Mixing oil and water

Real Carpio So

Real Carpio So

Practitioners are inherently biased toward data and results that echo their assumptions and mirror their beliefs. They select data and information in research that promises profitable quick-fixes. Recent examples are the incorrigible consumption of erroneously contextualized business applications of Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

Blind and misguided consumption is perilous and fatal. It will always end up hitting the fan.

Ideally, business practice should be guided by business research. However, there is hardly any resonance. Researchers and practitioners are like water and oil.

Researchers deprive themselves to produce knowledge in rigor which practitioners arbitrarily consume. Researchers do not receive incentives for engaging with practitioners. Both are creatures of different worlds.

A gap perennially exists due to the inherent paradox of research and practice. In practice, problems require immediate response. Sudden changes are commonplace.

Simplicity of solution is preferred above all. On the other hand, researchers require long periods of non-interruption. In research, precision, accuracy and generality are imperative. Achieving rigor and maintaining relevance is a constant struggle.

Attempts have been made to bridge this gap. Through evidence-based management, practitioner expertise, local context, best available research evidence and perspectives of people to be affected are considered before making a decision. Engaged scholarship allows researcher and practitioner to collaborate across the stages of the research process. In relational scholarship, research and practice communities are separate yet part of each other.

The prestigious Academy of Management Journal has adopted the policy to accept only submissions “relevant to practice”. This pertains to articles that identify “compelling management issue and a strong theoretical framework for addressing it.”

However, relevance is inherently subjective and is influenced by changes in management trends, as well as cultural and technological shifts in the society. It is also determined by those who have the power to define it. To a certain extent, relevance means the ability to attract resources and funding from donors.

Academically, it is an important criterion for acceptance in scholarly journals.

Editors of Academy of Management Journal lament the consistent dearth of “unconventional” research. A self-conducted survey on the research publication reveals the focus of almost all of its research articles skewed towards managers and for-profit businesses. The number of research articles on “lower-echelon” employees (non-managerial/non-professional staff), non-business enterprises and not-for-profit organizations is pitifully scant. According to the editors, it is as if in order to generate or test management ideas, one must study managers, and “preferably for profit businesses.”

The research-practice gap exists precisely for this purpose. Both support each other.

They are mutually complementary. Too much emphasis on practitioner interests can negate the researcher’s role in critical evaluation. More than finding solutions, a researcher can question assumptions that practitioners may have failed to or refused to consider. On the other hand, giving too much importance on research could paralyze the practitioner, especially when data is vague or non-existent. At times, practitioners should be allowed to experiment and to risk, more so when speed and creativity is required.

Oil and water naturally do not mix. Interestingly, at least one experiment has suggested that this is possible. Solution: Remove the gas in the water. Eureka!

Real Carpio So lectures on strategic management, organizational behavior and management of organizations at the Management and Organization Department of Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He coaches selected clients on strategic planning and marketing. He welcomes comments at . The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.


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