Academics as thinkers, managers as doers

In an interesting interview Gary Bridge, Managing Director of Snow Creek Advisors, shared his thoughts on the managerial/academic divide. He is pretty critical about academia but I think he is largely right.

Thinkers, Doers & Academic Gamesmanship

He starts with the comforting thought that academics are thinkers and practitioners are doers. I’m not sure about this. Specifically, I think his description of the academic process is largely accurate and I wouldn’t think it is captured by the idea of deep thinking. He describes “much of what passes for theory building today is actually academic gamesmanship, where publication pages and citations are the currency of the discipline and buy academic status and rewards.” (Bridge, 2017). This seems about right and the problem is that the games we play often aren’t conducive to deep thought. Too often research starts with “people have studied topic A, and other people have studied topic B, but no one has put them together” without asking why people haven’t bothered to put them together. Finding topics to study based solely upon gaps in past research is academic gamesmanship which isn’t about the thinker/doer divide.

His tone can seem to suggest that he doesn’t see the value of theory which he really doesn’t mean. He thinks practically useful theory is important. “It is not theory per se that I object to, it is aimless theorizing that produces papers but not genuine progress” (Bridge, 2017). I take his point but I’m still not sure aimless theorizing is the problem in much of marketing academia nowadays. I’m more hostile to the twin perils of 1) aimless experimenting and 2) aimless data dredging. Often theoretical thought doesn’t really influence much. Researchers of course supply a theory but it isn’t taken very seriously. It is often in the form of some plausible nonsense tacked onto the beginning of a paper (written long after the results are found) which somewhat explains the results, provided you don’t look too closely.

Putting Pressure on Academics

Bridge was worried about being mean-spirited but I think it is useful for people like him to put pressure on academics. Where I was probably most disappointed was his conclusion. He says: “The “gamesmanship,” which rewards individuals but retards the discipline’s impact needs to be reconsidered; but like all transformations, those who feel like winners in the current environment will be the very last to embrace new ways…” (Bridge 2017). He is surely right so I would have like to hear specifics about how to improve things. People winning at the current system have no incentive to reconsider so the vague hope that gamesmanship will be reconsidered seemed a bit woolly to me.

Read: Gary’s Bridge’s comments taken from The Practical Relevance of Marketing Scholarship: A Conversation Between Tom Brown and R. Gary Bridge, Written up by Mike Brady