This episode is all about communicating and using knowledge. We explore the "invisible line" connecting academics and business together. Our guest is Roger Best—emeritus professor of marketing, Lundquist College board member, and cofounder of the UO Sports Product Management program—who shares his journey from an engineer to a groundbreaking marketing researcher, consultant, and teacher, including earning the American Marketing Association's best marketing professor in the nation award. Roger and his wife Robin are also generous donors to the Lundquist College of Business’s PhD program. Host Troy Campbell adds to the conversation by noting a strategy for concisely communicating academic ideas, as well as explains the difference between applied and theoretical research. The episode is sure to leave you feeling more positive about your ability—and the world’s ability—to use and communicate knowledge for the betterment of society.
What We Learned
The Barrier to Communication
In this episode, business person and Emeritus Professor Roger Best—once named the American Marketing Association’s professor of the year, tackled the topic of how we in academia can attain the knowledge and research approach necessary to better interact with businesses and to, ultimately, make the world a better place.
It is a tale for all of us because we all need to A) get better at communicating and B) understand each other’s goals in order to work together.
Roger talked about the barriers to communication and encouraged academics to be clearer by pairing their data and knowledge with three things: stories, visuals, and clear measurements.
101 Everywhere: Clear Communication
The more you study communication, the more you realize we are all constantly failing to communicate at our best. Here are a number of simple ways, some of them very small, to improve your communication everywhere.
In Friendship … We often assume that people understand us, so we abbreviate or leave out details and say such things as, “meet me at the close Starbucks,” instead of, “meet me at the Starbucks on 13th and Alder.”
In Business … We assume we know the goals of our business partners, so we don’t ask them (see the previous Business 1O1 episode on Negotiations episode).
In Work … Lingo is great, but only when everyone understands the lingo, and it is connected to substance.
In Public Policy … We argue with long paragraphs and essays and do not add efficient charts.
In Science … We overestimate how much novices understand scientific findings when we explain them for the first time.
Define and Apply
“One of the biggest complaints about students, and smart people in general, is that they know a lot, but they don’t know how to communicate what they know. Define and apply greatly fixes this,” host Troy Campbell explained. Campbell gave us a simple way to understand how to communicate academic concepts to businesses.
In the define and apply method, a person simply defines a term and then explains how that term can be used in a specific situation. The format keeps things brief, uses jargon with definition to avoid any confusion, and keeps the application to business linked to the concept. Plus, it makes your idea seem more legitimate to the business because it pulls from evidence-based practice.
Here is an example of define apply from the episode.
Consulting for a Bike Company
Define: You could use the Ikea Effect, the finding that people enjoy things more when they themselves successfully make or assemble a product or at least part of a product. This was shown in experiments by famous behavioral economist Dan Ariely, and it may explain some of the fanaticism around Ikea products.
Apply: You could apply this concept by delivering bikes with a few steps left that would fit with the general level of your audience, such as connecting the handle bar piece as a last “triumph” moment before a first ride.
And, because host Troy Campbell is a former Disney Imagineer, he had some fun with one more example.
Theme Park Design
Define: A portal is a transitional space that makes people feel they are leaving one world and entering a distinct other world. This is explored in the book Portals of Power by Lori M. Campbell (edited by Donald E. Palumbo and C. W. Sullivan III), and it is used heavily by Disney. Disney parks have many portal tunnels where, for a moment, a person cannot see where they have just left and where they are going.
Apply: For your new Looney Tunes experience, you could create a portal tunnel with the theme of the famous concentric circles in which Porky Pig always said, “That’s All Folks.” That would be on brand and would accomplish your goal.
Academic vs. Business Goals
Best described academics as more theory-driven and data-oriented and businesses as more problem-focused and verbally-oriented. This leads to a number of opportunities.
The opportunity for academics is to learn more about what the important problems are for which they can work to develop answers. Best explained, “Businesses can help define problems . . . academics are removed from every day problem solving and left to their literature to guide them to the next question.”
While the literature and classic academic thinking can lead professors to some great research projects, businesses have an additional compass to help researchers. Best said, “There are plenty of problems . . . that have academic solutions to them, and we are not able to connect those dots as easily as we should be.”
The opportunity for businesses is that they can A) learn more from academia via established theories and B) use academic research to develop ways to measure and track their endeavors.
Importantly, though, Best explained, “Academics [need to] provide a solution to the problem and then articulate it in a way that managers can understand.” Or, at least, universities or research translation centers need to play a role in this.
A Great Question For Consumer Research
Best said that researchers need to always ask consumers, “What do you want or need that you don’t have?” He noted that this is much more effective than the very common consumer survey questions, “What do you like and want?” It provides key information about unmet needs in the market, and it provides a better space for profit and consumer welfare. Both of these questions are fine basic research questions, but the one about “unmet needs” is a more business-relevant research question.
Quote from the Episode
“Academics can . . . disrupt thinking and take them in a new direction, which is actually better.”
As always, our guest demystified the topic and corrected a lot of misconceptions. Here are three:
- We think that businesses don’t care about academic research, but actually, they just do not understand it.
- We think that academics know the right questions to do research on, but actually, they could learn a lot about the questions to ask and problems to tackle from talking to businesses.
- We think that businesses know how to measure everything, but actually, they are often desperate for some academic rigor and assistance in understanding and building believability around their metrics.
Roger Best’s Business and Academia Basics
Professor and Donor: Roger Best
Location: Lundquist College of Business–Portland, 109 NW Naito Parkway
Teaching Style: Storytelling
Major Mission: Improve relationships between different groups, such as between faculty and PhD students and between faculty and businesses.