Does Academic Research Maintain the Test of Time?

I found myself rereading a 2002 article from the Journal of Marketing, the field’s most prestigious publication.  In it, the authors ask if firms need to be simultaneously entrepreneurial and market oriented.   In other words, do they need to continue to innovate at the same time as they listen to existing customers, considering that those customers tend to be satisfied with the status quo and would likely not encourage the change usually associated with innovation.  This is an interesting and thought provoking question.

When reading the theory, the logic seemed current and up to date.  However, when presenting the results, the authors (most likely at the request of the journal reviewers) made the fatal flaw of grounding their explanation in a real business example.   They heralded the company Palm for being both entrepreneurial and market oriented.  They argued that Palm had listened to their customer’s desired needs, a hand held device used for task management and appointment setting, and then created new hardware and software to meet those needs; the Palm Pilot.  They went on to talk about the dangers of being too entrepreneurially oriented and used Apple’s Newton NotePad as their evidence for creating devices that are technologically advanced but not in line with consumer demand.

By now, we all know how the story ends.   There is no crystal ball and their logic, at the time, seems plausible.  The problem is this; theory is supposed to explain AND predict phenomena.  This theory obviously failed to predict the market success of the firms used in their example.   Even more concerning is that the article remains entrenched in the annals of the academic research.  Their is no system for retraction.  The evidence, the best at its time, remains as a documented study that other scholars can use to positively cite their own evidence in building new theories.

Theoretical business research seems to be a house of cards.   Until social science theories, like marketing, are held to a standard of replicability, practitioners cannot trust the conclusions drawn from them enough to help them in their decision making.


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