Human beings are the only creatures that ask questions, says Professor of Marketing and Global Supply Chain Management Michael J. Gravier.
“There’s something unique in our psychology that has given us the power to influence our world,” and that influence must be wielded thoughtfully and with precision, suggests Gravier, who recently turned his sights on academic research itself to see how it could help more people, and more efficiently.
A co-author of the article “Exploring the impact of logistics and supply chain management scholarship: Why pursue practical relevance and are we successful?” published in the Journal of Business Logistics, Gravier recently explored the relevance of contemporary logistics and supply chain management research and its influence on industry practices. The study, which interviewed both industry professionals and members of academia, found a moderate but growing disconnect between the groups — one that Gravier says needs to be addressed.
“There’s been a tendency for scholars to look at the abstract numbers for how many papers you're publishing and how many people are citing those papers,” says Gravier, a prolific scholar whose research addresses concepts ranging from the ascendance of artificial intelligence to optimizing key logistics issues. “We realized, ‘Wow, no one's looking to see if someone in society's actually benefiting from this research.’ If no one’s actually using the work we’re doing, the divide between academia and industry could get really big.”
Bridging the gap
According to qualitative interviews conducted by Gravier and his co-authors, industry professionals believe supply chain research has lost sight of practical implementation and veers toward the theoretical. The key to solving that divide, he says, is to ask big questions but never forget the real reasons why you’re asking them. “The first thing I usually think of is the people that are actually involved in the supply chain,” states Gravier, who has more than 30 years of supply chain and industrial marketing experience in both industry and as a Logistics Readiness Officer with the United States Air Force. “It’s about finding those connections and having the right people talk to each other about the right things. It’s about asking, ‘Why does this matter?’ and ‘Who is this going to impact?’”
This requires both a high-level understanding and knowledge of the details, he says. “As important as it is to be able to take care of the day-to-day — to make things happen, to move food and put it on people's plates, for instance — you need to be able to step back and say, ‘Okay, is there some way that we could change the whole system and manage it differently to get a better outcome?’ “
“We’re guided by our personal experiences and have friends and connections and a network out there in the real world, so we’re able to keep bringing in what's going on out in that real world into the classroom.”
The ability to combine experience and scholarship will be vitally important for supply chain management professionals and scholars going forward, Gravier says, as advances like big data analysis and artificial intelligence come increasingly to the forefront. “We live in a world now where we are awash with data and information, and that has been growing exponentially for a few decades now,” he says. “We're at the point where a lot of the answers are already there, we just have to know how to ask the right questions.”
Gravier points to Bryant’s Global Supply Chain Management program as a prime example of how theory can be combined with experience to prepare students to solve the problems they’ll face in their careers. “In the classroom, you're condensing lessons learned over decades and even centuries,” he notes. “When my students study something like the economic order quantity model of inventory management, it seems to them to be a very simple formula that you can find in every basic operations management textbook. I have to remind them that, at one point, this was not obvious. It was a lesson learned from hundreds of factories going through a process thousands of times. And then someone took a look at it and started seeing a pattern.”
Those classroom lessons are supplemented with experiential learning opportunities like the program’s capstone practicum, in which student consulting teams address real supply chain problems for real companies. The program’s faculty, with expertise ranging from fashion to engineering, help to translate academic insight into practical lessons.
“We’re guided by our personal experiences and have friends and connections and a network out there in the real world, so we’re able to keep bringing in what's going on out in that real world into the classroom,” says Gravier.