7th December 2011: 4 Publications, 3 Years

New Matilda recently published articles by Henry Barnes and academic staff on Sydney University’s announced budget cuts.


Buried in the debates about academic institutional governance and infrastructure projects is one decision rule: academics must have published four articles over a preceding three year period (January 2009 – November 2011) to be exempt from potential job loss.


This is a mixed rule which prioritises publishing volume over strategic research programs and citations impact. Three A* journal articles are far superior to four C ranked papers (although the ARC’s Excellence for Research in Australia initiative has now dispensed with letter rankings for journals). Publishing cycles can vary for ARC Discovery and Linkage grants. More prestigious journals have higher rejection rates and longer cycles for ‘revise and resubmit’ drafts and blind peer review feedback. Collaborations can also take longer. The decision rule doesn’t address quality criteria for research programs.


That said, Sydney University’s decision rule sets a low threshold for publications output. It’s far lower than the output levels expected of Associate Professors and is on par with the research active index of a senior lecturer (Level C academic) at most institutions. Academics with a coherent research program; research design knowledge; and existing collaborations should be able to publish four journal articles over a three year period. That’s roughly 20,000 to 28,000 words over three years — or 12,000 to 15,000 words for some online journals. There are even guides like Wendy Laura Belcher‘s Writing Your Journal Article In 12 Weeks (Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks CA, 2009) that take you step-by-step through the drafting process. Throw in a personal productivity framework like David Allen’s Getting Things Done and you can navigate some common workload issues. (Sure, perhaps workload issues are important to you — and there are ways to reframe how you deal with them without getting caught up in workload model arguments.)


Some New Matilda respondents feel the decision rule is a travesty. I disagree. I know plenty of sessional academics with no job security and vastly lower pay who can still meet the decision rule’s threshold. In many cases, so can newly hired academics who have a strong sense of identity and have conceptualised a research program. The problem will be staff who don’t have publication outputs (and the reasons vary on a case-by-case basis) or academics who almost meet the threshold but have delays in their research programs. But maybe some underpaid, productive, new voices deserve a shot.


If you want to outmaneuver such decision rules and the administrative, finance and management staff who formulate them, then take a lesson from asset management and private equity firms: read a book like Michael Watkins’ The First 90 Days (Harvard University Press, Boston MA, 2003) or George B. Bradt’s The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2009) and develop a new action plan every 90-100 days. Scott Berkun‘s Making Things Happen (O’Reilly, Sebastopol CA, 2008) provides most of what you need to know about project management. Have two or three analytical research questions to pursue. Join a professional association in your expertise area. Read the top journals and study their research designs. Know who the national and international teams are for your research questions. Your colleagues who get promoted to Associate Professor or Professor have already worked out some of these strategies.


Increasingly, academia is like Moneyball: in a winner-takes-all market you need to be creative, innovative, and productive to excel.

5th December 2011: Buy Ben Eltham Lunch

Ben Eltham (New Matilda; Crikey)

Ben Eltham is a prolific Australian writer and commentator on national affairs, arts and politics for New Matilda, Crikeyand other online publications.

You can support Eltham’s writing here — I urge you to do so.

Eltham and I have co-written a number of academic journal articles and conference papers, on Twitter and Iran’s 2009 election (PDF and presentation PDF); Australia’s Film Finance corporation and international tax arbitrage (PDF); and on the 2009 Victorian bushfires and journalism (PDF). Our joint paper on Twitter and Iran remains our most academically cited article. Along with his New Matilda and Crikey work, this should convey Eltham’s talent.

Twitterati can follow Eltham here whilst his Google Scholar profile is here.

5th December 2011: OWS/Free Agent Nation

George Packer’s New Yorker profile of unemployed activist Ray Kachel at New York’s Zuccotti Park has an unexplored sub-current. Kachel grew up as a freelance video editor and web developer during the 1995-2000 dotcom boom and during the Free Agent Nation era that Daniel H. Pink conceived for Fast Company Magazine. The deeper roots of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) perhaps lie in how the deflated dotcom bubble affected this group of entrepreneurs. Here’s what I wrote for Disinformation when the dotcom crash occurred in April 2000: Dot.com Disaster: The New E-Poor. Over a decade later, the lessons of the dotcom period have helped turn OWS into an effective meme in US domestic politics for the income inequality debate.

4th December 2011: Stadium Rock

Stadium rock success requires several elements. The frontperson needs narcissism and must hold the audience’s wish fulfillment and other psychological projections. The band needs a few journeymen players who don’t overshine the stars and build up a Phil Spector-like wall of sound. A back catalogue of radio-friendly hits and 10-to-15 years of material to draw upon can help. Jumbotron screens, lasers, and moving front stage areas help connect the band with the back row.

3rd December 2011: On Your Own Terms

Foo Fighters (1995)


Dave Grohl‘s career holds an important lesson for me. After Nirvana‘s dissolution, he developed Foo Fighters as a side-project and then as a full band. He established a completely new creative environment and gained commercial success on his own terms. He refused to live in Nirvana’s shadow. He even acknowledged his hardcore punk and metal roots with the Probot collaborative project. Grohl was able to show how through persistence, strategic thinking, and execution, the creative individual can succeed instead of becoming institutionalised. You don’t necessarily need a large organisation if you establish the appropriate structures, which Grohl did.


It’s a lesson I use daily in my creative, research projects.

2nd December 2011: The Disruptive Internet

Disruptive Internet project files (partial), January 2007 (click to view)


From January 2006 to March 2007 I worked on The Disruptive Internet (uncompleted) project for the Smart Internet Technology CRC.


The project had four goals:


1. Prepare a research critique that offers the first consolidated analysis of Internet-related disruptive technologies and users with some key implications for commercial opportunities.

2. Construct a taxonomy of disruptive users.

3. Validation or debunking of the hypothesis that the best future applications will not necessarily succeed because they offer higher levels of technology performance but rather consumers perceive them as practical and affordable, with obvious usefulness in their lives as low tech/high touch applications.

4. Identification of market disruption opportunities and evaluation of their implications for CRC Participants in various industry sectors.


I’ve just re-read the program director’s negative final assessment in the SITCRC’s 2007 annual report and want to set the record straight in a minority report/rejoinder:


1.The first milestone is listed as achieved. I had a draft monograph (redrafted twice with new material) on Clayton M. Christensen‘s research program on disruptive innovation, and another on Google (mentioned in this 2010 blog post). Although I spent a year on it, this material has never been made publicly available. It currently fills an archive box and over 3 gigabytes on a hard drive. At the time, I saw a marketplace gap now filled by The Innovator’s Guide to Growth (2008) and The Innovator’s DNA (2011). Perhaps I should have pursued a book deal. A public, official internet blog would also have been interesting given my concurrent work with The Disinformation Company Ltd. The two unpublished, draft monographs influenced a 2008 conference paper (PDF) and presentation (PDF) on disruptive innovation markets and ‘freemium’ music digital downloads.


2. The second milestone is listed as not achieved. For the second milestone, I had a draft taxonomy which drew on the Chinese 36 strategems. In my redrafted material for the first milestone, I also emphasised the link between disruptive innovation and agile software development as a type of disruptive user environment (‘reversing’-driven innovation was another). I undertook Scrum training in 2005, not CRC-funded. I took usability and project management training in 2006, not CRC-funded. In January 2007, the SITCRC listed (archived here) my public blog, which also touched on this milestone. Finally, I made explicit links between counter-terrorism and disruptive users, such as for a 2006 Masters  paper that evaluated DARPA’s Total Information Awareness initiative (PDF). However, I found that this perspective was off-limits in the SITCRC, and I was censured several times during Q&A sessions.


3. The third milestone is listed as not achieved. A senior SITCRC staff member proposed the third milestone. They did not elaborate further, so work didn’t proceed. I did not have the hypothesis-driven research training at the time to carry this milestone out. There was no null hypothesis given. There are framing problems with how the original hypothesis was formulated.


4. The fourth milestone is listed as not achieved. This is incorrect. I did several SITCRC presentations and workshops for Westpac and Sensis (PowerPoint presentation here from a December 2006 session) which had ‘commercial in confidence’ discussion of my research program and specific issues that each company faced. I also worked on a project with SITCRC member The Distillery at the request of the SITCRC’s chief executive officer. I noted opportunities featured in news stories in a public blog. I emphasised the role of environmental scanning, opportunity evaluation, strategic foresight and strategic intelligence as organisational capabilities for disruptive innovation.  I provided specific guidance for the Smart Services CRC successful bid, which subsequently led to a new, $A120 million dollar research consortium.


Courtesy of Rosie X, I even had a personal project intranet that SITCRC staff could access, with internal interviews and other draft materials.


The SITCRC’s annual report concludes that The Disruptive Internet project “will not be completed” by June 2007 and thus the “contract of researcher not extended.”


What actually happened:


(1) In February 2007, the SITCRC’s senior management decided to cut staff, despite the success of the Smart Services CRC bid. The university-based team I was on would possibly be cut from three to two researchers. The SITCRC’s chief executive officer and most of the senior people who comprised the bid team also left the organisation. (I later learned after studying mergers and acquisitions that this is common during the post-merger integration phase.)


(2) There had been infra-team personality conflicts on my research team for over a year previously (which did negatively impact on my work). I was unable to get my program manager’s approval to publish material that was more suited to theory-building academic journals than to non-peer reviewed industry reports. (I also had the support of several SITCRC commercial partners.) At the time, in late 2006 and early 2007 there  were uncertainties regarding if the Smart Services CRC bid would be successful. I felt certain team members narrowly prioritised their work in new project proposals and claimed professional expertise which they did not have — which in turn raised ethical and professional dilemmas for me. I raised these issues via SITCRC and university processes for research disputes. The SITCRC deferred to the university process.

Two days after I did raised the research dispute, the program manager (who later wrote the negative review) told me that my contract — which ended in a week — would not be renewed. This pre-empted the faculty and university processes for handling and resolving research disputes. No alternative dispute resolution mechanisms were made available. This ended my potential involvement in the Smart Services CRC, which I had worked for months on the successful bid for, and contributed to the conceptualisation of its research programs.


There were other more constructive avenues ways to have resolved these issues. The SITCRC’s 2006-07 annual report’s assessment does not reflect these complexities, of course. The whole negative experience led me to raise some research management issues in the Australian Government’s 2008 Review of the National Innovation System and Review of the CRCs Program.


My CV (PDF) and Publications (PDF and archive) detail subsequent non-CRC research. Since the SITCRC, I have worked on a sensitive university-wide audit; helped research teams to get Australian Research Council Linkage grants and funds from other competitive sources; and co-published in A-level peer reviewed academic journals. My personal research is now more highly cited (here) than the jointly-authored research I did in the SITCRC.