I’m in Chicago today to meet with some alums and potential donors while attending the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) Annual Conference. UCF’s business school and the Dixon School of Accounting are both accredited by the AACSB. Only 178 universities in the world have both business and accounting accreditation from the AACSB. It is a big deal and we just received official notice last week that AACSB has extended our accreditation for another five years. That does not happen without the hard work of a lot of outstanding faculty and staff who deliver a world-class education and experience to our students.
Each year deans from around the world attend this conference to keep abreast of developments in business education, learn about the ever evolving accreditation standards and to network with their colleagues. It is really weird to be in a place with so many deans running around, but the chance to talk to your peers about the challenges they face and how they are addressing them is pretty valuable stuff. Yet like every other professional conference I have ever attended: the Academy of Management, the American Economic Association, and the Industrial Relations Research Association, to name just a few, the formal sessions pretty much suck. In general they have impressive titles, but disappointing content delivered in unimaginative formats.
Here is all you need to know: The organizers of such conferences check your badge before entering any reception with free food and the exhibitor area, but nobody ever checks your badge before you enter a formal session. There is no threat of anyone ever crashing a session. If you did crash one, the organizers would merely assume you got lost looking for the free food.
Contrast this with Ted Talks. People apply for and pay several thousands of dollars to attend these events. These talks are given in auditoriums full to the brim with people from all walks of life and are limited to twenty minutes. The presentations are inspirational and aspirational, made by academics, policy-makers and thought leaders from all different backgrounds, disciplines and areas of interest. Formal sessions at conferences, on the other hand, attract specialists and focus on the mechanics of the science and the strength of the evidence in support of an idea. This makes the presentation highly technical and largely impenetrable to most people. Ted Talks on the other hand, are almost all about the idea and very little about the details of the science. Ted invites everyone to experience the impact of the content presented. Ted Talks are advocacy: well-polished, provocative, entertaining arguments about the power of a specific idea. Limited slide decks, no references to other papers, no regression coefficients, and no time for Q&A, just an idea pitch meant to provide insight and stir the mind of the audience. I keep wondering why universities and academic meetings don’t have more Ted-like sessions.
You don’t get to engage in debate at a Ted Talk. It is a lecture, not a dialogue. As such, it isn’t a substitute for the debate about methods, data, and findings; critical to the advance of knowledge. Yet I fear that our compulsive pursuit of the “tactical” in our professional circles has come at the expense of the advocacy of our ideas and our ability to engage and inspire those outside our areas of expertise. We train our students in the tools of science and teach them to eschew advocacy as unseemly self-promotion destructive to scholarly endeavor.
If we don’t learn to advocate for the power of our ideas and teach our students to do likewise, then who will? And if the food at the reception is seen as more nourishing than the ideas presented at our conferences, how sustainable is the endeavor?