Bridging the Gap

By: Tom Bussen

Welcome to the Biggs and Bussen website!

Let me begin by introducing myself, Tom Bussen.  I’m a writer of three books, a cross-cultural researcher, and a professor with the African Leadership University based in Rwanda. I’ve spent far too much money on college tuition, with a JD, an MBA, and a Doctorate of Business Administration on the horizon. And although – or because – I’ve rarely pursued money for the sake of money, I see my work as an extension of a joyful, meaningful life. 

After graduating law school I took a job practicing law, and eyed the corporate ladder.  It was on my third interview with a New York investment firm – right around the time they were explaining that while the pay was good, I could expect to endure long periods of boredom – that I made the decision. Thanks, but no thanks. Life’s too short for boring. I’m joining the Peace Corps.

I quit my job at the law firm, wrote a book with the accomplished Dr. Nitish Singh, then started a new life teaching throughout the Kyrgyz Republic.  I would before long join the faculty of the American University of Central Asia, where I learned once and for all that work can be fun, meaningful, invigorating. I taught in a valley below the craggy mountains of the capital city Bishkek for 2.5 years, then hopped over to Budapest for a 4 month research fellowship during which I lived next door to the infamous Parliament and jogged daily on a leafy island in the Danube. Finally, I returned stateside to embark on my doctoral studies, adding a black lab and fantastic running buddy to my side.

I began a doctoral program in the humid, gator filled swamplands of the University of Florida, gaining the tools to conduct scholarly research while learning under some of the most objectively brilliant minds the world of academic management has to offer. But just as I went to law school never wanting to be a lawyer, I joined a doctoral program not really wanting to a traditional academic career. Instead, I wanted to mature as a writer, and to do that I needed to have an insider’s understanding of how the top researchers were conducting their research.

Though the learning is never complete, two years later my course work is done. In that time I learned not only my own strengths and weaknesses, but, at least as important, the strengths and weaknesses of the research process itself.

For instance, I learned that most academic research is conducted on WEIRD participants – that is, western, educated, industrialized and developed country participants.  In fact, we can go further. Most research participants are US undergraduate psychology students.  So while academics like to say that their findings are “generalizable” – that is, universally applicable – the reality is less expansive.   This is just one example of the “academic-practitioner” gap, in which academic practice fails to replicate the practitioner reality.

This gap led to my most recent project with the multi-talented Dr. Henry Biggs. While I had been working to build up my academic experience, Henry spent these past years refining his professional chops. A Harvard grad, a long time Washington University in St. Louis professor, Biggs was already an established academic and professional when he jetted off to Paris with his wife and youngest son. There, he’s taken on a new role as CEO and general counsel of ofCourse Scheduling, while enjoying his fair share of French wine and cheeses.

Together, we partnered up to work on Shaping the Global Leader, a book in which we applied our cross-cultural experiences to help identify unique and effective leadership practices from all around the world.

As in Shaping the Global Leader, in this forum Henry and I draw on our respective academic and practitioner knowledge to help bridge the research gap. We question whether something which is true in the US is also true elsewhere in the world. We interrogate American culture for its weak spots, and seek alternatives which may contribute not just to a more productive culture, but more importantly to a happier people.  And most excitingly, I think, we bring you the stories of real people that are exemplifying these best practices.

This website is not the beginning, but a continuation. It is a continuation of my long-time work with my good friend and mentor, Henry Biggs.  It is a continuation of a book writing career that began shortly before that departure to the Kyrgyz Republic.  But it also represents a maturation, a point at which we both are ready to more confidently and competently bridge the gap between academics and practitioners, to identify the best that the academic world has to offer – and it does have much to offer – and to bring it to the professionals that can most benefit from it.

In so doing, we hope to make our readers – and ourselves – more educated, effective and ethical global professionals. But we need your help to do that. Unlike a book, this venue allows for immediate feedback.  Let us know what you like and what rubs you the wrong way, but, perhaps even more helpfully, let us know what you want.  The hope is that the work of this blog will serve as the bones for a future book, and we hope for you to be the guiding forces for that work.

Mark Twain once said he would have written a shorter letter, but he did not have enough time.  I fear that I have been too wordy in this introduction, and so, without further ado, let us begin minding the gap.

[1] Banks, G. C., Pollack, J. M., Bochantin, J. E., Kirkman, B. L., Whelpley, C. E., & O’Boyle, E. H. (2016). Management’s science–practice gap: A grand challenge for all stakeholders. Academy of Management Journal59(6), 2205-2231.