Thursday, 25 July 2013

A small tale of academic vs corporate behaviour

I had an interesting experience recently.  Someone made a map (and before anyone starts...this was not someone at the company I work for). It was going viral. I contacted said author privately and had a good conversation about the issue.  I'd faced a similar issue about 6 months ago and was able to give him some advice on how to tackle it. He then published a blog that paraphrased the conversation and explained how important it was to blah blah blah yackity schmackity (you get the idea). His blog on the issue is currently going viral. His 'insight' is taking his worth to new levels. Good luck to him, but he didn't even mention any conversation we had or the fact that he was both wrong and lacked understanding prior to someone reaching out to help. It wasn't necessary to acknowledge my help but the fact that he didn't somehow feels bad.

Yesterday I was asked to help an academic friend of mine with another map.  I experienced a few technical issues and couldn't quite get done what I had hoped but I offered a few pieces of technical advice which he then went off and implemented (expertly). When he published a blog post with the resulting work he was gracious to acknowledge my very small part in the process.  It wasn't at all necessary but it felt good. It's nice to be appreciated.

In the academic world, doing research and publishing ideas is based on learning, doing and reporting.  This is normally done objectively, with peer review and with proper attribution for work that went before including citations for previously published work and so on. It takes time. Often too much time... but you progress your research interests. You begin collaborating with like-minded people and the total often becomes more than the sum of the parts. You become an acknowledged expert in a niche area and you make a name for yourself based on your expertise. Your friends listen and it feeds future collaborations.  You become interested in quality over quantity. The art of an academic is keeping your friends close and working with them.

In the corporate world, it's more important to come first, be seen to be first, even if the ideas are old and someone got there before you anyway. You learn where to steal ideas and how to then pass them off as your own. You act as if you're engaged and interested but really the only thing you're interested in is bleeding someone of ideas and then pretending you know it all to the next person you meet. This doesn't take much time and you can iterate through various different types of work with speed and efficiency.  You become an expert at being a non-expert in the next best idea. You make a name for yourself regardless of any expertise and everyone listens. You become interested in quantity over quality. The art of being corporate is keeping your friends apart so they never find out they can bypass you entirely.

Having moved from academia to the corporate world I brought many good friends along with me.  Finding out who the new ones might be still poses a challenge every now and then.

3 comments:

  1. I think you have an unrealistic overly optimistic view of the academic world. I have seen researchers steal ideas, have their students or technicians do all the work and not give them any credit, bully their way into coauthorship, and walk all over each other to get to grant money. And then you have the traumatized veterans who will not tell you what they are working on, make you sign a contract in blood before sharing a smidgen of their data, and if by chance they find out you are working on anything remotely close to what they are working on, they will give you the silent treatment and stay up all night finishing that paper so they can publish before you. It's ridiculous and drives me nuts! Mediocre people will always try to piggyback on others work no matter which world you're in.

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