Don’t underestimate or relegate those that are academic to ‘just academia’, writes Raymond Toga – DaVinci Programme Coordinator and Doctoral Candidate
The writer is of the notion that it should be considered that not every researcher is destined for academia. In fact, with a combination of Mode 2 knowledge production ushered in the 4th Industrial Revolution and is still relevant as we go into the 5th Industrial Revolution, coupled with the double helix Innovation system that establishes a mutually beneficial relationship between academia and industry, there is indeed evidence that the academics who are developed in this type of learning environment (such as the one we have at The DaVinci Business School) are able to utilise their knowledge in situated contexts and enhance business performance in many cases. This is because this type of knowledge production ensures a focus on the creation of knowledge that is transdisciplinary in nature, socially relevant, and actively promotes diversity and heterogeneity, intending to apply situated learning, problem-probing, and decision-making to solve work-based challenges and contribute to the professional development of academically orientated individuals who are also highly successful within varied work environments outside of academia.
Consider the view that the private sector, the government, and non-governmental organisations alike need individuals with high-end research skills in order to enhance their organisations and probe problems more effectively. Researchers possess characteristics synergising entrepreneurial traits, such as identifying, probing, and articulating problems and providing potential solutions through their research findings. Moreover, it could even be posited that the ability of researchers to distil problem statements into appropriate questions to be posed and/or hypothesised to be tested could assist in enhancing business insights, business intelligence, business performance and stakeholder relations and understanding.
One of the key skills of an academic is critical thinking skills, which could aid organisations, governments, and societies to flourish in ever-evolving eco-systems. Thus, including critical thinkers could add dynamism and systemic thinking to a work environment.
Let us consider innovation as another potential academic construct that is critical to society. Society revolves around continuous economic growth, and innovation is essential to the advancement of society. The American Entrepreneurship Center (2015) considers that economic growth arises from improvements to one or both of the two primary components of an economy, i.e., capital and labour, which often come about through innovation to improve products, processes, systems etc., and increase productivity through these innovations. An increase in productivity can improve the material well-being of an economy, which in turn improves the standard of living, which is the core of long-term prosperity for any society. Innovation can be nurtured and honed academically and applied conceptually in Mode 2 knowledge production.
Moreover, there is evidence that innovation has led to the improvement of some social issues, allowed for sustainability to be actualised in other cases, and many innovations have been utilised to enhance society, for example, technological advancements. Caprelli (2015) states that “innovation is the cornerstone of sustained economic growth and prosperity”. Economic growth depends on the labour market’s development or an increase in capital intensity, directly impacting productivity. This is important for economic growth, particularly in developing countries such as South Africa. Developing countries rely on innovation to help improve some societal issues. For example, many new technologies have assisted in improving healthcare, and food production in famine-ridden countries allowed for connectivity and improved business practices and processes. An example could be the initiatives that have connected farmers to weather technology to help them make decisions to support the output of crops, which then contribute to feeding communities.
Perhaps if people are given the opportunity outside the academic and research domains to ideate more in the work environment towards innovative ideas, this would lead to more cooperative environments, stimulating teamwork and encouraging a free flow of knowledge sharing, which could then, inter alia, improve productivity, lead to the innovation of new products, services, or processes. Innovative thinking allows individuals to be more creative and effective, and, in return, the economy can be bolstered with better productivity and innovations.
The thoughts outlined above are a reminder to my fellow academics and researchers, to not get lost in your area of specialisation but to remember the fundamental skills you have beyond the content of your niche area of specialisation that could enhance more systemic eco-systems. In addition, minimise the temptation to be boxed into such tags as ‘expert‘ or ‘specialist‘. Attempt to approach your learning journey with an open mind and a willingness to learn new things. You start every research project with a problem statement without the answer, and when you come to an end, you have gained knowledge and probed the problem and answered the questions at hand. This philosophy should stay with you as you meet with opportunities for exploring challenges and issues that need probing in society.
I want to end by saying to all my fellow Doctoral candidates that this degree (qualification) we are working towards gives us the ability to probe new knowledge in our field and across disciplines. In the process, we hone many other relevant skills that will serve our careers, such as becoming more inquisitive, delivering results on deadline, managing projects and time, and applying scientific rigour and precision to our work. We limit ourselves to academia instead of seeing it as skills needed outside the academic sphere.