For Its Own Sake

How you package and promote your knowledge is equally as important as how to produce world-class knowledge.

—Jagdish Sheth, Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing


Vol. 7 No. 3
December 2004/January 2005

For Its Own Sake
When knowledge isn't for sale

How you package and promote your knowledge is equally as important as how to produce world-class knowledge. Jagdish Sheth, Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing

I don’t think the basic researcher has an obligation to apply what he or she discovers.
Marshall Duke, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology

The Negative Benefits of Historical Study
On not applying the lessons of the past
Patrick Allitt, Professor of History

Teaching the Teachers
Reinventing graduate and postdoctoral education
Pat Marsteller, Senior Lecturer in Biology and Director of
the Emory College Center for Science Education

Further reading

Poetry Happens
The power and popularization of an ancient art at Emory


Return to Contents

Academic Exchange: Do knowledge producers have an obligation to disseminate knowledge they create?

Jagdish Sheth: At one time there were thought to be two kinds of academics: those who are knowledge disseminators and those who are knowledge producers. I find the dichotomy not at all useful. Knowledge producers must become knowledge disseminators. That raises a slight problem because now the knowledge producers must also be marketers of their knowledge. So how you package and promote your knowledge is equally as important as how to produce world-class knowledge. For example, today the latest articles in the best medical academic journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, have worldwide media coverage simultaneously with the publication of a major research finding. The new knowledge is not limited to small academic communities; it has worldwide impact. Similarly, research done on Nobel Prize winners has found consistently that the winners are often excellent knowledge disseminators. There are some exceptions, of course, but mostly the winners took a leadership role and took knowledge beyond academic journals.

AE: Are there more self-centered reasons for disseminating knowledge?

JS: Yes. First, others might take credit for your ideas if you don’t. Unfortunately there’s a lot of imitation, so if a good idea comes along, other people are likely to take it over. Second, the more you disseminate the more you’re known as a producer of knowledge, and the more you create your own identity. In the scholarly world, where we’re all trying to create our identities, this is important.

AE: What are the ways you conduct your research, and what have they led you to find in marketing?

JS: There are three traditions of knowledge creation. The first is observing reality and providing a framework that provides an explanation—why is it happening? For example, many poor people don’t always purchase the least expensive products. The question is why. There are two theories: The old one is conspicuous consumption—they want to emulate someone whom they are not. That theory was debunked by sociologists at Columbia University. Instead, it is suggested that what they’re doing is compensatory consumption: they know they don’t have all the rights in society, so they compensate for that by buying more expensive products. There’s also a risk-reduction theory. It suggests that low-income consumers are actually very rational, and they know they might make a wrong choice if they buy only by price.

The second tradition of knowledge creation is experimental. You come up with a hypothesis, create an experimental design to control everything else, then change the chosen variable to see how it affects behavior. That’s done a lot in marketing. For instance, if you advertise in one market but not another, and the two markets are comparable, you have a test and a control market and can measure the impact of advertising.

The third type of research is deductive. You begin with a theory about the world then use that theory to say, This is how it should behave. Then you test if that behavior is followed accordingly or if there is a disconnect with your theory. This style of research, for example, can be used to determine how various incentives affect employee performance. What makes human beings work harder? Is it strictly an economic motivation, or are there other factors?

AE: Do you have a preference among those models?

JS: I’m very eclectic and not wedded to any one approach. Recently I’ve begun creating large-scale theories that require deductive techniques, the best of which is fuzzy logic. Fuzzy logic was created as a mathematical approach and is built into every digital camera and many other electronic devices. It starts by saying, Here is a partial reality, and then it fills in the rest with logical assumptions. What I enjoy most is putting together crystallized thoughts about the world that make sense.

AE: What ways have you chosen to disseminate knowledge?

JS: There are three mechanisms I use. One is to publish in academic journals or books. I find that books have a wider impact because journals are narrowly read. Another route is to provide interviews on mass media, like bbc, npr, or
cnn. The third is the most interesting one, and that is to become an advisor to government. I started advising the government of Singapore twenty years ago. After the industrial revolution, the economic activity of the world was organized in an east-west direction, and that’s what many people believe will continue. But actually the world economic order is get-ting organized in a north-south direction, a trend that began in the 1980s. The world is not globalizing; it’s actually regionalizing along a north-south axis, such as North and South America, or Asia and Australia. Singapore’s future thus lies within the north-south axis between Australia and China. They are in the middle of that and strategically positioned to take advantage of its location.