Worlds apart? Imagining the co-existence of the academic and the business life.

“That’s just academic!” snapped Brian when he and Jim from the nearby university were discussing the rights and wrongs of a particular manufacturing process deep in the heart of a failing car plant outside Birmingham.

“You’re just over complicating matters and imagining scenarios which are irrelevant for this particular application. You sit there with your arms folded, a look that says ‘so what?’ and a haircut that was fashionable back in 1982 when you were leading a critical theory module on post-partum physics.

You’ve over thought the whole project in this one business plan and it’s full of words with more than 3 syllables: how dare you use the word performativity when I don’t have a clue what you mean.

That’s the trouble with you academics, your language is obtuse and impenetrable and it fills me with suspicion. And actually I’m not interested in ‘on the other hand’ and ‘it depends’ because in my world, there is no ‘other hand’ and the only thing that anything depends on is whether it generates enough cash in the system. End of.”

Brian’s outburst that wet Monday morning in his Birmingham car plant is nothing unusal. Academia, academics and the academy are terms of abuse in many quarters (sometimes even in schools) especially by those who claim to inhabit the ‘real world’ and who would argue their position as one borne of pragmatism, realpolitik and rationalism. In that world, anything ‘academic’ is at best irrelevant, at worst self obsessed.

The pond which separates the academic from the entrepreneur is sometimes wide, sometimes murky but never without its interest and intrigues. C.P. Snow used to refer to the Two Cultures of the Humanities and the Sciences in the intellectual life of the West as being a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems: but with businesses increasingly spinning out of universities and with businesses frequently reconsidering how they can best transfer the knowledge from the conservatoire to the messiness of their production lines, there’s never been a better time for better cross cultural understanding to enable the academic to speak to the entrepreneur and vica versa.

Brian and Jim eventually patched up their differences over a game of darts in the nearby pub; but whether Brian can apply Jim’s knowledge, and whether Jim is even interested in trying to solve a production problem in an industry which is on its last legs is yet to be established.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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