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Business Schools: How to Bridge the Academia and the Agora

By Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, Executive President of IE University

A main mission of business schools is to bridge the Academia and the Agora, the research world and the world of business. However, a main criticism over the past years has pointed at the irrelevance of academic research, the disconnection between knowledge generated in academia and real management issues.

Business schools are not the only ones under fire for their research irrelevance. Similar debates are currently underway at Law and Architecture schools, for example, showing a shared malaise among “clinical” or professional schools, where connectivity between research and real world’s needs is a must. This issue is not new, and was already identified by Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher and an academic himself, who said that there is no such thing as theoretical or applied research, simply good and bad theories: the good theory is always applicable into practice.[1]

Over my brief presentation at the next edition of the Drucker forum in Vienna (28 November), I will deal with some initiatives that may be implemented to combat this irrelevance of research, as well as to enhance to role of business schools as catalysts between the academic and the business worlds, exposed in my book “The Learning Curve”.[2]I will also refer to the convenience of ascribing the academic discipline of Management into the realm of the Humanities, instead of the Social Sciences –in line with what other thinkers suggest: e.g. Peter Drucker, Henry Mintzberg, Roger Martin.[3]

Some of the initiatives that I propose:

Redesign PhD management programs so that students, are not just provided with sound research skills, but also trained to become good docents, as well as encouraged to interface with companies.

Adapt tenure systemsto assess both research rigor and relevance, as well as to evaluate how academics maintain links with the world of business, for example, through membership of boards, or through consulting work.

Establish formal ways of working with business leaders,to identify the key themes for research, in the interest of companies and managers. For example, a growing number of business schools have already set up interdisciplinary centers aimed at going beyond the remit of traditional academic departments by setting up direct links with companies to develop specific projects. These centers not only encourage interdisciplinary research, but also develop training programs that address specific issues relating to business management.

Encourage ties between academics and practitioners.Responsibility for bringing together the two should be a key objective of department heads, who can advance joint research initiatives.

Develop procedures to assimilate knowledge produced outside the academic environment. Business schools can become knowledge hubs, hosting new ideas generated outside their sphere; for example, models produced by consultancies, corporate universities, and other fora. Current technology platforms offer an ideal opportunity for implementing this.

Appoint “embedded academics” within companies. “Embedded academics” would have one foot in academia and another in the business world and may work on specific projects with the sponsoring companies. This approach is already in use among consultancies, who send consultants into a company for long-term or highly important projects.

Develop alternative ways to measure the impact of academic research on the real world.This would mean going beyond current standard bibliometric indicators or article citation rates. We know that in management, as in other social sciences, the impact of ideas cannot just be measured by how often they are turned into patents or registered as inventions, the approach generally used in scientific disciplines, but there are other ways of assessing the impact of academic contributions in the business world.

Finally, research and knowledge generated at business schools are called on not just to portray companies and managers as they are, but to play a critical role, a prescriptive function, on how they can transform the World for the better –as some authors have proposed: e.g., Sumantra Goshal, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Peter Lorange.[4]

Indeed, business Schools may play a decisive role for the advance of the global society if the recapture their role as the bridge between the Academia and the Agora.


[1] I. Kant, Teoría y Práctica  (Madrid: Tecnos, 1986). Further explanations of Kant’s views on the nexus between Theory and Practice can be found in J. G. Murphy: “Kant on Theory and Practice,”

http://www.homepages.law.asu.edu/~jeffriem/kantarticlea.htm [1]

[2]S. Iniguez de Onzono, The Learning Curve: How Business Schools Are reinventing Higher Education (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

[3]-P. Drucker, “Management’s New Paradigms,” Forbes , December 5 1998,

http://www.forbes.com/forbes/1998/1005/6207152a_4.html [2].

-M. C. Moldeveanu and R. L. Martin, The Future of the MBA: Designing the Thinker of the Future, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008).

-H. Mintzberg, Managers Not MBAs: A Hard Look at the Soft Practice of Managing and Management Practice(San Francisco, CA: Berret-Koehler Publishers Inc, 2004).

[4]-S. Ghoshal, C. Bartlett and P. Moran, “A New Manifesto for

Management,” in Strategic Thinking for the Next Economy , ed. MichaelA. Cusumano and Constantinos C. Markides (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), ch. 1, pp. 9–32.

– J. Pfeffer and C. T. Fong, “The End of Business Schools? Less

Success Than Meets the Eye,” Academy of Management Learning

and Education , vol. 1, no. 1 (2002), pp. 8–85.

– P. Lorange, Thought Leadership Meets Business: How Business

Schools Can Become More Successful  (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 2008), p. 182.