What knowledge is useful?
Dean Jay Light on relevance of research
Well, I think that the development of new knowledge is a central part of what this School is all about. But we’ve always tried to press towards having a distinctive role as a business school that produced knowledge that was really relevant to practice. And we’re pretty serious about that.
On the other hand, how one interprets that is pretty important. It doesn’t have to be relevant to practice absolutely today, but I think it has to be—consist of ideas, concepts, frameworks that are at least potentially relevant perhaps down the road a piece. So I think it has to be involved with issues that managers and practitioners out there in the world really worry about. And—or at least we want most of it to be of that sort.
On the other hand, this is a pretty big School, and if you wanted to find examples of faculty who are pursuing very intriguing areas of research, where it’s not immediately obvious how useful this is going to be tomorrow, you can find plenty of that going on, and I think that’s very healthy. And I think we should encourage that too. It’s important that they be new and different ways of thinking about things, and it’s important that they be in areas that one can imagine are going to be important to thinking about different kinds of things in the world of business and management. But I don’t think we should interpret that narrowly. I think it’s important to keep a very broad sense of the kind of research we want going on.
The best thing we have is a healthy pressure to get people out from behind their desks, out into the world, talking with real managers, and real CEOs about what’s important to them. The case method sort of forces that. And that’s at least as much a matter of faculty development as it is course development, because it’s in the process of doing that that I learned what investment managers really worry about. It’s in the process of doing that that I learned what financial executives really worry about. I didn’t really know. I mean, I had some ideas, but they weren’t very well defined.
So I think all of us, in our lives here on the Harvard Business School faculty, because of the pressure to get out in the field, in fact have an inexorable pressure to keep us more relevant (to) practice than we would otherwise be, and that’s healthy. But defining that in a very broad and permissive way I think is important too.