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CBS researchers want diversity – not functional stupidity

|   12. Jun 2017

By Carsten Lund Pedersen (Postdoc) and Thomas Ritter (Professor), CBS

“In academia, huge amounts of time and energy are expended on writing papers for publication in top ranked journals, in our bid to ‘play the game’ […] This can make researchers into willing journal paper technicians who focus on writing papers for leading journals within a narrow subfield. This may detract from broader scholarship with slower and less predictable results and, perhaps, with a greater likelihood of saying something really interesting and/or socially useful”.
(Alvesson and Spicer, 2012, p. 1214)[i].

In a paper aptly titled “A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations”, Alvesson and Spicer (2012) argue that organizations become functionally stupid when its members convey an absence of reflexivity and predominantly make use of their intellectual capacities in myopic ways. As the above quote illustrates, modern day academia is in danger of becoming a nexus[ii] for such functional stupidity instead of a nexus of diversity in research. One way to circumvent this functional stupidity may be through research diversity, as a multitude of different perspectives can help to see alternative angles and avoid biased blind spots[iii]. However, does CBS as a research institution allow this research diversity to exist and flourish in its research? Here, we apply the term ‘diversity’ in the meaning of research diversity, i.e. different types of research questions and different approaches to conducting research – as a supplement to the general interpretation of diversity relating to e.g. gender, culture, age composition etc.[iv].

At CBS, we like to take pride[v] in the fact that we are a business university that makes room for diversity. A case in point is the latest CBS strategy document which stipulates the following in relation to CBS’ identity: “With the distinctiveness of its diversity, CBS combines elements from conventional business schools and the “full university” model – always maintaining a focus on our impact on the society and a commitment to research and research-based education” (CBS Strategy, p. 2)[vi]. Albeit it is undoubtedly true that CBS has a unique identity in terms of bridging the business school world with the full university model, does CBS make room for diversity in its research?

“Excellent research” can take many different forms: We like to see research as an amalgam of four very different approaches – all of which advance knowledge. A research project can have either a narrow (theoretical) contribution or broad (societal) contribution as its ambition[vii]: i.e. “with this project we wish to advance theory x” vs. “with this project we want to solve problem y”. Also, a research project can either stay within or move outside the boundaries stipulated by the mainstream assumptions in a field[viii]: i.e. “with this project we focus on what we know in the field” (best practice) vs. “with this project we want to question the assumptions of the field” (next practice)[ix]. Taken together, these two dimensions span a 2×2-matrix that illustrates four very different approaches of doing research[x].

All four research approaches can lead to excellent insights that can shape how we think and act (and all four approaches similarly entail examples of bad research).  The four research approaches are as follows.

Diversity of research requires that different forms of research are welcome within the organization and can co-exist. None of these quadrants compromises quality: Questioning the mainstream assumptions of a field makes it more difficult to publish in a top-journal in the foreseeable future – but it is these kinds of studies that drive and challenge our fields and research topics.

While bibliometric analysis supports “paper technicians” with its ease to manage and measure, how can we manage and measure the other three quadrants in research in order to ensure quality-based research diversity? It could be argued that one could look at early “proofs-of-concept”. Here, a paradigm creating project could document its value by showing interest from stakeholders, results from analyses and/or practical applicability – as well as recognition and approval from notable researchers and opinion leaders.

We have recently visited colleagues at MIT and Harvard. There, it quickly becomes apparent that academic institutions can make room for research diversity while driving academic excellence. Let us get inspired by these exemplars, and let academic diversity flourish. Having this kind of research diversity could make CBS thrive and add value to our many stakeholders – while advancing quality-based knowledge and research!

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