What can business learn from Academia?

So we’re in the first week of relaunching the blog. Complete with not yet altogether template – and devoid of course of content. Justin and I made the conscious decision to just get it up and running and observe how the blog evolves from there. I don’t want writers block to settle in, so I’ll kick things off from the first post.

What are the goals of this blog? Brandon, Justin and I all have different reasons for wanting to give the blog a go so I’ll speak to my own.

When we launched the blog in 2005 we were just some young braniacs who were on the tail end of a six year journey of matriculation having entered an accelerated MBA program right out of high school. Over time we completed a number of internships, excelling in each one yet we held loftier goals. We didn’t want to just enter the work force and climb up the corporate ladder, we wanted to be driving forces behind business success. Accordingly the goal of notsocommoncents was to apply our business acumen beyond coursework and to join the conversation buzzing beyond our campus. Worded another way our goal was to extend our academic experience (the teaching and learning from others) to the inter webs.

In the process I learned a lot about online marketing, corporate complacency, herd mentality, good enough, and even homogeneous thinking within corporations. We gained more and more readers and more than our fair share of kudos. So this blog really served as the launching pad to our realization that yes – there really is a better way to approach problems and do business. So why relaunch? Why now?

For me its probably for the same reasons. Over the past three years I’ve immersed myself in data, market research, competitive analysis, marketing books, consumer behavior and a host of other topics that peak my interest and while I have great colleagues who are extraordinarily helpful and insightful (one of the perks of working at Microsoft) I feel I’m fighting the onset of corporate glaucoma. Which is to say the narrowing of business vision – symptoms include difficulty separating out common practice from common sense (one is good, one is the enemy of good, guess which is which).

A business or an organization’s ability to keep fresh perspective, learn from itself, its customers, its competitors and other industries is directly correlated with prolonged success. Accomplishing this is a continuous challenge for any organization. Especially as we industry observers look to crown the next maven or guru.

But maybe we’ve been looking at it wrong, maybe it is less about the person, making decisions and more about their approach to the problem.

Doesn’t this sound like an area ripe for academic exploration?

It does to me. I’m glad to be back interwebs, I look forward to learning with you.

– Mikal

Another thought, this quote has been on my mind the past few days. Assuming you are part of the machine or process that is the problem, how do you offset this challenge?

People come up with lots of new ideas, but nothing happens. They get very disillusioned. Never does an idea pop out of a person’s head as a completely fleshed-out business plan. It has to go through a process that will get approved and funded. You’re not two weeks into the process until you realize, “gosh, the sales force is not going to sell this thing,” and you change the economics. Then two weeks later, marketing says they won’t support it because it doesn’t fit the brand, so we’ve got to change the whole concept.

All those forces act to make the idea conform to the company’s existing business model, not to the marketplace. And that’s the rub. So the senior managers today, thirsty for innovation, stand at the outlet of this pipe, see the dribbling out of me-too innovation after me-too innovation, and they scream up to the back end, “Hey, you guys, get more innovative! We need more and better innovative ideas!” But that’s not the problem. The problem is this shaping process that conforms all these innovative ideas to the current business model of the company.

From  BusinessWeek via Carnage4life

2 thoughts on “What can business learn from Academia?

  1. Very true. I agree with everything you say.
    Especially that academia suffers from the same problems.

    But what if you look at academia as the quest for continuous learning – what if thats the sole lesson business can learn from academia, is the quest for continuous learning. I think that in itself is a powerful concept.

    I believe that while academia suffers the same problems, its also academia that is auditing academia and exploring the problems. I believe the blogosphere is an academia in itself sometimes, challenging each other, presenting alternative views. With my posts I’ll aim to take a deeper dive, cull together more data and see how it builds from there. If it even captures interest.

    I guess that in itself is another exploration.


  2. Great decision relaunching the blog! Corporate glaucoma’s a risk at any job, and particulary acute at Microsoft with the pressures to focus narrowly and Redmond- and PC-centric groupthink. A blog’s a great chance to explore other topics and get diverse perspectives. With luck, you’ll be able to attract past readers — who have presumably learned a lot in the last few years — as well as new ones like me who didn’t even know you back then.

    But maybe we’ve been looking at it wrong, maybe it is less about the person, making decisions and more about their approach to the problem.

    It’s all of the above: the people making decisions, their approach, the people they get feedback from, the data they take into account [and what they ignore], the organizational structures … the BW quote Dare excerpted is exactly right: typically, these all tend to reinforce existing organizational mindsets and their assumptions about the marketplace. DEC is dead, long live DEC, a post-mortem of Digital Equipment Corporation, is a great example of this for a large high-tech company; Jerry Kaplan’s Startup shows how this can happen for entrepeneurs as well.

    As for academic exploration, well, I think a lot of these dynamics are well-understood. The quesiton is what to do about it. If people don’t want to change, academic views won’t help them.

    And academia suffers from many of the same problems. I grew up as a “fac brat” (my Dad was a langauge professor, department chair, and dean at a variety of schools in the northeast before winding up at College of Charleston) and then spent time at UC Berkeley and the academia-influenced Microsoft Research … there are similar kinds of groupthink and powervectors both at individual schools and in terms of disciplines. The field of science and technology studies (aka “philosophy of technoscience”) looks at how these get institutionalized. And of course there are often the well-known attitude differences between the academy and real-world problems. Still, I think there are definite advantages to collaboration and it’s well worth exploring. At the very least, it’s a way of getting people out of their existing mindsets.

    Great post, and looking forward to what’s next!



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