is required in order to turn the milk into butter.
    ‘Two separate functions are therefore involved in putting troops into contact with insurgents. The first one consists of collecting background information, and the second involves developing it into contact information. To over-simplify the full process it could be said that it is the responsibility of the intelligence organization to produce background information and that it is then up to operational commanders to develop it to the extent necessary for their men to make contact with the enemy, using their own resources. Undoubtedly this is an over-simplification because, as will be shown, operational units have a function in producing background information, and the intelligence organization can help in the business of developing it, but it is absolutely necessary to understand the fact that the main responsibility for developing background information rests with operational commanders and not with the intelligence organization. Once this fact is accepted it is possible to look at the two functions involved and view the straightforward military techniques which have been developed over the years in their correct perspective. No matter how proficient soldiers and policemen become at using these techniques, they will achieve no more than isolated successes unless they can use them as part of an efficient system for handling information.’

    Source: F. Kitson, Low Intensity Operations, (London: Faber and Faber, 1971) p. 95/6

    Does understanding some of the reasons mean that things will get better? I am not sure. I think that policy making organisations are big enough to be able to develop the expertise needed for the information ‘development’ process, but I don’t think they appreciate the need. Practitioners – those owning and managing small businesses – mainly won’t be able to do the necessary development and, because they have different and widely varying perspectives and aims from those of the researchers, the raw research output is unlikely to be useful.

    I don’t know if you recognise any of that, and I have probably gone on too long. But I offer these thoughts in case any of it helps in your endeavours.

    Regards

    Simon Bridge
    Visiting Professor (of entrepreneurship) University of Ulster

  5. Wonderful insights, Simon. Indeed you add an extra dimension to my own experiences- that of policy. You argument that the interest of educators/researcher, policy makers and practitioners are not aligned is compelling. As an optimist I believe that there is got to be a better way. So here is my question: Having seen the issues at close quarters , what are some of the ways you recommend that the gap can be bridged?

    • Simon Bridge says:

      Dear Suresh,

      I have been pondering your challenge. I would like to say – yes, there are ways I can recommend for bridging the gap – but none come to mind.

      I therefore wonder it we need to try to look at the issue in a different way. Some thoughts I have had are:

      Are we are taking about basic human behaviour and, if so, does it make sense to talk of a better way? When King Canute ordered the tide to stop was it because the thought he could command the sea, or to demonstrate to his courtiers that he couldn’t? Are we talking about human nature and can we change that or do we just have to learn to work with it?

      If my suggestion that it is really the user that has to make to effort to do the conversion is correct then researchers will not actually help by suggesting that they try to do it for them. (For instance insisting that all research papers should include a section on the policy implications suggests to the policy makers that the researchers will do the necessary conversion so they don’t have to bother.)

      Should we accept that the direct approach won’t work? ‘You can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink’. Do we have to be clever in ‘selling’ research output to users? Can we encourage the horse to want to drink? Clever marketing people (for instance those hired to sell fashion goods) understand the people often make purchasing decisions, not after logical analysis, but for reasons of ‘fantasy, feeling and fun’. They need to persuade people to buy their good by creating the perception that it is what other people are buying. Can researchers can something like that?

      I haven’t yet found a way of reaching policy makers directly if they don’t want to be reached. They don’t like the cost and risk involved in developing or trying something new – so copying ‘best practice’ which already appears to be working well elsewhere is something that appeals to them. Look how long it took the medical profession to learn the value of cleanliness during surgery, even after there was what now seems to be clear evidence that it improved survival rates. As Galbraith said:
      ‘Numerous factors contribute to the acceptability of ideas. To a very large extent, of course, we associate truth with convenience — with what most closely accords with self-interest and personal well-being or promises best to avoid awkward effort or unwelcome dislocation of life. …. But perhaps most important of all, people approve most of what they best understand. As just noted, economic and social behavior are complex, and to comprehend their character is mentally tiring. Therefore we adhere, as though to a raft, to those ideas which represent our understanding.’ (Galbraith, J. K. 1958. ‘The Concept of Conventional Wisdom’, The Affluent Society. 4th Edition London: Penguin 1991)

      Also what is the research message – because that will influence how it might be received? Is it confirming existing approaches? In which case it will be welcome but not very useful. Or is it suggesting that a different approach is needed? Because then it might be useful but is unlikely to be used because it is very unwelcome. I suggest that, while it might be expected that those responsible for policy would like to know whether their policy is working or not, in practice what they want research to tell them is that their policy is working. Again to quote Galbraith: ‘The skeptic is disqualified by his very tendency to go brashly from the old to the new. Were he a sound scholar, he would remain with the conventional wisdom.’

      I realise that I have focused mainly on the research-policy divide, because it is the one of which I have most experience. In the case of practitioners, and especially small business owners, they probably want so many different things that I don’t think we are going to find a single way of bridging the gap. We will probably have to look at each individual case on its merits.

      Sorry if that was not what you wanted.

      Regards

      Simon

  6. Suresh Kumar says:

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Simon. I agree with you that there are no easy options. However, I am making a case that lets at least make the attempt to understand each other. As an inexact science, in entrepreneurship, the research world should not rely solely on established theory. I believe that they can produce much better work by stepping into the shoes of people who practice it everyday.

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