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Referents in management research--towards greater consciousness of intent and process of research.


There is acute awareness that proper management decisions making is neither based on algorithmic-type rational procedures nor based on gutsy level feelings of the manager. Given that understanding, it appears that Action Research has important lessons for management. Action Research-based decisions would take into account the decision-maker, the face-to-face others, and third-person others. Such an approach is required not only to make efficient and effective business decisions but also to deftly deal with multiple stakeholders who are impacted by and have to make decisions in the affairs of the organisation.

There is an inherent tension between management practice and management theory. To lessen this, the theory-practice continuum should have three principal custodians--the practitioner, the consultant and the researcher.

Such a view has implications on matters such as breadth and depth of research, analytic induction and enumerative induction, mutuality of pure and applied research, expedient practice versus patient theory building, and the primacy of referents.


In the world of business research there is always a nagging suspicion that research may not be delivering what that it is supposed to deliver. The research process has become so specialised and narrow that the researcher only contributes to the written bulk that is read and cogitated over by fellow researchers without any real implication to social and economic change that the academic community is supposed to promote. It is seen in some quarters that research may even be antithetical to doing or getting things done. The argument is that undue thought orientation negates action orientation, or that research leaves out key action points and deals with less-than-important ground issues (Cheit, 1991; Hambrick, 1994).

This anomaly has created an inherent tension between management practice and management theory. The research community is periodically warned of irrelevance within and without and is called upon to deal with practical issues that genuinely concern management practitioners (Myers, Massy and Greyser, 1980). Take the case of an article by Ghoshal (2005). The title of the article, "Bad Management Theories are Destroying Good Management Practices" best exemplifies the current tension between management practice and management theory. A measure of the importance of the issue is the fact that Ghoshal's article was commented upon by no less than seven other eminent scholars in the same issue of the journal.

The immediate provocation for pointing out the tension between theory and practice can be traced to the recent corporate scandals such as those at Enron, Tyco, and Worldcom. The academic community is rightly questioned as to why there such a deep chasm between theory and practice. While some agree with the seriousness of the situation, there is no agreement on how to act. While some seek more experiential learning (Kolb, 1984), others seek contingent theories (Lawrence and Lorsche, 1967), or ask us to go back to even more vigorous theory building (Donaldson, 1996). There are also others who say that there has to be nothing short of a paradigm shift to make research more relevant (Gibbons et al, 1994).

This article contributes to the debate. It first elaborates the distinction between conceptualising research in terms of Pure and Applied forms (Gay and Diehl, 1992). Pure and Applied Research, terms borrowed from the scientific lexicon, refer to two ends of a linear continuum; "pure" is closer to an idea, and "applied", closer to application. Research that is closer to the practical level, applied research, is considered more immediately useful for practitioners.

This article next points that such a linear view of business research or more broadly, social science research, borrowed straight out of the science vocabulary, has created an unnecessary and unhealthy mismatch between theoretical and practical standpoints as explained in Sankaran's article (2005). It explains why it would be more useful for business research to define Pure and Applied Research in terms of different referents.

This paper takes the view that restricting management research in traditional moulds of Pure and Applied is restrictive. Recent literature on action learning, ethnographic research, hermeneutic inquiry, and grounded research point towards a new kind of research marked by the demise of expertism, greater participativeness, consciousness of researcher hubris, potential benefits of researcher reflexiveness, and ultimately, transformation of consciousness of the researcher and the researched. These trends do and should apply to management research too. Ideals of multiple stakeholders (Freeman, 1999), civil corporations (Zadek, 2001), corporate social responsibility and corporate governance (World Bank, 2004), natural capitalism (Hawken et al), business organisations in the post-corporate world (Korten, 2000, 1999), learning organisations (Senge, 1994) and others point towards the manager incorporating social ideals in corporate strategies. These new responsibilities have to be reflected in management research too. These new incorporations can be described and better understood by expanding the set of referents to include not only the "objective" but also the "subjective"; not only the "ends" but also the "means"; not only the "existing" but also the "potential". Taking off from the restricted idea of referents developed in the early part of this paper, the later part of the paper establishes the potential of "referents" vis-a-vis action research. Research, viewed through the lens of referents facilitates a new understanding of research potential.

Management Research Paradigm--Its Antecedents

Most of the research in business that usually comes off academia resembles that of the social sciences, which has its antecedents in natural sciences. During the pre-industrial era, natural sciences were concerned with discovery of natural laws. Later, during the industrial and post-industrial periods, sciences were called upon to serve more practical concerns. The result has been the bifurcation of the erstwhile sciences into pure sciences and technology. This bifurcation has also influenced their respective research streams, and hence the notions of pure and applied research.

The movement from an idea to an object useful to humans involves the movement from "pure research" to "applied research". This kind of movement has dominated all scientific developments (Rawat and Rao, 1995).

To illustrate the point, take the case of Thomas Alva Edison's invention of the electric bulb and its subsequent commercialisation. When the inventor spent time to figure out that electric energy could be converted to light energy it was a piece of pure research. He thought of conversion of one form of energy into another form and so on. It took several more years to commercially create the electric bulb. This illustrates the value of applied research whose purpose was to develop commercially viable materials and large-scale production processes.

As the positivist and scientific temper spread to the study of social entities, the methodology and lexicon common to natural sciences came to be increasingly borrowed by social sciences. Business management was, and continues to be, no exception. Ideas such as "scientific management" or "management science" came to represent the scientific temper.

But there is more to management than the scientific method. For example, ideas such as strategy as pattern (Mintzberg and Quinn, 1996), or enactment (Weick, 1979) which, in essence, oppose the notion that objectivism is the only epistemological tool available for understanding and influencing business management practices. Recently, aside from objectivism, there have appeared many other epistemologies, theoretical perspectives and methodologies which social sciences have accepted (Crotty, 1998). These are equally valid for business management research.

This bewildering plethora of approaches, complexity of knowledge generation and application, support from information technology, view of know-ledge as a principal asset (Teece, 1998) have altogether created the relatively new field of knowledge management. Within this milieu, conceptualisation of the referent in business research as the linear idea-application continuum borrowed from the scientific tradition is hopelessly inadequate.

Three Levels of Knowledge and their Referents

In business, application of knowledge is called upon at three levels. At the first level, knowledge consists of the immediate, tactical level response. This is called upon to take quick on-the-spot decisions. This is best tested when a crisis occurs, or when a significant degree of "management by walking around" exists. Time available is limited and decisions are made with limited information. Time (as opposed to timing) is an important factor here. First-level knowledge helps managers gain tactical and political advantage in their day-to-day activities. Here the referent is the situation. First-level knowledge helps the possessor of requisite knowledge to adequately deal with or save the situation.

Second-level knowledge is required for making pre-meditated moves. Plans are the common mechanisms by which pre-mediated moves are formalised and communicated. This kind of knowledge is required for managers to understand and relate to situations their organisations face. In trying to understand issues in a realistic and comprehensive manner, managers develop alternative scenarios of decisions and actions, conceptualise their pros and cons, and finally, select the best course of action. Strategic planning is an activity that would call forth a high degree of second-level knowledge. It is easy to see that the referent here is collective; the collective of activities, individuals, elements within the organisation, elements outside the organisation, and such other entities and their interactions that collectively make the organisations perform. This collective, in one word, is the organisation itself. This brings us to the point that the referent of the second-level knowledge is the organisation.

The third-level knowledge is the ability to act in the light of seeing the larger picture, the larger interconnections, and knowledge of meta-protocols that have application possibilities in disparate circumstances. This knowledge is self-transcending and tacit (Nonaka and Takeuchi, 1995). Here knowledge has application possibilities within a wide time-space domain. Such knowledge seeks their authenticity from an ideal, identity, and the need to recreate or participate (Nonaka, 1991). In its potential to become explicit knowledge lies tacit knowledge's true strength (Nonaka, 1991). Knowledge that is already explicit belongs to truisms, or things that are known universally, and is part of the coded wisdom of the individual and social collective, reaffirmation of which becomes trivial.

Insights therefore provide validity to third-level knowledge. But less obviously, validity also comes from the generality of its application in the time-space domain. The more general they are, the less context-specific they become. One may be tempted to construe this as third-level knowledge's shortcoming. That precisely is their strength.

Third-level knowledge is full of potentialities with deep meaning and wide application possibilities. Yes, application requires wisdom and can only be applied by the right person, nay, the tight mind.

Third-level knowledge is about ideas. The triumph of third-level knowledge is the triumph of ideas. It is not difficult to see that the referent is the idea itself.

When an idea is established as valid, it becomes a principle; for example, when a valid idea has moral implications it becomes a moral principle or when a valid idea has to do with the nature of the universe it becomes a scientific principle and so on. In the business world, the universe of valid ideas, or principles, is too complex: perhaps far too complex with far too many caveats than their natural science counterparts. A mind that faces up to this complexity (Cook, 2000) with felicity is what strategic thinking is, something that management thinkers have been exhorting practitioners to develop.

Managers are called upon to exercise all three types of knowledge at different points. One feeds into another; another draws from the other. For example, strategic thinking is not divorced from strategic planning; good strategic planning needs strategic thinking. In other words, we see that there is a coupling of third-level knowledge (ideas coded in strategic thinking) and second-level knowledge (procedural knowledge of strategic planning as applied to organisations). Similarly, smart, quick, responses to situations (requiting first-level knowledge) are possible to a greater degree with a good grounding in strategic thinking (third-level knowledge). In other words, third-level knowledge feeds the first level. Practitioners are the ultimate knowledge beneficiaries, and the utility of any level of knowledge rests on its use to the practitioners. But the source of generation of the three levels may not lie with the practitioners alone. Who else should share that responsibility? The answer is "that it depends upon the knowledge referent". That is whether the referent is the "situation", the "organisation" or the "idea".

The three referents and the corresponding levels of knowledge seem to form a natural hierarchy. Take the case of three means of improvement Industrial Engineering (IE) seeks; work study, method study and motion study. The symmetry between these IE techniques and our three knowledge levels is striking. IE suggests that at the most elementary level, work has to be measured and improved upon. This is achieved through work study. At the next level comes the study of methods, something that defines the work itself. This is known by the term "method study." It defines and refines the work that human beings perform in workplaces. At an even higher level is "motion study" which defines general principles of motion of human limbs and body and is concerned about meta-rules and principles that apply to all physical effort at workplaces.

Practitioner-Consultant-Researcher Triad

Corresponding to the three referents there are roughly three professional groups whose responsibility is to generate the knowledge that the practitioner ultimately utilises and gains. These are practitioners, consultants and researchers. These are archetypal role definitions and no institution or individual would strictly correspond to one and only one role definition. But it would be right to connect practitioners with the first referent: situation, consultants with the next; organisations and researchers with the third; ideas. It must be noted that the Practitioner-Consultant-Researcher Triad as represented here is more conceptual than actual. For example, a management practitioner who works in the corporate development/planning department of a manufacturing organisation would be performing a consultant's archetypal role according to this definition. Similarly, the chief executive of a large corporation mulling of an entirely new way of adding value to the customer would be, for just those moments, taking on the role of a researcher. The researcher who chronicles instances of tactical moves by a practitioner would only be working at level-one knowledge. However, if he or she theorises upon tactical moves it would move into the realm of level-three knowledge.

Applied and Pure Research

Now we are in a position to redefine what "applied" and "pure" research are in the context of business management. We can no longer think of them as two points on the linear thought-versus-action continuum. Applied research in business management is that research conducted with organisation (or a sub unit of the organisation such as a strategic business unit, a functional area or a division) as the referent, and pure research is one with idea as a referent.

Several implications follow in so defining applied and pure research in business management.

(1) The referent or "unit of analysis" in applied research for the most part is the entire organisation while for pure research it is an idea.

(2) Applied research would deal with commercial issues such as whether the organisation should enter a new field or not, and the means to enhance profits by cost cutting/revenue enhancements.

(3) By defining the organisation (or in some cases, a sub unit of the organisation) as the referent, the consultant is forced to deal with a large number of diverse factors cutting across several functional and divisional areas. For example, a decision to introduce a new product within an existing product line will have implications on altering communication channels with the consumer, avoiding cannibalising of one's own existing brand, understanding cross subsidising of production costs, computing profitability measures in a new manner.

(4) Pure research, the domain of researchers, cannot be directly applied to an organisation. By its very nature, knowledge that pure research produces is general. The higher the generality of a piece of research, the higher the domain of its applicability and its power. The power of its generality is at the cost of accuracy, and hence, direct implementability. Remember Thorngate's postulate of commensurate complexity (see Weick, 1979) according to which it is impossible for a social theory to be simultaneously general, accurate and simple: three most desirable characteristics of good theory.

(5) Utility of pure research in business management, though ultimately decided by its applicability and use to practitioners, is mediated by the task of interpretation by the consultants. In other words, pure research has to be assessed and tailored for specific application by the consultant. The consultant could be, say, an external consultant, an internal analyst, training department of a corporation, an academic-consultant and so on.

(6) If the practitioner were too hasty to implement the results of pure research there would be communication loss and misjudgement. A certain "customisation" may be required for ideas from pure research to be profitably used in practice.

Breadth and Depth of Business Research

Applied and Pure research defined in terms of referents throw light on a number of vexatious issues such as applicability of statistics, and choice and development of research methodology. Those doing applied research have to deal with a far greater breadth of issues that apply to the entire organisation (or a sub unit of it) than those who do pure research. Pure research on the other hand is likely to have a greater depth and deeper application possibilities.

Applied research, contending with a diverse set of issues, would typically be consulting-type assignments. Such assignments would have to deal with a broad set of diverse issues simultaneously; such as external contexts, markets, internal organisational conditions, and functional areas. A broad canvass of reality checks will be required in such assignments. Such assignments would be assessed by the extent to which they contribute towards furthering the interest of the unit under consideration (typically the organisation itself). The issue here would not be one of generalisability of the findings of the study to other units. Please note that the word "generalisability" is being used here to mean the same as given by Thorngate (1976).

As opposed to applied research, pure research discovers deeper meanings and relationships. This notion of pure research corresponds to Boyar's (1990) definition of "scholarship of discovery". Because pure research touches deeper regions of human comprehensibility, the insights coming from pure research would be far more generalisable than those from applied research. But such discoveries would take time for gaining currency in actual practice; immediate application to the practical world would invariably be limited by the consciousness required to see the significance of the discovery and other stickiness factors. But once the depth of implication of the discovery is understood and accepted, it may even become the "dominant logic".

Znaniecki (1934) (see Robinson, 2000) makes a distinction between analytic and enumerative induction. This distinction is useful to understanding the difference between pure and applied research. Pure research, with its emphasis on its own research process (consisting broadly of research question, propositions, hypotheses and conclusions), criticality of sample selection, choice of measurable variables, promises statistical validity or conditions for valid enumerative induction. Here the process of enumerative induction ensures that there is greater generalisation possible with respect to the idea discovered.

Not so with applied research which has to deal with far greater numbers of disparate variables wherein complexity is compounded by fuzzy interactions. Here the unit of analysis is the complex of the organisation or their subsets/supersets. Conclusions are based on valid analytic induction.

Notwithstanding these differences between pure and applied research, the two are related in a mutually reinforcing manner. One feeds into another as shown in the schema below. It can be seen that the breadth and depth are the two essential characteristics that differentiate the two.

As can be seen in Figure 1, the breadth of issues that any applied research would deal with are too numerous. For instance, take the case of applied research typically conducted before introducing a product in the market. Such research would touch upon financial, marketing, environmental, infrastructural, and other factors. The unit under consideration here is a particular firm. The findings of the study would largely apply only to the firm for which the study was conducted. Based on applied research the firm may or may not enter the new market.


Contrast this with pure research. Pure research by its very nature cannot at one time, take on so many disparate issues as applied research. Its job is to go into fewer issues at a time but dig deeper so that its relevance is more overarching into terms of applicability across place and time. This is shown in Figure 1 by pure research having a deep "vertical" spread with narrow "horizontal spread." The relationship between applied and pure is indicated by the curved arrows. Inputs from pure research into applied research would be ideas that are new.

As an example of pure research, take the chaos theory. Pure research, based on the chaos theory, may come up with an idea that self-organisation is a better form of achieving coordination under turbulent environmental conditions. This may question all existing dominant organisational models based on traditional leadership theories. The march from an idea stage to practical application is greater here.

Now if the chaos theory has to be of practical use in organisations it has to be incorporated into a real organisation. This incorporation would be through a consultant. The curved arrow in the diagram "innovative ideas/ findings" precisely refers to such an application. The reverse flow (applied research to pure research) would call upon pure research to deal with real issues that the applied realm needs help in. Besides sending signals for assistance, communication through this downward sloping curve in Figure 1 would also involve reality checks upon pure research for contextual relevance.

Implications of Referents on Methodology in Business Research

The implications of the notion of referents introduced here to research design and research teaching is significant. Traditionally research methodology taught in the universities and management institutes presupposes that the referent requires depth of inquiry and, hence by definition, would be of narrow domain. In other words, it is assumed, for the most part, that the subject matter is always of "pure" nature.

Let us look at pure research in slightly more detail. Figure 2 shows the various steps involved in a pure research process. This is based on what the researchers (for example, Kerlinger, 1973) see as the cascading phases of the research process.

The first step in research methodology as it applies to pure research is deep scholarship in the area, represented by Box 1 in Figure. 1. Such scholarship produces not only a keen familiarity with the subject, but it also paves the way for a creative leap into some interesting and insightful interrelationship, as shown by the dotted arrow from Box 1 to Box 3. For most of social science research these interrelationships are in the form of cause-effect relationships (Ackoff, 1981).

The existing knowledge in a specified area is formalised through the literature survey. At the most elementary level, this consists of chronicling and classifying previous research in the area. The literature survey, more importantly, consists of "pattern recognition" of the collective intellectual comprehension of the field under study by scholars, or for short, meta-analysis. There are many examples, one being that of corporate diversification by Ramanujam and Varadarajan (1989).

The next step consists of theory building, or conceptual model building, wherein the researcher comes with a new theory or concept that is a genuine extension to the existing knowledge. The theory so developed is largely deductive and there is yet no proof that it is indeed empirically right or wrong. Therefore, empirical testing backs many research studies. Towards that end the step is the statement of the Research Question. This is a fundamental question from which comes certain key assertions, or propositions. While there would be just one research question, the number of propositions could be as many as 10 depending upon the research design.

Propositions lead to hypotheses. The assertions made by the hypothesis are directly testable. For statistical testing purposes, hypotheses are represented in terms of null and alternate hypotheses. Less often, propositions are directly tested. An example of the former would be Sankaran (1993) and for the latter, Lant and Mezias (1995). Statement of propositions and hypotheses are followed by statistical test, interpretation of the results and conclusions.

It is in order to mention that broadly utility of pure research is twofold: the insight the theoretical model itself provides, and the empirical findings. The theoretical model allows for emergence of new variables that are interesting and useful, throws up new classification schemes and allows for hitherto unexplored interrelationships to be sought. Empirical inquiry gives opportunity to establish veracity of claims made in the theoretical models. If there is strong empirical evidence towards new relationships, there is good scope that the finding may be more easily led towards practitioner benefit.

What about applied research? The methodology highlighted by Figure 2 is inadequate and inappropriate for applied business research; there are too many broad issues to be tackled and the narrowness (which, no doubt, offers precision) of pure research methodology would be a handicap. To tackle business situations we find that consulting firms have developed their own methodologies for applied research. While there is no one method, there is a great deal of agreement of the use of a simple, yet powerful, methodology developed by McKinsey Consultants. We are referring to the Initial Hypothesis (IH) method (Rasiel, 1999). This has been extensively worked upon by a former consultant at McKinsey and developed into what is called the Pyramid Principle (Minto, 1995). The basic principle here is that all human thoughts, or less ambitiously almost all analysis, including those that are problematic, can be represented in a pyramidal fashion.


Perhaps the best way to present the Pyramid Principle would be to show its application used in a real-life situation. Let us take the case of a consulting assignment wherein the client asked the consultant to evaluate the scope for introducing an electric car in the market as shown in Figure 3.


The IH for this research follows the generic pyramidal structure which is suitable for the type of question this research is supposed to answer: whether the management should make an investment or not. It may be noted that the pyramidal structure is ideally suited to answer yes/no questions where the cost of failure after having taken a "yes" decision is heavy. This generic structure has a series of statements at the base of the pyramid (refer to Figure 3) which are connected to each other through the proposition "and", "and" and so on. Hence the IH here is "The product can be profitably introduced in the market if conditions "a" is true, "b" is true, "c" is true and so on." All the conditions need to be true to make the investment worthwhile. The basic pyramidal perspective suggests that it can also be used where the connecting proposition is "or", "or/and" etc (Rasiel, 1999).

Despite the simplicity of the statement above, this methodology creates an extremely tight logical framework that is mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive (or MECE for short in McKinsey parlance). The frame work is also flexible in terms spreading the pyramidal base further down towards further inquiry through dissection.

In the car project alluded to earlier, the IH lead to the detailed information requirements that are shown in Annexure 1. It can be seen that the pyramidal conceptualisation of the problem and the data needs that follow automatically ensures a very tightly woven argument for either introducing or not introducing the car in the market under consideration.

It appears that the difference between "pure" and "applied" business research can be visualised respectively in terms of the shapes of an hourglass and drum as shown in Figure 4.


In the case of former, the researcher starts with a plethora of research ideas already available in the literature. The conceptualisation of the "research question" funnels the ideas to a focal point and helps clarity of focus. Again, there is a broadening of the range when the researcher develops the propositions and the hypotheses.

The case of applied research is exactly opposite. The researcher starts with a narrow question such as "How do I increase profits?" or "Should I introduce the new product?" This is the question the apex of the drum, referred to earlier, represents. As the apex generates the base of the drum there is an expansion. This again shrinks to a few key findings, recommendations, and decisions such as "Increase profits through realising higher economies of scale" or "achieve cost rationalisation" or "enter the market" etc.

Referents in Action Research

We posited that the positivist direct take-off (from science to social science) has had a restrictive influence. To overcome the problem we posited that social sciences should now consider moving from the scientific blueprint-prototype-product continuum to one that is sensitive to changes in the referents while conceptualising pure versus applied shifts.

But the task is far from complete with such a makeover. There are new developments that management research has to incorporate in research. These include new aspirations such as meeting multiple stakeholder interests (Freeman, 1999).

Let us for a moment go back to science and technology writings. In an influential publication on development of knowledge in the scientific field, Gibbons et al (1994) argue that there is a certain demise of pure research:
 The development of science has now reached a stage where many
 scientists have lost interest in the search for first principles.
 They believe that the natural world is too complex an entity to fall
 under a unitary description that is both comprehensive and useful,
 in the sense of being able to guide further research. In fields such
 as genetic engineering and biotechnology, information theory and
 information technology, artificial intelligence, microelectronics,
 advanced materials, researchers do not concern themselves with the
 basic principles of the world but with specified ordered structures
 within it (Barnes, 1985; pages 23-24 from Gibbons et al, 1994)

Usefulness of the scientific research goes beyond individual products and services. It has usefulness in contributing towards incorporation of social aspirations in business decisions. For instance, management with its rooting in the marketing paradigm (Jeminson, 1981) has to be conscious of this. Gibbons et al go on:
 Thus communication between the research fraternity and society
 increasingly takes the form of diffusion processes that carry
 scientific and industrial knowledge into society.... [Page 38]

Given such a scenario, Gibbons et al call for a new consciousness in knowledge generation (what they call Mode-II) that is at reflexive, trans-disciplinary and heterogeneous. Action Research, which is a root derivative of the scientific method (McKernan, 1991, Masters, 1995) goes even further and incorporates three different types of inquiry. These, according to McKernan, are:

Type-1: The scientific-technical view of problem solving

Type-2: Practical-deliberative action research; and

Type-3: Critical-emancipatory action research

In Type- 1 research the role of the researcher is to intervene in enhancing a condition or solving a problem faced by the practitioner. The researcher goes in with a pre-specified theoretical framework or an idea. The practitioner identifies the problem and suggests a specific intervention which is implemented either by the practitioner or by the practitioner-consultant jointly. Type-I research is firmly rooted in the positivist paradigm. The discussion in the previous sections related to this type of research.

Practical-deliberative Action Research

Here the researcher enters into a conversation with the community (remember an organisation too may be a community) to identify the problems, their underlying causes and generate solutions. This is marked by dialogue, mutuality and high level of communication between a) the researcher and the researched and b) among the researched. The discussion is marked by interpretative clarifications that the researcher seeks as the research progresses. This type of research could also be called empathic (or empathetic) action research.

To explain such type of research in management let us take the case of product development. Traditionally, as pointed out by Leonard-Barton et al (1995), new products have been created either through market alignment or market creation. In market alignment, what comes into play is Type-1 market research. Here the researcher's role is to identify the mix of needs of the user or potential user that is presently unmet. The marketer finally offers a product or service that aligns with expressed need of the subjects researched.

In market creation, the market developer, through either some previous knowledge about the market or Type-1 research on the market, develops scenarios of likely future user environment and offers products or services to match these scenarios. Here research, therefore, becomes an aid to creating a market. Of course, market research would also be accompanied with simulation techniques to develop future market environment may often be constructed with the aid of simulation techniques.

As opposed to these two diverse methods of new product development wherein the primacy is on the users and the markets respectively, Leonard-Barton et al (1995) suggest a participatory and empathic approach wherein the designer-researcher develops a deeper understanding of the user environment. The authors suggest that "technologists immerse themselves in the new user world much as anthropologists do when they inhabit native villages in unfamiliar parts of the world". This way, the researcher comes to understand experientially the real ground situations that users face, the situations embedded in the contexts they live under. The marketer or the researcher would, thereby, be able to empathise with the spoken and unspoken views of users, importance and symbolic significance they attach to the products and features. The authors characterise the activities of Hewlett-Packard product developers (read product researchers) in the medical division who spend time in intensive care units of hospital clinics, as empathic product design.

Empathic research has traditionally been used extensively by management researchers who are inquiring human resources and organisational theory issues. Lei and Greer's (2003) "Empathetic Organization" may be considered a call towards a greater movement from traditional scientific-technical research perspective to practical-deliberative action research.

Critical-emancipatory Action Research

The type of research promotes enhancement in consciousness that creates action to achieve a desired state of being. With rooting in several strands of inquiry, including that of Freire (1970) and Illich (1973), this form of research would enhance the collective consciousness of the people being researched. Even more poignantly, it would also enhance the consciousness of the researcher. This emergent area of research is only beginning to be unfolded.

Such enhancement of consciousness (particularly that of the researcher) that leads to self discovery had been considered an unnecessary luxury (Brandon, 1976). Referring to social workers, he says:

Self discovery within helpers is viewed as an indulgence taking valuable time away from the manipulation of change in others! The currently popular term 'catalyst' is ironically and unintentionally appropriate as it means strictly an 'agent in an effect produced by a substance that without undergoing change itself aids a chemical change in other bodies' (Oxford English Dictionary). Not only is this ego oblivious to its own deficiencies but it becomes greedily certain of its central importance in life. (Page 81)

The power of action research in contemporary setting is evident in the evolution of an executive education programme at Boston University as reported by Waddock and Spangler (2000). This programme was targeted towards creating socially responsible forms of business practice. Initially called Leadership for Common Good, later called Leadership for Change, the programme sought to change the very consciousness of the participants, and in the process, that of the instructors. Waddock and Spangler tell us that one of the objectives of the programme was to develop "both/and" logic for positive social outcomes. Through such thinking it was possible for the participants to co-think and co-evolve business solutions that were not only economically sustainable but environmentally and socially sustainable.

"And/both" thinking involving reconciliation of opposites seems like an emergent contemporary theme (of course, having ancient spiritual and philosophical roots) that only "critical-emancipatory" mode can accommodate. For instance, Zander and Zander (2000) show how excellence can be created by such consciousness. Their means of achieving excellence is through generation of stories and creative definitions, visioning of new possibilities and enactment of new actions. Through these innovations "impossible" outcomes emerge. We have to ask the scientific-technical methods of research that dominate management research indeed accommodates, if not promotes, the "irrationality" of "and/both" thinking. The answer is that they do not.

The potential in "and/both" thinking is further illustrated by Zohar and Marshall (2000) in their work on Spiritual Quotient. They point our attention to recent brain research findings on a specific area in the brain, christened "god spot". This area in the brain gives the humans the unique ability to reconcile between apparent opposites. This ability allows for a higher consciousness of harmonious synthesis of apparent opposites generating "both/and" mindset. The physiological explanation is new, but the message is ancient. The original spiritual essence of all religions pointed towards such convergence, whether it is Tao's yin and yang (Blakney, 1955) or Sankya philosophy's prakriti and purush (Radhakrishnan and Moore, 1957). There is evidence that traditional western philosophy too, seeking truth and beauty, arrived at transcendence of opposites as methods and ends of ultimate human quest; for instance, Hegel's idea of synthesis or Kant's transcendental dialectic.

There is further evidence of the call for critical-emancipatory action research. For instance, Bruyn (2000) exhorts educational thinkers and educational administrators towards a new consciousness of the sacred while internalising the raison d'etre of educational enterprises. Such inquiry into the "sacred" space is not antithetical to day-to-day economic and social life. Pollster Daniel Yankelovich, based on his work in the United States, observes that a large number of people in society with high material affluence are beginning to shift their orientation towards work from an instrumental to a "sacred" view within which work would be considered for its intrinsic merit (Yankelovich, 1981).

Referents and Action Research

Action research in the practical-deliberative and critical-emancipatory mode would require us to expand the referent set to new realms beyond "ideas" and "organisations." The primacy of practical deliberative research would be upon the actual process of interaction between the research and the researched, wherein empathy and inclusiveness would mark the interaction. Relationship is the means and it almost becomes an end in itself. Therefore, here referent would be the relationship itself.

In the critical-emancipatory mode the dominant quest would be on consciousness identification and consciousness enhancement for the researcher and the researched. Correspondingly, the referent here would be consciousness itself. Table 1 summarises referents for different kinds of research.

Woven through this paper is the notion that the idea of referents is likely to give management researchers a greater extent of clarity on the real intent and process of all management research. Such clarity would make one's own research more focused. It would also create a greater extent of clarity on what others in the field are doing. All this will contribute towards better interdisciplinary dialogue and debate. Table 2 summarises how the intent and process of research would vary with different types of referents.

While taking research ideas from Natural Science, Social Science (and more pointedly management theory) we have to understand that their referents are not symmetrical to those of the former. When we have this understanding, we will begin to look at pure and applied research in management in a different light. This would create a healthy marriage of theory with practice (researcher and consultant roles) in creative and productive ways. The researcher would be enquiring into general principles and ideas while the consultant would be using these ideas for application in the specific context of organisations. We also mentioned that "researcher" and "consultant" are simply roles donned in specific contexts and they do not necessarily coincide with one's professional titles or positions.

The paper showed how more recent developments on Action Research have important lessons for management. Adopting Type-2 and Type-3 Action Research would involve a paradigmatic shift. Within Type-2 and Type 3 research, there would be room for interpretivist and consciousness-enhancing roles that are beyond traditional callings. The idea of referents would help in clarifying the new calling: the very purpose and intent of research and in choosing the matching processes.

However, we should not forget that classifications and taxonomy of management research and referents are ultimately theoretical constructs. Actual inquiry would involve a healthy mix of research types with their attendant referents. This consciousness may truly be the link connecting research and action in the most effective manner.
Annexure 1: Development of the Research Question,
Propositions and Hypothesis for Applied
Research in Corporate Strategy

I. Is price economics attractive?

1.1 Fixed Cost
1.2 Running Cost
1.3 Cost of Repairs
 1.3.1 Preventive
 1.3.2 Breakdown
1.4 Likely resale value (Durability and life)
 1.4.1 Loss due to wear and tear
 1.4.2 Loss with internal combustion engine vs
 loss with electric engines.
1.5 Financing Schemes
 1.5.1 Ease of Availability
 1.5.2 Cost of financing

II. Is the product attractive vis-a-vis existing
and likely products in the market?

2.1 Convenience
 2.1.1 Driver Comfort Speed Acceleration Feel
 2.1.2 Riding Comfort for non-drivers
 2.2.3 Breakdown repairs Frequency Availability of w/shops
 2.2.4 Ease of preventive repairs Frequency Availability of w/shops
2.2 Carrying Capacity
 2.2.1 Adequacy
 2.2.2 Performance at higher weights
2.3 Parking
 2.3.1 Ease of manoeuvrability
 2.3.2 Space required
2.4 What will this Electric car replace?
 2.4.1 Benchmarking Against other
 competing vehicles
2.5, Other Electric Cars?
 2.5.1 Which are the other electric cars that
 are likely to hit the market
 2.5.2 How they fare vis-a-vis factors 2.1
 to 2.4

III. Does infrastructure for refuelling exist?

3.1 Infrastructure availability
3.2 Control over facility (price and service
 maintenance, availability of electricity)
3.3 Business Network Model

IV. Is Image right?

4.1 Will image come in the way of acceptance
 of the small electric cars
4.2 if yes, How can this be changed?
 Strategies for promotion/segment

V. Is there a sufficient market?

5.1 Geographical area of the Market
5.2 Customer definition
 5.2.1 New Market (where, as such no
 vehicles are going to be replaced
 5.2.2 Replacement of existing vehicles
 (Cars, Auto, Box Autos, Two wheelers)
5.3 Size of Market
 5.3.1 Total Gross Market
 5.3.2 Potential Market
 5.3.3 Achievable Target

VI. Are there agencies which may have
 interest (+ve and -ve) which would
 come in the way of feasibility?

6.1 Motor Vehicle Department
6.2 Insurance Department
6.3 Automobile Clubs
6.4 Major Car manufacturers
6.5 Major Oil Companies
6.6 Electricity Suppliers
6.7 Motor safety Councils
6.8 Local bodies that will be affected:
 Police, Corporation
6.9 Pollution Control Organisations
6.10 Non-Governmental Organisations
6.11 International Organisations
6.12 Standards Organisations (ISO, BIS)

VII Sufficient number of vehicles can be produced
and made available at the price/quality

7.1 Technical and financial feasibility


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Table 1: Action Research and Referents

 Action Research Type of Research in Referents in
 Level Management Management Research

1 Pure "Objective" idea
 Applied "Objective"
 (including subset
 or superset of it)

2 Participative Relationship between
 or among individuals
 or groups or

3 Consciousness Consciousness of
 Enhancing self with an
 individual identity
 or consciousness of
 the collective self
 with a social

Table 2: Intent and Process of Research:
Influence of Referents

 Referents in Likely Intent Likely underlying
Management Research Process

"Objective" idea Usefulness of an Deep deductive
 idea, novelty, thinking coupled
 generalisability, with keen inductive
 simplicity observation

"Objective" Enhancement of Play advisory role,
organisation effectiveness of the consultant approach
 organisation, to enhancing well-
 subsets or supersets defined output specs

Relationship Enhancement of Co-think and
between or among relationship, co-evolve ideas
individuals or communication, and solutions
groups or furtherance of
organisations networking
 mutuality, balancing
 transparency with
 respect for privacy

Consciousness Transformation of Self-transcending
of self with an the consciousness of behaviour, hubris-
individual identity the researcher and correcting, seeking
or Collective Self researched. Critical awareness of self
with a social intent of own and others
identity (researcher)
 practice with social
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Date:Jan 1, 2006
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