Education rests on shifting sands. A globalised marketplace, disruptive tech innovations, changing consumption patterns and evolving consumer behaviour are challenging the existing paradigms. There is a shift not only in the way corporates function, but also at almost all functional areas of management. The biggest challenge business schools are facing is developing learning modules and curricula that are topical enough to groom the managers of tomorrow. To address this transformation, ‘research’ is the mantra adopted by business schools.
Knowledge dissemination without knowledge creation is no longer conceivable, and hence research is imperative. However, today, even the best business schools face constraints in terms of funds and manpower, or both. Further, there are new phenomena like ‘reverse consumer socialisation’ (children mentor parents about novel practices such as mobile wallets) and ‘revisiting established paradigms’ (unit economics of a start-up). To meet such challenges, collaboration rather than competition can be a research practice at business schools.
The first level of collaboration business schools need to look at is collaborative efforts across functional domains. The reason is that new/altered scenarios that have implication on management thought are usually multidimensional. For example, contextual or content-based marketing models have to be understood from a ‘consumer behaviour perspective’ as well as basis ‘digital marketing strategies’; at the same time, one cannot ignore the IT interface that is the platform on which this occurs.
Thus, to deliver comprehensive understanding of the phenomenon, the background knowledge and research needs to be quintessentially cross-functional. The same goes for marketing of financial services and instruments, and the management of pricing across aggregated business models. These may hence need collaboration across economics, finance, marketing and strategy areas.
The other form of collaborative research is with regards the industry-academia interface to comprehend new or altered phenomena. This is not a new practice and has been there since the 1900s, with the path-breaking Hawthorne studies—which changed the very foundation of organisational behaviour thought by introducing the concept of socio-psychological factors that influence human motivation at the workplace.
Change management practices focused on the impact of new strategic business relationships such as alliances, joint ventures, and aggregator and outsourced functional models cannot be tabled unless the practitioner and academic partner together comprehend the novel phenomenon and develop underlying frameworks and theories.
The third level of collaboration is equally critical, as this, prima facie, is institutional. Each school develops its own research focus and agenda. However, each entity in isolation—both geographically and basis orientation—will be able to conceptualise theories that may be restrictive and not have broader implications for generic understanding. Therefore, cross-institutional research collaboration is the only approach to deliver generalisable results.
For example, to study ‘technology adoption behaviour’ or ‘talent management’ or ‘entrepreneurship’ models, collaboration amongst business schools in diverse countries or regions of the same country will be able to collate information from diverse populations and, therefore, develop seminal models.
Therefore, to summarise, the three C’s of collaborative research mantras for B-schools are:
- Concentrated or complimentary: Collaboration can be concentrated in a single area and school, and contribute seminal thought; for example, the Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W Chan Kim (INSEAD), or be based on allied school and domain collaboration, such as the concept of the Bottom of the Pyramid (CK Prahalad and Stuart L Hart).
- Cultural homogeneity or cultural heterogeneity: Collaboration is needed to assess behaviour patterns; for example, fantasy sports gaming that may be culturally uniform versus investment patterns that may have a contextual underpinning.
- Conceptual framework or concrete application: Whether the knowledge imperative is to develop conceptual models for disruptive innovation strategies or to work out on-ground multichannel distribution strategies, the complexity demands that research be carried out in the zone of collaboration to deliver both comprehension and implementation.
Therefore, collaborative research is no longer a choice but a directive for business schools today.
By Neena Sondhi
The author is head, Research, and chairperson FPM program, International Management Institute, New Delhi. Views are personal.