The Old Laboratory And The New Laboratory

The question I am wrestling with involves the term scholarship. I had a wonderful conversation the other day with a colleague around this term, subsequently I have spent the last few days thinking about what the term means. I know what people say it is, but to systematically think this through, especially for a person who has joined the ranks of college professors later in life, is meaningful.

Prior to my dealing with scholarship, I need to place an assumption on the table. As I have stated in a previous blog, there is a tension between the subject of business and other academic disciplines. At one point in time Higher Ed did not approve business as an academic subject because it was too self-centered. I have heard a colleague say with disdain that we do not want to be a business school. And I have heard that others in the past have stated that business should never be taught at a liberal arts college such as the one I teach at.

Thankfully those sentiments have evolved, and now the ubiquitous nature of business is more recognized, resulting in business taught in many Liberal Art institutions around the world. Thus, my assumption, a Liberal Arts institution is the best place to teach business. The reason I think this is true is based in two elements: Ideological divergence and needed job skills.

In our society dialogical divergence is clearly evident. The following is not a prognosticative statement, but one that illustrates my point. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are representative of a society that is becoming more polarized and unable to have covenantal discussions that create shared meaning. Leading to my conclusion that business is ubiquitous, therefore a Liberal Arts environment is the best encompassment for a serious discussion of how business should occur; leading to convergence of ideas.

We can see the divergence represented above in the reality of business practitioners experiencing cognitive dissonance. Practitioners hold at least two cognitions as they run their organizations. There is an economic cognition and a human one, therefore, the question involves how one reconciles these two cognitions? Teaching the subject of business in a Liberal Arts environment can help practitioners wrestle with this reconciliation.

The second element involves job skills. Typically in business, as a topic of study, we focus on Management, Finance, Economics, Accounting, Marketing, and Leadership. It is technical, less philosophical, which leads to an objective practice of business as a science. Actually, Business is both art and science. Thus, there is a need to explore both technical and the so called softer skills of life. Remember I mentioned the two cognitions. Humanities is a critical part of a solid business education because of its humanity. Therefore, skills in the following disciplines: Psychology, Economics, Sociology, Social Psychology, and Anthropology are critical. A business practitioner does not need to be an expert in each of these subjects, nor does the practitioner need to have read all of the seminal works in each of these subjects, but they need to be well versed and have read applicatory books, articles, etc. that reflect these disciplines.

A question one might have is what do I mean by practitioner? I am using that word to refer to someone who is leading or managing an organization. I am also arguing that this person cannot just be a practitioner, they must be a scholar too. A scholar is someone who does scholarship. Thus, I begin with a definition.

In the term is first defined as a noun, “learning; knowledge acquired by study; the academic attainments of a scholar.” There was also an additional description of scholarship as a financial sum for a student to help pay for college. The student receives the grant “because of merit, need, etc.” For the purposes of this blog, I will focus on the first part of the definition. Learning and attainment as a scholar.

I am also approaching this discussion as a Scholar-Practitioner. A Scholar-Practitioner is a person who researches and applies the research in a real life laboratory. I am also going to discuss my research and my laboratory ante-academia and post-academia. In other words, prior to entering the world of a professional academic and after.

My ante-academia research was based upon a question, “how does a responsible manager reconcile the tensions resulting from the encounter of economic and human requirements. I began this research in 1987 when I went back to school. I read, wrote papers, discussed my topics with practitioners within my laboratory. Over the next 16 years I worked on my education, studied, wrote, and conversed with my colleagues about what I was learning. When I retired in 2008, completing my work in that laboratory, I entered a new area of research.

As a Scholar-Practitioner in my ante-academia role I concluded there is such a thing as enlightened management. In other words, a style of leadership that believes in the power of reconciling the economic and human requirements of running an organization. I attached myself to a community (my favorites) of scholars, including Abraham Maslow, Edgar Schein, Donald Schon, Peter Senge, Fredrick Herzberg, Max Weber, Henry Mintzberg, Chris Argyris, Jeffrey Pfeffer, and many others that helped me to be a good manager (Practitioner). In my laboratory, I would apply the techniques that I learned from my research and observe what happened. Then I would discuss the results with my peers, who would practically dissect and debate the value of results.

I have to say there are times that I miss this environment. It was functional, efficient, resulting in the creation of flying machines that transport people to meet with their families. My previous laboratory, as a part of a larger ecosystem, was healthy and successful, not just because of me, but because of other practitioners who were learning similar things and practicing them in an analogous manner.

I spent 30 years in this environment, with 21 of those years operating as a Scholar-Practitioner. I learned and attained results that were valuable to society, helping people to be engaged in their workplace, subsequently finding meaning in their jobs. In 2008, I left that laboratory and entered a new one. It has different rules, but its processes are very similar. Some of the things that occur in this new environment are meaningful, and I choose that word carefully, while other elements are not as efficient, and I chose that term purposely, as my previous environment.

In my previous laboratory what I did was seen as valuable. In my new laboratory, what I do is critically evaluated as it relates to a liberal education. I am going to break my own rule and cite Wikipedia, which defines “The liberal arts as those subjects or skills that in classical antiquity were considered essential for a free person to know in order to take an active part in civic life, something that included participating in public debate, defending oneself in court, serving on juries, and most importantly military service.” Seems to me this definition refers to the ability of a person to function as a participant in a society free to debate, discuss, and decide how the said free society would function. This free society, in my estimation, is composed of all organizations, including those that function as a business. Organizations are where people interact.

Therefore, as a Scholar-Practitioner, my new laboratory is similar to the previous one, it is an organization with people interacting with one another to accomplish something, but the larger ecosystem has changed. The generative order is totally different and encompassing different subsystems. Therefore, my research question has evolved. The new question is similar to the previous one, but the cognitions have changed. It some respects they are still economic and human, but the arena of observation has changed. It is now an Marxian gladiatorial arena that is critical to the processes associated with the creation of value. This reality changes the rules and the question. The results are no longer viewed from a position of pleasant acceptance, but one which emerges from a different antagonistic theoretical framework.

I am still a Scholar-Practitioner, I am still researching processes associated with business, but the question has now changed. My research question is now more global, but it still involves the reconciliation of a tension that is economic and social. It involves a more humane way of doing business, one centered not just in the corporate focus of big business, but one that encompasses both large and small businesses. How do we do this thing we call business in a way that is both economically successful, but less discordant, one that creates an elephantine aperture between those who have the ability to gather much at the exclusion of others?

As I stated earlier my new laboratory has different rules. To be seen as accomplished in my previous laboratory you needed to produce timely results, in this new laboratory to been seen as masterly one must be a prolific writer publishing articles in certain journals. I have been in this new realm since 2006 spending most of my time researching and teaching, revising programs and creating new ones. This takes a lot of time, but I thoroughly enjoy it. I do wonder though, how much of this is scholarship and how much of it is practice?

Additionally, I wonder what is the relationship between my previous laboratory and my new one? How do the accomplishments of the previous research relate to my new laboratory? Is scholarship only publication, or is it research and application, reviewing the results and making change? In my previous arena, results were all that mattered. In my new laboratory is scholarship less about creating results and more about publication? I am not too sure at this point in time, but it is something I am pondering.

I would argue the work in my previous laboratory is relevant in my new one. The practice relates to the scholarship associated with the new laboratory. But, it is time for me to express myself more academically reflecting a more proficient level of gravitas, without losing who I am as an individual. I will never be a stuffy serious person, but I will always be a Scholar-Practitioner. No one will every take that away from me.

And that is my thought for the day!

What Can we Do?

I am sitting at the service center waiting for my car to be serviced. I am pondering the events of the week while preparing for the start of the Spring semester. As a college professor I have two goals. I want to provide my students with an education that will prepare them for the challenges they will face after graduation, and I want to encourage them to change the world. For those of you who don’t know, I teach managerial and entrepreneurial classes. I have being teaching these classes for 18 years, and have been a practitioner for 47 years. I believe in the power of the free market, and I believe that business can create positive social change. With that as a foundation, I’d like to share with you my thoughts about a specific event that occurred this week.

Yesterday, the institution where I teach had an all day meeting discussing what we call CT4. CT stands for Core Themes, and the 4th theme states that “we are Investing in the formation and success of students from diverse backgrounds.” As I watched the events unfold yesterday and thought about how the business department can implement core theme 4, my conviction about teaching business in a liberal arts environment was reinforced. There is no better place to teach the principles of business than an environment that believes it has a responsibility to help students from diverse backgrounds to flourish. However, my musings have led me to think about the practicum; how do we do this?

The striking event of the day, at least to me, was the student panel that discussed their experiences at our institution as individuals of color. It was informative and convinced me that my role as an educator is to prepare my students with skills needed to navigate the systems they will encounter, and give them additional skills needed to change the system. Let me explain this from a Complex Adaptive System (CAS) perspective.

It his book “Fragile Dominion” Simon Levin discusses systems from a biological, environmental, and organizational perspective. Levin states, “Undergirding the dynamic earth – its atmosphere, its physical and chemical fabric, and its biological essence – is a prototypical complex adaptive system (CAS), one that we call the biosphere. It has, over ecological and evolutionary time, spawned increasing biological diversity, but simultaneously it has evolved patterns of arrangement and interaction of its pieces” (1999, p. 2). Later in this book Levin would demonstrate how organizations are also Complex Adaptive Systems that function in a similar fashion. Others, such as Ludwig von Bertalanffy and Peter Senge, have also demonstrated the similarities of biological and organizational systems and subsequent complexity.

The application of CAS to organizations has led to a huge consulting industry dealing with change management. Daniel Syvantec in his wonderful article discussing chaos theory and the failure of cultural change efforts, further illustrated how organizational culture is so difficult to change. It seems there is a homeostatic tendency within systems that attempts to maintain an entropic state of inert uniformity. Thus culture within organizations are resistant to change.

If systems are resistant to change, and we as an institution are attempting to prepare students from diverse backgrounds to be successful, it seems to me we need to help them understand the systems they will encounter from a scientific perspective, not from an emotional, everything is horrible perspective, and then educate them on ways to methodically change these systems from within.

I want to apply this to our nation’s current business system. It is made up of various types of businesses. There are corporations, midsize businesses, small businesses, educational businesses (sorry, but there is a business side to education), not-for-profit businesses, Churches, and many other models that could fall into one of those categories. Our business system occurs at local, state, national, and global levels, and has many different facets. These businesses provide things that fall under the headings of product or services.

Financial advisers provide a service, manufacturers provide products, and college Faculty provide a service to their students preparing them for some future role within society. One that will pay them some sort of a salary. Regardless of how some feel about this, it is the system. Remember, I am focusing just on the business system. There is typically a look and feel, artifacts, that are associated with said system.

The system is observed via its artifacts and values. This means the business system has its own vernacular, dress, and practices. If one is to thrive in that environment, and be listened too by those that control that system, they will need to adapt. Thus, how do I, and our business faculty, prepare our students to not just flourish in this system, but change this system?

As a result, I think, as business faculty, we need to focus on researching the characteristics of the system and educate our students on how to navigate the system successfully. I remember when I first starting working for Boeing, I would go to work in torn jeans. Eventually though I transformed my dress and perspective as I saw the company as an opportunity to have a meaningful career. The reason I needed to change my dress was the need to fit the culture.

However, through my actions I attempted to change the culture. As a manager I had a set of beliefs that I thought was important. Beliefs that went counter to the established managerial culture of Boeing. I was just one person who behaved a certain way to change the culture. I chose a path and had a successful career that made a difference.

However, we must remember that we are dealing with a system that rewards dominate participants while neglecting those who are different than the dominant practitioners within the system. Therefore, how do we prepare our students to influence and change the system? Short of revolution, we need to prepare students to change the system from within. Let me demonstrate how this could be accomplished by using a particular change model born out of systems theory.

John Kotter has created a change model that seems to work well in this modern age of complexity. Kurt Lewin’s change model (unfreeze, change, refreeze), developed in the 1930’s, is too simplistic for our complex modern age. Therefore, I think Kotter’s model is more practical.

Kotter’s model starts with the recognition that something needs to change. For anything to successfully change, there must be some sense of urgency. If a culture does not believe it needs to change, it will not. Therefore, there needs to be a sincere dialog which establishes the need of the system to change.

Second, for any large scale change to occur there needs to be a guiding coalition. An example of this has been initiated by Portland business leaders. A group of leaders in Portland determined that business leaders in Portland are too male and too white. To institute change these leaders, the guiding coalition, have agreed to create internships for men and women of color to prepare them to lead businesses in Portland. This leads to the third step.

The third step seems out of place to me. It involves creating a strategic vision and initiatives for implementation. I think this should occur simultaneously with step two. To use our example above, the strategic vision would involve creating a diverse group of business leaders within the city of Portland that accurately reflects the demographics of the city. An example of an initiative would be the internship program for men and women of color.
The fourth step involves the spreading of the idea to greater numbers. Kotter describes this as creating a volunteer army. Using our example above, we would create a compelling argument for the power of a diverse leadership and convince leaders outside of the coalition of the need for more diversity in business leadership. The value of new and diverse ideas is quite strong, and has been proven effective time and time again.

I do think that part of building the volunteer army involves the next step, removing barriers. The coalition needs to build a case for the change event, and remove any roadblocks to the implementation of the initiatives associated with the change. Thus, as a business department our job then is to prepare our students to thrive in the business environment, become a part of the volunteer army, and change the business culture.

This will require short-term wins, step six, resulting in an acceleration of the change, step seven, and ending with anchoring the change to ensure longevity, step eight. In other words, there needs to be an anchoring of the change within the culture of the organization, or in our example above within the Portland Business community. The change needs to stay changed. Remember there is an innate characteristic within a system to return to its state of comfort. If the change is not anchored in a new system, the new characteristics will not last.

I think our plan as a business department should be preparing students to thrive in the current system. In other words, understand the rules, dress, and vernacular of the system. But it should also involve showing our students how to recognize the inconsistencies and injustices of the system, and understand how to create a strategy to address, attack, and change the unjust elements of the system. Then we would have an army that could make a huge difference in our society.

And that is my thought for the day!

Lessons From The Conservative Heart

The other day I had an interesting conversation with my peers. They all assumed I was a Republican and were shocked when I stated I was a Pragmatic Libertarian (I guess that means I can pick and choose from various ideologies as I see fit. I do like that, and will use it to my advantage). However, I do tend to land on the conservative side of the continuum. One of my favorite conservative writers is Arthur Brooks from the American Enterprise Institute. He seems quite pragmatic as he argues for a better understanding of conservatism.

In his book “The Conservative Heart,” he states that conservatives are misrepresented in our society as “bigots and rubes.” I think with the way Trump is acting during this election I can see where people draw that conclusion. Other prevalent stereotypes include a lack of care for the poor, lack of compassion, as demonstrated by the assumption that if one gets sick, or can’t afford college, you are on your own. Brooks quotes President Obama as saying “if you are a conservative American, you are a selfish person.”

I am not going to argue whether the above assumptions are correct or not, because I think there are always examples that can demonstrate those assumptions or their antithesis. However, for the sake of argument I’d like to mention research by the University of California Los Angeles which demonstrates, “that conservative heartlessness is basically an inaccurate stereotype: In practice, conservatives are just as generous as liberals when it came to helping those down on their luck through no fault of their own.” Brooks argues in his book that too many people are buying into the myth of conservative selfishness, resulting in a huge ideological gap in our culture.

As a result Brooks has created an argument for the conservative to revise the stereotype currently held by society. He states there are seven characteristics that will help redeem the conservative persona, while demonstrating the conservative has a heart. I found his argument very interesting, but it seems to me it is a logical process for anyone to be a good citizen in a society with a foundation of healthy dialog.

The first involves being a moralist. Conservatives have come across “as wonky, unfeeling materialists whose primary focus is money.” Progressives are seen as helping people while focusing on the redistribution of wealth, while the conservative focuses on helping people through entrepreneurship, or encouraging others to pick themselves up by their bootstraps. The progressive argues for a higher minimum wage, while the conservative argues that businesses will only hire more employees if the marginal cost is less than the benefit. Thus higher wages will lead to fewer employees. The progressive comes across as the caring individual, the conservative “a mildly sociopathic economist.” Brooks makes an excellent statement, “Instead of championing low-wage Americans, conservatives sound like tax accountants to billionaires.”

The next characteristic involves “fighting for people, not against things.” I love this one. Too often conservatives are portrayed for what they are against, not as standing for something. I would like to apply a premise from Simon Sinek to this topic by reminding the reader how Sinek argues for starting with why. The conservative of today has taken a hard turn to the right. This is unfortunate. In 1980 Ronald Reagan stated at the Republican National Convention “Together, let us make this a new beginning. Let us make a commitment to care for the needy; to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families….Ours are not problems of abstract economic theory. They are problems of flesh and blood.”

The third characteristic is get happy. Why is Donald Trump so popular? He seems to have found a vein of very unhappy people. Some say old white men, but I am not too sure about that. I am an old white man, but I am not, nor will I ever be, a Trump supporter. I don’t trust the man. However, I do agree that conservatives often come across as very angry people. “Don’t worry be happy.”

The next characteristic seems to be an interesting one, “steal all the best arguments.” Brooks argues there are buzz words that are progressive and conservative. If someone says the phrase social justice, it automatically means you are progressive. It is time to throw out the code words and start new. “First, it is a simple truism that patriots and leaders fight for everyone who needs them…Second, doing the right thing has a political payoff.” Remember, I am the pragmatic Libertarian, which means I don’t give a rip about your politics, I want to have not only the right amount of programs, but one’s that work.

The fifth characteristic demonstrates the ideological gap in this country. We just can’t talk to each other anymore. Obama is this, Bush is that; we demonize the opposition in some sort of perceived moral diatribe against the other. Go where you are not welcome is a great purpose. Force people to talk and reason. Isaiah 1:18 states, “come let us reason together, saith the Lord: though you sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

The sixth characteristic is “say it in thirty seconds.” In this section Brooks gives several arguments for this point. He gives an example of how the brain works, then how the best orators of history have gotten their points across. His point is, you have thirty seconds to connect with your listener. The brain will make assumptions about whether to listen and believe you during that thirty seconds, so make sure you get your opening seconds right. “Neither Lincoln nor King was a neuroscientist. Yet they both understood the first priority in making a good impression on others. Don’t blow the opening lines.”

The seventh characteristic is “break your bad habits.” Adopt new ways of thinking, new ways of communicating, and for heaven’s sake quit using the buzz words of your ideology. “When you are about to argue that the main benefit of free enterprise is that it creates economic growth, you just pulled out a rhetorical cigarette.” Time to start thinking and talking about people.

Brookes argument is interesting, and whether it makes a difference or not, I don’t know. Recently I have been thinking about our changing country. Although 70.6% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, this number has dropped significantly. According to a CNN report there are 100 million non-Christians who live in the United States. Think about secular culture versus Christian culture, and think about media presentation. What are the values that are being presented? Who is the majority?

This is where I think Brooks’ argument really begins to shine. It really is about how the other impacts the dominant culture. The seven characteristics can be applied to free marketers, conservatives, and anyone of a religious persuasion. It is about reason and example, not about argument and hatred. It is not a zero-sum argument, but one the recognizes the other.

And that is my thought for the day!