Doing research that matters

Shaping the future of management

Dr. Marco Busi

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If you believe the impact of management research and education is in decline, this book will help. Readers who want to have a lasting impact through their management practice and/or research can benefit from the experiences and inspiring thoughts of a prestigious group of “engineers of the future”.

Doing research that matters looks at an old issue from a new perspective, taking a fresh and cross-disciplinary approach to learning how we can contribute with our work to shaping the future of management.

Readers are invited to seat back and relax while they are taken on a journey through the views and work of a group of exemplary professionals: top-management gurus Rob Goffee, Robert Kaplan, Barbara Kellerman, Philip Kotler, John Kotter, Howard Gardner, Costas Markides, Roger Martin, Henry Mintzberg and David Ulrich; Nobel Laureates Gerhard Ertl, Doug Osheroff, Elinor Ostrom, Jack Szostack and Harald zur Hausen; and world renowned astrophysicist Margherita Hack.

In his quest to become a better management innovator, Marco Busi reveals how their transformative work comes about, what drives them, how they make it happen, and why they feel so passionate about changing the world. Sharing the wisdom gained from these interviews and more, he highlights common patterns in the way pioneers identify a problem worth researching, generate an outcome worth spreading, and generally conduct a career worth having.


  • Prologue — My declaration of intent
  • Personal introduction to the futureers
  • Chapter 1. Shaping the future of management by reinventing management research
  • Chapter 2. Destination paradise: understanding what to aim for
  • Chapter 3. The thrill of discovery
  • Chapter 4. The big (or small) q: finding romantic problems worth studying romantic problems worth investigating
  • Chapter 5. Enjoy the ride
  • Chapter 6. Travelling solo, or in groups?
  • Chapter 7. Share the experience to make it more valuable (to you and others)
  • Epilogue — Shaping the future of management (research)


As the head of the Drucker Institute, I’ve had the chance to ponder the subject of Marco Busi’s book on more than a few occasions. After all, the man whose vast body of work forms the intellectual foundation of my organization — affecting everything from our overall worldview to individual activities — had a decidedly trenchant take on the topic.

“I have a deep horror of obscurity and arrogance,” Peter Drucker once said of his writing, “so I presented it in a form that people could apply.” This was, of course, Drucker’s way of declaring that he did research that matters.

It was also his way of asserting that all too many of his university colleagues, bent on piling up articles in peer-reviewed publications with no regard for whether their contributions made a bit of difference beyond the ivory tower, did not. (It is a view shared by many of those Busi interviewed; see, especially, Chapter 7 on the huge disconnect between the way the academy measures achievement and any real-world relevance that a scholar’s work may have.)

“Sure, we want and need research,” remarked Drucker, who passed away in 2005, barely a week short of his 96th birthday, with 39 books to his name and countless consulting clients who felt they owed him a great debt. “But consider the modern medical school, which began in the late 18th century. The emphasis in medical school is not on y publication but on the ability to treat patients and make a difference in their lives.” In a similar manner, he added, “business educators should be out as practitioners where the problems and results are.”

It’s not that Drucker, who over a span of more than six decades taught at four major institutions of higher learning (Sarah Lawrence College, Bennington College, New York University, and Claremont Graduate University), failed to appreciate the research going on around campus. Yet he perceived its value differently than many others did.

“Intellectuals and scholars tend to believe that ideas come first, which then lead to new political, social, economic, psychological realities,” Drucker wrote. “This does happen, but it is the exception. As a rule, theory does not precede practice. Its role is to structure and codify already proven practice. Its role is to convert the isolated and ‘atypical’ from exception to ‘rule’ and ‘system,’ and therefore into something that can be learned and taught and, above all, into something that can be generally applied.”

Drucker also worried about the drift toward hyper-specialization, maintaining that many of the most significant advances were to be attained by forging links among different areas of knowledge. (Busi makes the same point in a section of Chapter 4, aptly titled “Search at the Intersections.”) “‘Only connect’ was the constant admonition of a great English novelist, E. M. Forster,” Drucker wrote in his 1993 book Post-Capitalist Society. “It has always been the hallmark of the artist, but equally of the great scientist — of a Darwin, a Bohr, an Einstein. At their level, the capacity to connect may be inborn and part of that mystery we call ‘genius.’ “But to a large extent,” Drucker continued, “the ability to connect and thus to raise the yield of existing knowledge y is learnable. Eventually, it should become teachable. It requires a methodology for problem definition — even more urgently perhaps than it requires the currently fashionable methodology for ‘problem solving.’ It requires systematic analysis of the kind of knowledge and information a given problem requires, and a methodology for organizing the stages in which a given problem can be tackled — the methodology which underlies what we now call ‘systems research.’ It requires what might be called Organizing Ignorance — and there is always so much more ignorance around than there is knowledge.” Drucker wasn’t always so sour on the state of scholarly research. Relatively early in his career, he was confident that management theory and practice were on their way to becoming mutually reinforcing. “The manager wants to know what kind of structure he needs,” Drucker observed in The Practice of Management, his 1954 landmark. “The organization theorist, however, talks about how the structure should be built. The manager, so to speak, wants to find out whether he should build a highway and from where to where. The organization theorist discusses the relative advantages and limitations of cantilever and suspension bridges.” The good news, according to Drucker, was that these two distinct perspectives — both of which had much to offer — were beginning to converge. “Indeed,” he wrote, “we are speedily closing the gap by creating a unified discipline of organization that is both practical and theoretically sound.”

By the mid-1980s, though, things had changed for the worse. “Being incom- prehensible has become a virtue in academia,” complained Drucker, who famously forswore writing for scholarly journals, preferring instead to see his byline grace the pages of The Atlantic, Harper’s, and The Wall Street Journal.

To be sure, there were exceptions, and Drucker pointed to them admiringly. For instance, he said that he found Michael Porter’s theories on strategy particularly useful. He called Phil Kotler’s work on marketing, especially among nonprofits, “pioneering.” And he lauded C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel’s insights on core competencies as “pathbreaking.”

Tellingly, all of these Drucker favorites are academic outliers, alchemical blends of thinker and doer — just like Drucker himself. Busi (who, not coincidentally, interviewed Kotler, holds up Hamel and refers to Porter and Prahalad) has discovered a similar magic in that mix. “In fact,” he writes, “I have learnt that people who have the potential to do research that matters, especially in the management field, are those who sit in the space between the two ends of this continuum. “They are neither the ‘pure’ Academic nor the ‘pure’ Practitioner,” Busi explains. “They are just the typical engineers of the future.” They are, in other words, innovators — and, as such, Drucker’s advice for this group seems perfect: “Because innovation is both conceptual and perceptual, would-be innovators must also go out and look, ask, and listen. Successful innovators use both the right and left sides of their brains. They work out analytically what the innovation has to be to satisfy an opportunity. Then they go out and look at potential users to study their expectations, their values, their needs.”

In the end, this surely would have been Drucker’s test: Has someone actually been able to put your findings to good use? Do they satisfy a genuine need? If the answer is yes, that’s worth more than a thousand journal citations. If the answer is no, then it’s just research, not research that matters.

Rick Wartzman
Executive Director, The Drucker Institute

About me

Marco Busi is CEO of Carisma RCT Ltd., a U.K.- based management research and advisory company specializing in strategic and operational excellence. He regularly consults companies, government and public sector organizations, industry associations, and uni- versities from Europe, the United States, Canada, and Asia. His research and consultancy insight have been applied to manufacturing, service, energy, nuclear, construction, and various other industries.

Marco also runs Carisma’ investment arm, which aims to capitalise on high-risk and high-growth- potential business ventures. And he is editor-in-chief of Strategic Outsourcing: an International Journal (SOIJ), published by Emerald Group Publishing Ltd. and winner of the Emerald Excellence Award for Best New Journal Launch 2008–2011.

With a present in industry and a past in academia, Marco’s main interest lies in bridging the gap between theory and practice, between knowledge and application.

Prior to transitioning to the private sector, he was founding manager of the Centre for Business Process Outsourcing, a Scottish research centre co-funded by the University of Strathclyde and Highland and Island Enterprise (regional development agency for the North of Scotland). Before moving to Scotland, he was a research scientist in the manufacturing logistics group at SINTEF Industrial Management in Trondheim, Norway, the biggest research foundation in Scandinavia.

Besides his role at Carisma RCT, he still maintains a series of academic roles at various Universities in the United Kingdom, Vietnam, and China; he serves on the editorial boards of several academic journals, and he is a member of a number of scientific committees. His work and views on management and operations regularly appear in prominent publications including The Times and various international journals, books, and trade magazines.

Marco can be contacted via e-mail at

Marco's LinkedIn Profile

09 February 2014

“Research that matters” on “Global focus”, the EFMD magazine

Scientific research, and particularly management research, is in dire straits, accused of lack of relevance and impact and an unhealthy preoccupation with theoretical and methodological rigor. With this article published on “Global focus”, the EFMD magazine, Marco Busi suggests some solutions.

Listen the reading of the article:

Read “Global focus” Volume 7 Issue 3 2013 or download the EFMD Global Focus app for Android and iOs

Book launch

The book was officially launched on August 10th, 2013 at an event organised by Emerald Group Publishing at the 2013 Academy of Management Conference.

The event took place at the Walt Disney World Swan Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Orlando (Florida). After a brief introduction by the Juliet Harrison (Emerald), Marco Busi presented the book to the audience, touching on three key points of his journey:

  1. What pushed him to research and write the book: this was primarily due to a personal dissatisfaction with the impact of his own research.
  2. The Journey itself: here he touched on the methodology behind the book and the interviews with the Management Gurus and Nobel Laureates, discussing how these insightful conversations focussed on why the Futureers do what they do, how they do it and how they communicate it.
  3. The key learnings: wanting to limit the speech to just a few minutes, Marco choose to focus on the Research That Matters model he introduces in the book, illustrating how doing research that matters is extremely difficult and something which can be achieved really only when three sets of very specific characteristics co-exist for the Insight Generator (I.e. The researcher); the Insight Incubator (I.e. The University or company where the researcher works); and the Insight Distributor (e.g. Publishers).

The event continued with a round of questions from the several participants which led to an interesting discussion. That was then followed up by an informal drink reception and book signing session. Feedback collected from those who attended was extremely positive and encouraging.

download the invitation