Research is a funny thing. On one hand, experience can be greatly helpful: knowing what one is looking for or expect to see is a boon. On the other hand, it can be a hinderance: a little knowledge can lead to biases and preconceptions, and the possibility of missing vital clues. This is one of the huge challenges of board research: the experience of the researcher. Some forty years have now gone by since researchers started investigating boards in earnest. That the answer to the question of how boards influence business performance remains elusive is an indictment on the research community, in my opinion.
If medical research is conducted by medics; cultural research is conducted by anthropologists; and, engineering research is conducted by engineers, why is it that board research is often conducted by full-time academics with little if any experience as directors? Consider these questions: how might an inexperienced observer hope to know what the normative practices of board meetings might be? Or that a subtle interaction between two directors might actually be material to a pending decision? That many board researchers have no experience as directors strikes me as an alarming anomaly. It's little wonder that much of the research has been restricted to counting things and to desktop analysis.
I would have thought that, if we are to get to the bottom of the problem of explaining how boards can influence business performance, we need to do two things. First, we need to get inside boardrooms, observe what directors actually do and identify what might be material to performance. Second, we need to do so through the lens of experience. Or do you think I am being too harsh?
Thoughts on corporate purpose, strategy and governance; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.