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SIOP 2015: Reflections Part 2, on Innovation

2015 May 27

This continues my thoughts on SIOP 2015 about Big Data. In that article, I described how I/O psychologists can meaningfully position themselves as the “meaning-makers” of Big Data. But what I worry about is that I/O psychologists will not take the opportunity to become proactive in regards to innovative technology.

To date, we have almost universally been reactive, and as has been common in this situation, a new innovation is signified by a flurry of conference activity followed by near-silence in the academic literature.

To illustrate, I remember when the idea of “maybe social media is important” hit the SIOP conference maybe 3 or 4 years ago. The first year, there were a couple of presentations on social media. The next year, there were at least five or six, several standing-room only. This year, there were two again. I imagine next year it will decrease to one or none. In all these years, the I/O research literature has added maybe two papers on the topic, although a fair amount of research on workplace social media has appeared in non-I/O journals. And – surprise – social media is still a concern for those in the field.

I think what this represents is interest in the practitioner community – specifically, someone has asked what their informed, I/O opinion is on this new technology – yet the research literature remain mostly silent. In the absence of empirical research, the practitioner community develops its own internal understanding of the technology and then stops talking about it at SIOP. Thus the issue remains a concern in the field while few contribute empirical research. Decisions are made based upon rules of thumb and gut reactions.

This situation is not tenable if I/O hopes its research to be applied to the modern workplace. We risk the same pattern followed by newly minted MBAs and teachers – a brain full of knowledge from school that is discarded within the first year of “real” work. If we want I/Os to continue applying research on the organizational front lines, we need to craft more relevant research.

I don’t mean to imply by this that the responsibility lies solely with the academics. We seem to have forgotten the scientist-practitioner model, which does not imply that there are both scientist and practitioners, but rather that all I/O psychologists should be both scientists and practitioners. The harsh realities of billable hours make this balance difficult for people in the field, but more must be done. We must increase academic-practitioner partnerships for the good of our field, to produce research at the forefront of new organizational phenomena.

And perhaps it goes without saying, but if you have or are considering such a technology, give me a call!!

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