Here is what’s missing in academia. We need to have open conversations about why we do things.
If we focus on publications, we are going to produce more publications that no one reads. More publications does not mean better science. We already know this by observing academics on social media. Most academics post about academic things on social media. Yes, sometimes we give clever ideas by reading these posts, but most times, it is just noise and promotion.
What Can Be The Alternative That We Teach To Scholars?
So, I am a big fan of Simon Sinek’s idea of focusing on your ‘why.’ Actually, this is closely related to Selznick’s (1957) work that suggests that the choosing the organizational goal is as important as efficacy of achieving that goal. I absolutely agree that your ‘why’ for doing things is more important than ‘what’ or ‘how’ to do things efficiently.
To me, the ultimate goal is really social influence for the greater good, however you define your domain. This means that you should focus on many different activities than just publishing and grant writing. There is a lot more to the academic profession. For example, mentorship really matters. So, does community building.
These activities will not earn you publications, directly. They may provide opportunities in the future, but they often pull you from being efficient in the short term.
Why does focusing on your ‘why’ matter in academia?
If we focus on mentorship and social influence for the greater good, no one will stop your determination to make a difference.
Doing good work is hard. It takes grinding hard work for 25 years to do something that a few people recognize.
Also, many people will always find flaws with that work. You have to be okay with those flaws.
What this does is re-calibrate your thoughts to think about why you are doing research, and not that you are ‘achieving’ or ‘not achieving’ your research publishing goals. As someone who studies how people and firms respond to failure, this perspective shift makes all of the difference to whether you want to keep going in the career.
This perspective shift allows you to take a step back and appreciate what you HAVE done, and not what others have told you that you have not. Or, will ever achieve.
Without focusing on ‘why’ we are doing things in academia, most of us are afraid to do something that is entrepreneurial or innovative because we are afraid of what other people are going to say about us. We may be more likely to default to the tried and true that will surely generate publications.
Without understanding our ‘why,’ we are also more likely to stop pursuing the chase for ideas. We need a bit of delusion that someday we will get to our ‘why.’ Without that delusion, many of us stop there, and do our conservative thing. Without our ‘why,’ we believe that what others say when they say we haven’t done anything great, or that we are doing something that we shouldn’t be doing.
Our ‘Academic Why’ Helps Us Keep Going.
Your ‘why’ helps you keep going in the face of adversity. ALL GOOD RESEARCH IS DIFFICULT. Your ‘why’ helps you to stop listening to feedback, and do research that you really truly want to do especially if it’s a positive change in your life. And, most often, with new ideas, it’s just a matter of actually doing it, before other people see the value in what you’re doing.
Our ‘Academic Why’ Helps Us Listen And Be Better Scholars.
So, I think much of what we know about goal setting is not quite right. Achieving goals in life is a rather hollow existence. Achieving milestones does not make you better or worse. Who you are inside does not change – After 41, I am the same boy that I was when I was 8. Indeed, a lifetime of setting goals and not achieving them can really lead people in the wrong direction.
When I focus on achieving my own publication goals, I tend to drown out others. However, when I realize that I have a ‘why’ that is beyond me, I tend to listen a bit more. I also tend not to discount where people stand in their career, and don’t discount where they are going. You have no idea who is going to do wonderful things in their career, and you have no idea where they started in their career.
This allows me to give others a lot more praise, and try not to rank order careers in my head. By focusing on my ‘why,’ rather than my ‘publication record, it allows me to see repeatedly that you are no better or no worse than anyone else.
Instead, focusing on my why allows me to be more of yourself and being open with who you are. By being more authentic, your more likely the things you want to achieve, rather than pretending to be someone else.
My point is, having a goal that is much larger than ourselves, and our publication record, allows us to know that the world is much bigger, more interesting, and more welcoming than what we have simply achieved in the past.
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