When those who know are not (necessarily) those who do

The modernity of our time is marked, among other things, by the separation of tasks in social life. Consider for example the separation between those who hunt (hunters) and those who craft the hunting equipments (blacksmiths). This division of labor, as an economist call it, has resulted in an increasing productivity both qualitatively and quantitatively. Hunters bring back better game, blacksmiths produce better equipments. Blacksmiths eat better food and hunters, in return, hunt more efficiently. The life quality of our society increases. Everyone is happy.

This separation is pervasive. We can find many other examples of this segregation in our daily life: the separation between religion and politics, work and life, owner and manager, and also (which is the one that I want to emphasize here) the division of those who do and those who know.

Here, I am particularly concerned about that separation in the field of business management.

For those who do (in business management), their main job is, of course, doing. They are people whose daily routine is deeply engaged in the practical world. Hence they are called as practitioners, executives, business(wo)men, entrepreneurs. Conversely, there are people whose primary job is knowing. For these people, there is no obligation to engage in the practical world as long as they do their job, i.e. to produce knowledge in a specific field. And for these people we call them as “scientists”, “scholars” or “academia”.

But before we move ahead, let us ask ourselves a question. Is it problematic to have this kind of separation?

In most cases, maybe not. In fact, it works well until today. As we have seen from many examples before, specialization triggers higher productivity. We know much deeper when people are given the time to fully engage in the practice of knowing. In business management, this means that management theories—which are distilled from the business world—are being produced for the good of the very business world (and presumably the society at large).

But one must not forget that there are instances where the separation has gone too far. Where, despite of the increasing productivity on each side, the larger society doesn’t enjoy the benefit (and sometimes even detrimental). One has to be reminded that the separation must work for the best of the society as a whole, not only limited to particular groups. Just like hunters that have to bring back better game so that the society can (supposedly) enjoy better foods, business management scholars must bring back better contribution that can benefit the whole society at large. The question is, then, have we done enough?

The question is, then, have we done enough?

In the game where those who do are not in the same body with those who know, there is knowledge asymmetry. As a researcher, we are enjoying the luxury to think and staying out of the playing field to understand the game. As our knowledge accumulates, however, I believe that our job is to rebalance that asymmetry to make the game better. We want the game to be played more beautifully, ethically, and much fairer. For scholars, the responsibility is growing bigger. This means translating our knowledge to be as applicable and practical as possible. Not just knowing for knowing’s sake, but equally important is to know so we can do better.

Or one might even move from being the ones who know to be the ones who do.