This wonderful blog posted on UK academic blogsite, Acadenema, pretty much sums up the state of play across academia globally:
Academics exist in a little bubble and are at risk of being left behind as tomorrow’s thought leaders.
According to blog author, Iain Woodhouse (who himself is an academic), while this ‘bubble-ness’ is what has made academics valuable to society at large (they can view the world objectively and dispassionately and don’t succumb to fads and fashions or vested interests or agendas) it becomes a drawback when they remain fully immured in it.
“The bubble becomes a problem … when we spend all our time only looking in the bubble; speaking with other bubble residents; writing and reading texts that are written by, or read by, other bubbletonians, and inaccessible (practically or intellectually) to anyone outside the bubble.”
In the past, he says, this bubbleness did not present much of a problem. Universities were unique institutions of scholarship and creative thought that had few, if any, competitors in society.
However today, it’s different. Academics are no longer the only show in town.
Business is now getting in on the act.
With the growing emphasis on the “knowledge economy” and with thought leadership becoming the primary public relations strategy for 21st century business, business leaders are the ones leading thought and taking the place as society’s primary thinkers and all-round clever people.
To recap, a thought leader is an individual or firm that people recognise as the foremost authority in selected areas of specialisation, resulting in their becoming the go-to for their expertise. Generally speaking thought leaders are the ones who:
- Challenge and raise questions in their field of expertise around new thinking and new ways of doing things
- Stretch people to think “What if?”
- Frame the debate and create conversations
- Provide new insights into particular topic areas or areas of expertise, and
- Hone in on the challenges and issues facing us now and into the future.
Woodhouse warns that if universities remain inside the bubble and continue to ignore the trends, they will not only be displaced as tomorrow’s thinkers and thought leaders but will have an uphill battle “justifying our bubble to those that pay for it.”
He believes the challenge academia faces is a kind of cognitive dissonance (the mental discomfort experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values and where there is inconsistency between attitudes or behaviours).
“On the one hand most of us probably feel that we would want our activities, our scholarship, to have a positive influence on the world outside the bubble. Yet any attempt to compel us to make that influence, or to make a collective commitment to having a positive influence, we react against – we see any tinkering with our bubble as a challenge to what makes it valuable.“
He says it is now time for academics to change and adapt and not wait until it is too late!