Thursday, June 30, 2011

Assessing Value in the Corporate and Academic Worlds: An Interdisciplinary Problem?

During all of these ponderings about innovation and interdisciplinary computing I have been working with the question of where interesting ideas coming from the corporate world can (should? do?) apply in the academic world. Sometimes the cross over seems quite reasonable with a little twist in thinking, as in this, a summative statement from The Innovator's Dilemma book (the past 5 or so posts, in case you haven't been following the conversation):

"...historically, disruptive technologies involve no new technologies - rather they consist of components built around proven technology (ies) and put together in a novel product architecture that offers a set of attributes never before available".

It only takes a few word changes to see how this applies to interdisciplinary computing. I bet you can figure it out if you have been following this conversation (can you?).

A larger question that looms over me now, is - just how far and in how many directions, can experiences of successful or unsuccessful processes in the business world be applied in academia? And conversely, what can the corporate world learn from successful and unsuccessful processes in academia?

On the one hand the cultures are vastly different. On the other hand, I am becoming convinced that there is a lot that can transfer from one to the other. Because my reading came from a book about the corporate world, I was looking at how the academic world sometimes fits the author's theories of successful "product" innovation.

I am equally curious about how understandings of success and failure in academia can be useful to corporate success.

There are a lot of hard questions when you start from scratch. I'll start with a very basic one: the concept of "value".

The corporate world often places value upon monetary contributions (Person X saved the corporation $Y by doing XYZ, or Person X brought in $Y dollars  or Z physical resources to the corporation). Lately, I have been asking some professional acquaintances how they would place "value" upon academic contributions quantitatively.

I was not surprised by the reactions I have been receiving, which show just how differently "value" is determined in  higher education and in corporate America. The more difficult I find it to try and bridge this cultural divide, (I'm starting to think of it as an interdisciplinary computing problem of a new sort) the more I want to do it.

How can the academic and corporate worlds arrive at a common understanding of value that does not involve one unilaterally imposing its "definitions" on the other?

How is VALUE going to be defined?

  • If you are an academic and you had to express your "value" to a corporate executive in a way they would appreciate, what would you say?

  • If you are in the corporate world and you had to find "value" in an academic's career in a way that acknowledged their worth honestly, what would you say?
Ideas about these questions could lead to a really productive conversation.

1 comment:

  1. There has been some discussion on LinkedIn about this post and (with permission) I am reprinting part of a conversation b/w Fred Phillips and me.

    Fred: Check out the short movie at ... I should add that the movie is about university-industry relations.

    Lisa: That movie really hits the classic "arguments". I'm having mixed reactions. On the one hand - good job for them on creating such a succinct and blunt message. On the other hand - it could be viewed as depressing.

    Fred: Thanks for the compliment, Lisa - I scripted the movie. The "going for a beer" at the end is not meant to suggest reconciliation, but rather the co-dependence that exists between the two sectors. I don't think it's depressing, but it's sure not always uplifting.