What is interesting research?

Gérard Cachon from the Wharton School has just published an excellent and short essay in Manufacturing & Service Operations Management on good research, which he defines as “interesting” research. I have long supported this view, although I’ve never articulated it as thoroughly or elegantly as he. If you are a Ph.D. student, assistant professor, journal editor, or referee, consider this essay required reading!

The article proposes two short prescriptions, or formulas. The first is that interesting research reports unexpected results of the type, “What was thought to be X is really Y.” I’ll let you read the article to learn many examples of what he means.

I had a little issue with the second formula (forgive me, Gérard!). My criticism is a little unfair, because he only offers this formula at the end, almost as an afterthought. But I could not help thinking about it. The formula is,

Interesting + Important = Impact.

He is making the point that one could imagine interesting papers that are not important, and therefore they will have no impact. I agree with this. However, I do not believe that we necessarily achieve impact with interesting and important work. Someone still must read it! Therefore, I would like to offer this amendment:

Interesting + Important + Consumption = Impact.

Frankly, I don’t like the word “consumption” there, but I couldn’t think of a better term. (I really wanted an “i” word!) I thought about “dissemination,” but I can disseminate my work and still not have anyone read it. Consumption means someone has read and thought about the work, and therefore that his or her thinking has been affected. That is what we should be after. As I have written elsewhere, if my paper appears in a journal and nobody reads it, I didn’t get a publication.

I highly encourage you to read the essay, and to keep it in mind when writing your next paper!

2 Comments

  1. Very nice post!

    I could also point out the following links to the interested OM researcher:

    1. Cachon, G. P. (2011). Interesting, really interesting, and maybe even fascinating research in O. M., M&SOM 2011 Fellow Presentation: http://prezi.com/z4hb9phbhsp8/gerard-cachon-msom-fellow-presentation/

    2. Van Mieghem, Jan (2012). Three Rs of Operations Management: Research, Relevance, and Rewards, M&SOM: http://msom.journal.informs.org/content/early/2012/12/14/msom.1120.0422.abstract

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