Academic & Business Research – A definition – Not Your Typical Maps

Academic & Business Research – A definition

Hello again my friends, it’s been a while since I last wrote, but alas… here’s another update.


In my “day job”, I’m often in place where I have to define what “research” means, especially in the context of differentiating between business research and academic research.  I always find it hard to define without accidentally introducing biases, and often, as I describe it, my own biases come through.  In the following entry, I try to provide a short introduction to how I think the two are different.  My hope is to build up on this as I get more ideas/feedback from others.

An Overview of Academic and Business Research:

Academic research is often seen as the “ivory tower” research or described as “research for the sake of research”.  While there may be some truth to that, often this type of research is actually what leads to further research and further applications of that research.  Even some of the research with less apparent practical or business application can help us understand the how, what and why we are here, and help teach us about how to solve for problems today.  For example, I recently watched an interesting documentary covering the history of Absinth.  The documentary featured many academic researchers who could speak to local histories, historical perspective on local culture across Europe as well as historical scientist who could provide insights on the intersection of science, history, and sociology.  On the surface, this can come across as having very little practical applications.  However as the documentary unfolded you could tell a narrative that was extremely palpable, and extremely relevant to some of the political discourse around local geography today in Europe.  Specifically, one of the example used was the defiance of small communities to broader anti-absinthe laws that were written, as well as the evolution and popularization of absinthe throughout Europe.  The latter provides a lot of interesting parallels to modern day product adoption (who groups of people start to adopt products), and how the laws of product development apply.

Business research is often seen as the ruthlessly pragmatic research that “cuts corners”, or is “unobjective in nature”.  While there may be some truth to that as well, often this research is the research that brings theory into reality and drives some of the application of academic research, but also develops new research.  To give you an example, I recently worked on several projects that had a common theme (i.e. multiple projects that essentially were trying to answer the same question). Our team developed a preliminary methodology for the first project and were able to refine that methodology over the next several projects.  We ultimately were able to define an approach for future questions in this space, and new knowledge for us, and our clients on how to think about this problem.  We know that the methodology is getting better as we continue to test it with clients and continually find ways to improve it.  This type of research helps both develop our knowledge, but also helps solve real life problems.

In short, what we are seeing here, is that it’s less about one form of research being better than the other, but more that Academic and Business research are two parts of broader research that allows for the ongoing development of knowledge.  The challenge becomes for those in academic researcher to understand a) how to work with business research and b) contribute to business research; and for business researchers to understand how to leverage Academic research, and understand how to contribute back to it.

Some Structured Way to Think about the Differences:

Below is a simple framing that I’ve started to develop to understand the differences.  Please note that I don’t expect this to be 100% accurate across all types of research as I recognize that there many different types of research that exist out there and this is just a small but broad generalization of the two types of research.

Academic Research can:

  • Facilitate “open” & “sharing” of data
  • Sometimes can be hard to showcase applicability
  • Designed to open minds
  • Very innovative
  • Drivers are innovation, rentability

Business Research can:

  • Be time-pressured
  • 80/20 (focus on what’s important)
  • Relies a lot on repetability of process and reusability
  • Cost is a factor
  • Impact is a factor
  • Tied to financial bottom line pretty closely

Please Contribute:

Seeking input from people – please give me information on how you experience this in your environment.