Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

RTM: For and by Practitioners

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

RTM: For and by Practitioners

Article excerpt

"There is nothing so practical as a good theory."

--Kurt Lewin

I am pleased to assume the role of Editor in Chief of Research-Technology Management with this issue. As an industrial researcher and then manager of research and development organizations, I have found the focus of the journal on what works in practice to be consistently valuable. RTM is a publication for practitioners and by practitioners, and I think this is what has made it so valuable.

In 1983, the influential learning theorist, Donald Schon, published The Reflective Practitioner." How Professionals Think in Action. The book's title captures perfectly the spirit of RTM, which seeks to encourage in practitioners both active reflection on their experience and sharing of the experience with others. The sharing is crucial. In the words of John Seely Brown, formerly chief scientist of Xerox, "sense making and knowledge sharing cannot be separated." We learn not only by doing but by sharing.

In his book, Schon points out that practice, as a term, has two meanings. The first sense of the word relates to the performance of a profession: to doing something that is difficult and requires training and skill. People refer to the practice of law or to their engineering practice. The second sense refers to preparation for doing: to learning by engaging in an activity persistently, to preparing for performance. In this sense, practice implies experiencing some degree of failure: We hypothesize, we test, we fail, we learn, and we adapt.

Alas, this failure is still too rarely discussed in the annals of practitioner literature. I look forward to ferreting out descriptions of useful failures in the years ahead. (Those interested may want to re-read John Backus's piece in the July-August 1984 RTM entitled, "In Research, Failure Is the Partner of Success.")

Schon also challenges the usefulness of the still-dominant theory of the evolution of knowledge, what he calls the model of "technical rationality." This model assumes a hierarchy of knowledge that trickles down from academia to practice, a one-way flow in which theoretical knowledge is privileged. Schon's conviction is that deep knowledge is also derived from practice, and that this knowledge complements theory. He coined the term "reflection in action" to refer to an alternate model, one that acknowledges learning-while-doing and the bidirectional flow of knowledge. …

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