I have always been surprised by the massive wealth of data in academia that doesn’t get used. The reason, I believe, is the language. The way academic research is written is like a reading a legal brief; it’s impenetrable. You come away from it thinking the person who wrote it is very clever, but don’t understand what he or she said at all.
My co-author and podcast co-host Professor Ryan Hamilton jokes that academic research is not written for a human audience. It would seem sensible to me that we change that. Funny enough, not everyone on the academic side would agree with me. Professor Hamilton explained to me why on our latest podcast, and I wanted to share it with all of you.
Academic research is driven by different goals.
The reason that academic research is so hard to read is that it is written for other academics. That’s why they use the language they do. Also, academics are incented to publish in academic journals. Academics are not trying to solve real-world business problems; academics are asking specific research questions, often built on previous findings but, importantly, not something asked before.
There are different ways that research is valid.
Research is considered valid in two ways, which are:
- Internal validity: This term refers to how well research establishes causality or not.
- External validity: External validity refers to whether you can apply it to other settings, too.
Ideally, research is valid in both ways. However, if academics need to pick one they value more, they will choose internal validity first. Practitioners, meaning people that want to apply these concepts in the real world, would opt for external validity.
(Funny enough, I never question the validity of the research; I trust that the clever bloke who wrote the paper I don’t understand did a great job.)
Professor Hamilton is an academic, but he also enjoys playing the role of the practitioner. He translates these concepts for businesses, and frankly, for me. However, he doesn’t get academic credit for those activities. He does it because he likes to do it.
Why Businesses Don’t Delve into Academia
A significant amount of data in academia could help businesses today. With all this information available, I wonder why companies don’t tap into it more. I asked Professor Hamilton that question. He says it is because it is difficult to access the information, i.e., it’s available, but sifting through the language is tough.
He’s right. The fact is it’s easy to make things complicated. It’s a bit harder to make complicated things simple.
Why Businesses Should Delve into Academia
My advice is to listen to people like Professor Hamilton (or Malcolm Gladwell or Dan Ariely, among others) who translate these concepts into the real world. We always connect the academic findings to Customer Experience on the podcast (and in our most recent book.) Doing so will help you understand the language of the science behind why people do what they do.
However, academic research is available. Google Scholar is a search engine dedicated to finding academic research. While not all of it is free, much of it is. You might be surprised what you find.
There exists the notion that one should find the latest and greatest research available. However, we think that isn’t the case for what we need for Customer Experience. As Professor Hamilton points out, not all of the new research stands up to scrutiny.
He compares it to a tree. Some parts of science are presented, reinforced, and secured as fact; these are the trunk and the thick branches coming off the trunk of the tree. The new growth on the edges of the tree is the latest research. And just like a tree, some of that new growth gets pruned because it isn’t reinforced or replicated with further research.
The good news is that most of the things we discuss in behavioral economics are not new concepts. Much of it was discovered in the 60s and 70s; some of it as early as the 50s. It’s not new, or sexy, or cutting edge, but it’s proven, and it’s held up to scrutiny. Once you translate these ideas from academia to your Customer Experience, your program will hold up to customer scrutiny, too.
If you want to benchmark your organization’s performance in the new world of behavioral economics against other companies, take our short questionnaire. Once you submit, we compare your answers against what we know about the market and send you a free personalized report about where your organization is today.
Hear the rest of the conversation “Why is Academic Research So Impenetrable?” on The Intuitive Customer Podcast. These informative podcasts are designed to expand on the psychological ideas behind understanding customer behavior. To listen in, please click here.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX