Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On that wretched academic/corporate divide

I find the divide between academic learning and corporate learning unhelpful, and I'm sure I'm not alone. In his comment on my recent post, Garry Platt touched on a point that has been niggling away at me for lo, these three and a half years past.

He said:

I think one possible reason why academic reviews of mainstream ‘management’ models are not more accessed and taken account of by trainers and developers is in part to do with the style of writing used. In many cases, the majority in my experience, reviews, positive or otherwise of models or concepts are in written in a style and English which is incredibly hard to understand. This in my view merely reflects a ridiculous style that academia deems as necessary. I can absolutely see the need for precision but the unnecessary use of big words when little ones will do and sentence structures of an arid and ridiculous length just make things worse.
Now, I'm not sure I would always go along with the big words/little words argument. I recently read a headline that said 'lots of people hurt in smash' and ground my teeth. I don't see the problem with 'several people injured in collision', but perhaps that's just me... and as for the over-use of the word 'big'! Well, don't even get me started.

But I digress.

My greatest obstacle on my (now almost complete, and about time, too!) Masters' degree has been that of writing style. The following is part of a conversation that took place on my Facebook page on Sunday:I'm not sure what I can add to that, except to point out that the value and applicability of research appears to be severely hampered by the requirement for a certain type of language. Surely this defeats the purpose of research?

I think I would rather enjoy an exchange of views among corporate learning professionals in which more than the usual token handful have read the research. As it is, as soon as the subject of research is raised, you can almost hear the shutters come down with a clang. I suspect some are hard pressed not to jam their fingers in their ears and yell "LALALALALAAAAAA!!!"


lizit said...

Very much share your concerns about writing styles. I have been reading more papers than is good for me recently and it does concern me that all too often what is being said, which may be conceptually quite simple, is hidden behind language which is anything but simple. Looks like you got some good tips on how to play the academic game from those in the know, but why does this game have to be played if it isn't actually contributing to knowledge - just proving we know how to use a dictionary!

The upsycho said...

@Lizit Thanks for taking the time to comment. It's nice to know I'm not alone in this, but it is frustrating that so many of us feel this way, but nothing changes.

If I'm not mistaken, this is the first time you have commented on this blog. Welcome. I hope it won't be the last.

Harold Jarche said...

For me, it's not corporate vs academic but disconnected vs connected. As I wrote about a semi-academic article that was published as a PDF in 2006 but is now offline, so I posted it on my blog"

Author’s Note: In developing this article, I have realized how limited the print medium is, especially when transferring what was originally a series of blog posts to create the basis of what is written here. Added hyperlinks are now more natural to me than using the APA format, which I have used for many years, but I now view as a relic of a bygone era. What originally flowed is now just a piece of stock. As a blog post this article built on previous posts and was open to comments and additions. With this article, it seems as if the conversation, and my learning process, have been frozen in time.

learning flow

V Yonkers said...

Okay, so I feel as a communication instructor who has taught corporate and academic written communication, it is all in the audience.

If you were to give a presentation to a board of directors, you would expect to be dressed a certain way, speak using a certain level of jargon, and communicate using different gestures and body language.

The same is true for the written word. Moving between multiple disciplines, I have learned to change my writing style for which ever audience I am communicating with. Often, there is a shared understanding of certain terms and writing styles that is the "dressing" on a written piece.

Would I like to wear jeans or sweat pants to an office meeting? You bet. It would make me more comfortable. But it would not be expected by my audience and may discredit me in their eyes. The same can be said of writing style. While a more "academic" style may not be as comfortable, it is necessary as it is expected.

I find writing for management journals, especially in the field of learning, as very stilted and simplistic. On the other hand, I must use a much more "theoretical" style of language. In both, I am still true to myself and retain a bit of my own "voice" but I make sure it is in the style accepted by the community.

The upsycho said...

@V_Yonkers You hae perfectly captured the problem: one audience for this, another for that. That is the very divide I am referring to.

It means that academic research will be read by other academics, who constitute a miniscule percentage of the working population. How does this ensure that the results of the research influence practice in the mainstream?

The upsycho said...

@Harold That is another frustrating divide, and one I have been forced to address several times in my papers. Having the freedom to create internal and external links in my day to day writings, I find it unspeakably limiting to have to try and flatten it all out for a linear delivery, where 'implicit' is simply not good enough. My tutor told me on Monday, "I can't understand why you don't state the obvious." Erm... because it's obvious?

However, as I said in my response to Virginia, I question the value added by research that only ever gets read by other academics. Important stuff is being discovered by researchers and simply being ignored because their discoveries/findings are couched in terms that Joe Businessmagnate can't be bothered to read.

Kristina said...

@Karyn & @Harold: You are both touching upon issues of accessibility.

For me, accessibility goes beyond just language and connectedness. Most academic publication that can be found online are warehoused in academic databases. In order to access them, one must subscribe to the databases or access them from a university account.

But beyond accessibility, there is something greater. It is about understanding how research can inform practice.

I am currently doing doctoral studies in management and I notice that many of my MBA classmates who are actually whip smart intelligent people aren't making that leap. They read the theory handed to them and they apply some of it, but they aren't necessarily developing models with the theory. That said, we are in our second semester and I'm hoping that in time and with feedback from professors, they will be making such a leap.

Also, when I was working as an Educational Technologist for an Executive MBA programme, I found myself organizing "field trips" to the library so that students could be exposed to the research databases. Next, I worked with the MBA professors (the willing ones, anyway) in creating learning activities whereby students has to support their writing with research findings. You’d be surprised (or not) how much students learn models but don’t understand how they are created or how they evolve.

It is interesting as most of the applications that I'm currently doing in my doctoral studies revolve around this type of approach of informing practice with research. Last semester, we create a business model founded on conclusions brought forth by research. That model was then tested against a real life situation. This permitted us to analyze the situation to see if would understand why a change management process was successful or unsuccessful based on what the research was suggesting, and on the flip side do what I like to call “test-driving” the research to see if it was too theoretical to be applied or not.

Bottom line, until we show people how to do this (it is a learned skill and I don’t think the academy is doing enough to show this to individuals in the practical programmes such as MBAs), the academic and corporate worlds will continue to just move side-by-side in silos rather than in harmony.

The upsycho said...

@Technogenii "You’d be surprised (or not) how much students learn models but don’t understand how they are created or how they evolve."

Definitely 'or not'. This is one of my constant bugbears. I touched on it in my previous post.

But yes. You raise a very valid point about accessibility. I had for a moment forgotten that frustration. Perhaps I had blanked it out. Unless you're a student or faculty member, getting hold of research papers is not easy. I have shared previously about my own related frustrations, on this front.