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Practice Makes Perfect: How Business Influences Research

New research places business leaders at the centre of management innovation, providing inspiration for researchers and leadership for fellow practitioners.

How Business Influences Research

If you suspected the Harvard Business Review influences business research as much as business practice, a new study proves you’re right.

A 2015 study in Academy of Management finds researchers are more likely to cite practitioner publications, such as Harvard Business Review (HBR), than practitioner publications are likely to cite academic research.

Researchers Ann-Christine Schulz (Freie University Berlin) and Alexandra T. Nicolai (University of Oldenburg) set out to measure the degree, direction, and type of influence popularized texts had on management research.

Popular Publications Reach Practitioners

Harvard Business Review (HBR) is an example of what Schulz and Nicolai call a “popularization” text. Popularization texts, which include Sloan Management Review, Organizational Dynamics, and Strategy & Leadership, publish specialized management concepts and contemporary practices. With higher circulations than scholarly journals, popularization texts reach wider audiences of business leaders.

Simplify & Disseminate: Popular Media’s Presumed Role

Since its inception in 1922, Harvard Business Review has contributed an important voice to the discussion of organizational management. Until recently, researchers assumed the discussion went one way – from academia to practice.

Schulz and Nicolai proposed this as their first hypothesis – that there is a hierarchical relationship in which influence flows from academic journals to popularization texts. In this model, publications like HBR simplify knowledge from academia and disseminate that knowledge to practitioners.


Two-Way Street to New Knowledge?

Schulz and Nicolai’s second, contradictory, hypothesis proposed that influence extends both ways. Rather than being restricted to the role of translator, popularization media contextualize scientific knowledge. They take practitioner actions and draw parallels with research to create new knowledge.

Schulz and Nicolai collected 231 HBR articles published on various management topics over a 12 year span. They compared the articles with hundreds of entries from academic texts like the Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, and Strategic Management Journal. The researchers measured the number and nature of citations HBRarticles made about academic research and the number and nature of citations researchers made about HBR.

Popular media influence academic research.

The researchers found their second hypothesis to be correct. There is a reciprocal, if not circular, relationship between management science and popularization media.

In fact, academic journals were significantly more likely to cite HBRcontent in their work than the inverse. Since many practitioners and students value the case studies found in Harvard Business Review, research plays a supporting – rather than leading – role in that publication.


Take for instance Prahalad and Hamel’s now iconic 1990 management study on core competencies. Rather than argue the importance of identifying core competencies, the authors use practices by tech companies GTE (General Telephone & Electronics Corporation) and NEC (Nippon Electronic Corporation) to illustrate the value of identifying core competencies.

Shulz and Nicolai’s findings overturn the assumption that management innovations trickle down from the ivory tower. Their study places business leaders at the centre of management innovation, providing inspiration for academic researchers and leadership for fellow practitioners.

Schulz, A., and Nicolai, A.T. 2015. “The Intellectual Link Between Management Research and Popularization Media: A Bibliometric Analysis of the Harvard Business Review.Academy of Management Learning & Education. 14.1: 31-49.

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  • Kevin Hurren
    Commercialisation Lead
    The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited
    Master of Engineering in Management, University of Canterbury

    View all posts
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