Academy Of Management

For the last two days I was at a conference of 11,000 academics. They were talking about the contributions they’ve made to the science of management since the last time they’ve met. For the 75th annaul year, Academy Of Management with its many divisions flew in from universities all around the world. For five days, these scholars spent their hours in and around Vancouver Convention Center. Running out of room at the convention center, they booked the five largest hotels’ conference rooms. Their program plan was a 500-page thick reference manual for the 1,500 sessions that hosted up to 4 papers each, with each paper having 2 to 3 contributors each globally. The sessions were listed by division such as Human Resources, Career, Information Systems, Instruction, Technology & Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Organization Theory, and many others. Then the sessions were listed again by schedule in a large Gantt chart, then listed again in detail by reference number. It was by far the largest event that I have ever attended. It was like a giant rave, but for ideas and suits instead of music and flesh.

In this Academy Of Management conference, I was the dumbest guy in the roon regardless of which room I went to. The average credentials for each attendee was a PhD, and most teach in their respective fields in their home university. I was out of place, but my intention was clear: to explore the world of academia and to learn about potential solutions to problem-solving in a creative teamwork environment.

I chose the sessions I attended at how relevant they were to the things I think about. They were mostly in the entrepreneurship and technology & innovation divisions. The presentations at each session broke down a research paper into its hypothesis, methodology and conclusion. Even though management is a relatively soft topic, the scholars managed to quantify and extract generalities of each component of how organizations function at different levels. The way they went about proving what some may consider common sense reminded me about a metaphor of the logging roads. The logging roads are first explored before they are paved. These academics were the pavers. The findings from their months of hard work would be considered as fact by the global community. This process was far more rigorous than anything I would consider doing at a start-up. The process was rationality codified — pure science.

Each paper in the academic journals would be archived & replicated as a part of this great human endeavor to understand the universe. In contrast to this contribution to the human tree of knowledge, what I was doing seemed far less significant. I was practicing the art and science of management and problem-solving. They were theorizing and designing ways for people like me to do it easier in the future. Without scholars, there would be no universities and certainly no real management theory. Once I have done the work on the road that they paved, I would maybe have a family, perhaps leave a tombstone, leave a statistic as an immigrant to Canada, then soon fade away into history.

Attending the conference made me feel small. I was humbled by the experience. Whenever I shared a conversation with a scholar, I felt that they genuinely cared about humanity. They could be working in industry, but they chose to dedicate their careers to knowledge. Sure, their PhD status might get them better jobs but the time spent pursuing a PhD may also have been spent pursuing both money and status. I was fueled by their altruistic virtue, and made me want to hang out with them more. Maybe I can give a part of my life to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Maybe I could immortalize my thoughts.

But nothing is forever. Even mathematics celebrities like Euclid, Gauss, Newton, or Pythagoras will be forgotten in time. Humans are not forever. Life goes on and it eventually stops. We all die.

What I strive for is only to be the best I can be. And something about me tells me that academia is not action-oriented enough. I learn by doing, but being an academic means spending half my time reading and the other half, writing. I recognize the beauty in a well-presented academic paper, and the small bit of glory that is associated with knowledge creation. But it’s hard for me to empathize with the reader if I am writing to someone in a distant future, someone I’ve never met. Maybe that could change the more I write, I don’t know. The more I read and write academic literature, the more I will become academic literature. Do I want to exist as a small piece of humanity as literature?

I am open to a calling in my future. But for now, I see academia as dull and boring. The conference is as much action they get throughout the year.

The novel experience of interacting with the smartest people I’ve ever met raises the question: then what life do I want to live? If I don’t want to be like them, then what do I want to be? That’s a difficult question. Maybe the reason I don’t want to be like them is because I fear that I cannot achieve their status. Given that it’s not for me, though — the experience taught me that I want to be in the action of management rather than on the sidelines. If I want to be a coach, I want to be a great one. And that means I have to be a player first.