Friday, May 6, 2011

Paradoxes in Research as Enterprise

It was a very insightful experience at Christ University on Friday 6th May, 2011. I was there to primarily respond to a request to speak to the research scholar community assembled there from across India. The Center for Research’s Dr. Srikanta Swamy thought I may be equal to the task. Frankly, I had no choice in defending my own decision to speak, but to seek help from my colleagues at the workplace. I asked them opinions along three dimensions.
1.   How Research Projects are carried on in the corporate sector  - a general peep into reality – experience and expectations
2.   Quality measures – internal to organizations, varsity initiatives and encouragement for people to pursue Ph.D. Programs – the feel for scientific temperament per s

 3. Collaborations with Universities – a view on institutional networks in knowledge management.
The result has been a plethora of responses, which stirred my soul, if not my own understanding of how people from different callings from life view the activity of research. I had more than 80 bullet points in notes to glean from. Trainers, administrators, market makers, technology specialists, and knowledge management specialists responded.  What a myriad perspective that I was entrusted with. And boy, did it help? Wonderful search of possibilities, re-appraisal of phenomena, and anticipations of the future.
The moving revelation came from the earlier speaker at the conference. Dr. Desai mentioned how official rules in the 1970s and 1980s were least encouraging for research scholars to obtain a Doctoral certification. In his own case, he was allowed to allot time to research while on a teaching job, only on Saturdays and Sundays. It struck me only then, how archaic social conventions may have held back the potential and motivation of people interested in research. 
Nonetheless, there are six paradoxes or polarities of sorts that need attention, when it comes to viewing the relationship between research as an enterprise and corporations in India. Let me lay them out as below. In my view, that sums up as the climate in which researchers and industry leadership need to develop a dialogue for the future.Hopefully that should alleviate the pains of the research community and yield in productive outcomes for corporate entities as well.
1.Purpose and Curiosity
The purpose of a corporation is generally profit making. The researcher is driven by curiosity.  This balance could end up in value conflicts if the two are not reconciled before the marriage is arranged.

2.Novelty and Relevance
A researcher is often enamored by novelty, especially when a mark of his or her identity is pegged in the bringing forth to the world a new idea, model or theory. A corporation is bothered if it is an idea that is relevant to its own purpose. 

3.Volume and Complexity / Breadth and Depth
Profits are often accomplished through economies of scale. It is a dumb-ing down to a level of irreducible simplicity at which the value match is made.  Research enterprise is inherently valuable when intellect is presumed to have worked through complex relationships between variables.Complexity seldom scales.

4.Philanthropy and Expectation
Corporations often make contributions through public charitable trusts in a bid to impact society.  However, if they have a specific expectation from a research intensive institution that they fund for charitable purposes, it may end up as administrative control over research oriented resources, often at conflict with the aims of research itself. Here is where the philosophy of science is least understood.

5.Hierarchy of Social Role and Hierarchy of Knowledge
In organisation structures driven by scale, roles are designed to control outcomes perfected to a standard. It is not uncommon then that a supervisor of a process will preserve a rigidity in outlook even in the wake of emergent knowledge that has the backing of scientific enterprise. PhD qualified people end up competing with graduates for relevance and rewards at times.

6.Immediate Social Impact and Deferred Profits
Corporations have short-term imaginations of the nature of effort to impact relationships, even when the theme through which it is expressed is relatively enduring in nature. Research by itself seeks out new insight that if found contrary to expectations, may also end up as sunk cost without expected return. The stomach for such eventuality is rare and therefore research often seen as a risk in capital. 
Long journey ahead. Needs gritty leadership from academia and a resonant leadership in corporates to see such a future through.  

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