Every few years there is a book that draws attention to the purported failings of business and management research; this book is part of that tradition. Previous contributions to debates about the failings of business and management research have included economists in the 1950s and 1960s commenting on the lack of theory and rigorous methodology; practitioners in the 1970s and 1980s criticising the paucity of real-world application; and policymakers in the 1990s lamenting the low volume of high-quality research outside the US. More recently there have been criticisms of the lack of attention given to the failings of business in the run-up to the global financial crisis.
It is on this churning underbelly of discontent that Marco Busi focuses his gaze. Busi is a researcher who left the business research centre that he helped set up at the University of Strathclyde to establish a research and advisory company that would enable him to undertake management consultancy while also editing an academic journal.
His biography is important because it helps to explain the aim of the book, the choice of material included and the form of its presentation. It may also reveal why many in his intended audience of academics and practitioners will find it hard to accept.
Busi aims to define what constitutes “research that matters” by drawing attention to the characteristics of research that has changed people’s lives and the way organisations function. In pursuit of this objective he interviewed 10 of the world’s top management thinkers; five Nobel laureates active in the fields of chemistry, economics, physics, medicine and physiology; and one internationally renowned astrophysicist.
From these discussions, together with material gathered from websites, scholarly journals, managerial magazines and newspapers, he outlines what he considers to be the key characteristics of the best researchers.
The best researchers, he suggests, are curious and focus on ideas that contribute to practice, rather than the formalism of the methodologies they use or the number of publications they produce. Busi believes that these researchers collaborate with others for the benefits that they can gain by working together, rather than just dividing tasks and sharing the authorship and citations for articles they have written individually. In short, the best researchers want to make a difference rather than manipulate the research excellence framework and other performance management systems.
Unfortunately for Busi, the possible accuracy of many of his comments is undermined by what appears to have been a rather hurried job of writing and editing the final publication. Many of the better-known studies of researcher behaviour in business and management over recent years are not mentioned.
Moreover, the interview data from leading researchers is not considered alongside the experiences of other less well-known academics, let alone the editors, publishers and readers of their work who also contribute to the maintenance of the system.
With this additional information, Busi could have been better placed to comment on how widely his views are shared. He might also have been able to comment on why the system operates in the way it does.
This is important, because if it is going to change we need to understand why it is the way it is before we can consider if and how it might be different.
Doing Research That Matters: Shaping the Future of Management
By Marco Busi
Emerald Insight, 200pp, £35.95
ISBN 9780857247070 and 7087 (e-book)
Published 26 June 2013