Acting on your research: The business and humanities merger

Most of my career and definitely throughout my academic efforts, I have attempted to make immediate use of the knowledge I acquire. For me, application (or in some cases failed application) is in direct correlation with my ability to understand concepts clearly. What I didn’t realise was that despite being traditionally business-focused, many models of planning and research are pretty much the same, just with fancier pictures and acronyms in some cases.

In business we have models, and in the humanities we have models, while most people are loyal to one side very little keeps them apart. The main difference between the two seems to be a bit of editing and marketing jargon. Business, as we know is overwhelmed with buzz-words and visual tools to support memory and application. The humanities seems to be equally filled with people using big words to tell the story a picture could effectively convey.

One of these is just like the other

While neither approach is right or wrong, the more we understand the similarities, the more the two disciplines can merge for more effective implementation.

Action Research

The goal of action research is to learn from current and past experiences (through data analysis, interviews, literature reviews, etc.) and arrive at new approaches to problem-solving.

Following seven basic steps action research allows the researcher to make informed decisions about what is working or not working and arrive at conclusions that allow them to put their learning into practice to improve the life of the participants.

  1. Select focus: Identify the problem area
  2. Clarify theories: Perform preliminary research around the topic to ensure a clear understanding of challenges currently valid
  3. Identify research question: narrowing the field of purview to a single question
  4. Collect data: Through first person study or literature review
  5. Analyse data: with the research question in mind
  6. Report results: share with those involved
  7. Take informed action: based on what you know

Sounds simple right?

What I didn’t see at the beginning of the exercise was that this model is just the same as one that I have been using for years. I wasn’t calling it action research I was calling it lean management.

Lean Management-PDCA

The goal of lean management and the PDCA model is to focus on continuous improvement and the elimination of muda (waste). Muda is described by Kaizen World with 9 types of waste including wasted time, effort, and motion. This description is broader that the seven types traditionally listed, but is relevant for today’s environment.

Elimination of muda can focus on items like efficiency in production, reducing wait times, inventory maximisation (human or physical), ultimately resulting in process improvement.

Contrary to many opinions, lean management application is not limited to the traditional environment of manufacturing where it was born at Toyota. Lean methodologies are being used to create better human workflows and more effective automation in categories like marketing and health care.

  1. Plan: Identify the challenge and what you want to change
  2. Do: Carry out the test in a small (hopefully low risk) environment or pilot project
  3. Check: Identify what worked and what didn’t
  4. Act/Adjust: Place new knowledge into application

Sure, lean does in four steps what action does in seven, but what is really different? Nothing. The same concepts hold true for both. The more work you do planning and analysing, the more capable you will be of making change that is significant and valuable to participants.

So, what does this teach me? It reminds me that business and humanities are closer than I think. It also tells me that as my knowledge builds the ability to translate concepts from one to the other will be empowering.

Resources

Wikipedia PDCA

What is Action Research?

Kaizen for Dummies

Kaizen World

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