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 Dictionary.com 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!

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