The Jingle Jangle Fallacy: Perspectives on Business Teaching

“Jinglejangle fallacies refer to the erroneous assumptions that two different things are the same because they bear the same name (jingle fallacy) or that two identical or almost identical things are different because they are labeled differently (jangle fallacy)”.  (Wikipedia)

Often, I have struggled with this fallacy when I read an article or participate in a discussion that deals with the contrast between teaching and research. I do agree about the difference in terms of skill sets needed to pursue one or the other, however, if one looks closely from an outcome point of view, in a strictly academic sense, they mean the same thing; furthering the cause of learning. The faculty whether he/she is teaching or working on a research project, it is about what can be taught to the students which is already available and what new can be added to the extant body of knowledge. Can you sense the jangle fallacy in action here?

Talking about teaching and research, a dominant thought is about making both useful to the industry. You teach what the industry needs, you research what can solve a problem in an organization. No one can disagree with that! However, the way we approach relevance issue needs a relook. In a simplistic way, let us approach this using the knowledge-skill-attitude chain. Seemingly, knowledge is the starting point and therefore transferring of knowledge that exists and the pursuit of creating new knowledge serve the same cause. Clearly, this whole ‘relevance’ debate is making us drift a bit from our purpose and various perspectives are emerging. Some to the extent that it undermines the conceptual grounding that is so important for even seeking the right knowledge. Consider an excerpt from an email that I received this morning: “Students will find this book useful because, while marketing textbooks by Philip Kotler and others introduce students to a plethora of terms and jargons leaving them wondering as to what to do with them, our book helps students develop solutions, perspectives, and convictions………True marketing wisdom can be obtained only under the tutelage of the master practitioner. Sadly, our students do not get this opportunity. The ‘Best Practices’ are substitutes for the best practitioners of the world. As a student goes through each of the ‘Best Practices’, he feels he is under the apprenticeship of the master practitioner. The ‘Best Practices’ are the most precious jewels of the book.” 

A few months ago, Prof. Nirmalya Kumar wrote about bringing practitioners in the classrooms. Indeed, I too have a bias (being an industry person myself) for getting more and more industry insights into my class and students love those sessions. However, if left at that students will receive the knowledge on things that happen in an organization. As a business faculty, we need to go further; as Prof. Kumar suggests, to bring the nuances of causation and boundary conditions of a marketing phenomenon. The complete chain of ‘what-why-how-why not’ is important for the students, not just what happened in that specific industry context. ( In case method of teaching, that’s what we do – specific to the general with boundary conditions!) In my opinion, this is the way forward to build strong industry-academia connect.

Academic research must unravel mysteries that the industry is grappling with. Absolutely! Good research is always about that. A good marketing journal is not prepared to look at your work if it does not advance the body of literature and is found lacking on a promising story for practitioners. Prof. V.Kumar, the editor of Journal of Marketing advocates the idea of marrying academic rigor and industry relevance. This clearly sets the agenda for research which converges on the basic need of business education; to serve the industry. As Prof.Nirmalya Kumar suggests; “The responsibility of faculty is to debunk widely held myths and simplistic causal inferences through research, reflection, analytical rigor, and data. And, this process helps develop a more nuanced and complex understanding of how the world works”. If that was not true then why do we need to develop multiple perspectives on, for example, customer engagement? It’s not an academic debate but a ‘real’ industry dilemma; whether pre-purchase engagement more important than the post-purchase engagement? Does customer extra role behavior accrue benefits for the firm or it has a dark side to it? Listening to a doctoral student’s seminar this week, I was thinking; if this research was going to add to the existing knowledge on customer engagement. I bet, it would and all of us will benefit; the teachers,  researchers, students and my ex-colleagues at The Times Group.