As a faculty member of a modern business school, I am often reminded that I am supposed to be conducting research that is relevant to the business world. This perspective, of course, assumes that the business world is just sitting on the edge of its seat, waiting to see what amazing truth I can uncover so that they can immediately alter their organizational policies and practices to accommodate the new reality. Call me cynical, but my sense is that the business world is not looking to academia for insight and, even if executives bothered to look at what we are doing, it would not change much of how they operate today.
I was thinking about this the other day in relation to a core finding from social psychology—diverse groups make better decisions than homogenous groups. This finding is intuitive and is supported by decades of research. Now, diverse groups are less efficient, due simply to the fact that the different perspectives of everyone need to be accounted for. It is clear, however, that, in the end, diverse groups make better quality decisions. As a result, it is in businesses' best interests to foster these diverse groups whenever possible.
So, how has this basic finding been received by the business community that is supposed to be waiting for us to produce "relevant" research? How is it being implemented in relation to boards of directors, for example, where the primary job qualifications still seem to be that you are white and male? What about group formation within companies? Most of the students who I meet (part-time MBA students who are already working) are oblivious to this basic finding, which has been around and widely publicized for decades.
I was reminded of this debate by the article in the url below, which catalog's the resistance within the general public to scientific facts:
"The creationist battle against evolution remains fierce, and more sophisticated than ever. But it's not just organized religions that are insisting on their own alternate truths. On one front after another, the hard-won consensus of science is also expected to accommodate personal beliefs, religious or otherwise, about the safety of vaccines, G.M.O. crops, fluoridation or cellphone radio waves, along with the validity of global climate change."
The point is that facts are rejected, not on the basis of some competing empirical evidence, but simply because they run counter to people's own beliefs about the world, and they are not willing to cede ground to experts on the basis that they might know more about the subject than they think they do:
"In a kind of psychological immune response, they reject ideas they consider harmful. A study published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that it is more effective to appeal to anti-vaxxers through their emotions, with stories and pictures of children sick with measles, the mumps or rubella — a reminder that subjective feelings are still trusted over scientific expertise."
Stephen Colbert's concept of "truthiness" speaks to this phenomenon; Donald Trump's campaign for president is also a consequence. The extremes to which this can be taken seem limitless:
"On a deeper level, characteristics that once seemed biologically determined are increasingly challenged as malleable social constructs. As she resigned from her post this summer, an N.A.A.C.P. local leader continued to insist she was black although she was born white. Facebook now offers users a list of 56 genders to choose from. Transgender sits on the list, along with its opposite, cisgender — meaning that, like most people, you identify yourself as male or female according to the way the cells of your embryo unfolded in the womb."
Of course, all is this would be funny if the consequences were not so serious:
"Viewed from afar, the world seems almost on the brink of conceding that there are no truths, only competing ideologies — narratives fighting narratives. In this epistemological warfare, those with the most power are accused of imposing their version of reality — the 'dominant paradigm' — on the rest, leaving the weaker to fight back with formulations of their own. Everything becomes a version."
I see similar challenges with the debate around CSR. It is hard to change minds and attitudes. It is even harder to change organizational cultures and practices. That is not to say we should not keep trying, but I can't help feeling that businesses should do a better job of meeting us halfway in the pursuit of knowledge. As much as it is our responsibility to produce relevant research, it is the responsibility of the business community to implement that relevant research when we produce it.
David Chandler & Bill Werther
Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Stakeholders, Globalization, and Sustainable Value Creation (3e)
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: http://www.sagepub.com/chandler3e/
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: http://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
The Gradual Extinction of Accepted Truths
By George Johnson
August 25, 2015
The New York Times
Late Edition – Final