The Department of Economics at Hamburg’s University of Applied Sciences (HAW) and Google are only three kilometres apart. However, they are worlds apart in other respects even though developing products, procedures and services requires in-depth knowledge and expert skills. Knowledge transfer is a precondition for commercial success. Annette Corves, Professor of International Business at HAW, noted: “Companies and third-level institutions in Germany – and in Hamburg – must bundle their knowledge better, if they are to take a top position amid disruptive change.” To sound out ways of doing so, Corves, 51, swopped the lecture hall for a term as interim manager at Google, supported by her colleagues and the president of HAW. “I wanted to work right at the pulse of the digital future in another culture of innovation and in flexible, digital structures to prepare my students better for the future world of professionals and to find new points of reference for my own research.”
Language and pace prove divisive
At HAW, Corves lectures in marketing and strategy with emphasis on digital transformation, business models, trust in the market and reciprocity in a digital context. “Digital stories often work better through digital reciprocity – the inverse relationship between data and information.” However, her use of scientific terminology confounded people at Google. “The differences between commerce and science begin with language. We only found a clear language when I began speaking of give and take and win-win situations instead of reciprocity.”
The speed and the depth of knowledge also proved different, said Corves, adding: “We in science are obliged to permeate issues in-depth. But that is barely possible in day-to-day commercial business.” Adapting the required knowledge quickly and suitably is what counts. Scientists can meet commerce halfway by publishing abstracts and using keywords more often to ensure that texts are found quickly and to illustrate the meaning of scientific knowledge in practical terms. “This is the point at which scientists can learn from Google as it is a master of explaining knowledge simply and concisely.”
Scientists, on the other hand, are champions of knowledge acquirement. Academics strive to gain an overview of research areas and to give them clear structures. “Thanks to this overall illuminating concept, we gain valuable knowledge and we help both science and commerce by making it available – reciprocity,” said Corves.
Establishing interfaces such as internships, practical terms, guest lecturers, endowed professorships or by promoting B.A., M.A. theses and Ph.D. degrees can also ease this process. “However, that is time-consuming and commerce is more likely to stand back from such an area,” Corves has observed.
However, exactly this commitment has to be extended as it can lead to knowledge transfer from universities to companies who then give practical guidance. “Guest lectures, collaborations with practitioners and joint research projects could extend this,” said Corves and has noted readiness on both sides. “Many top managers like being able to share their knowledge and valuable experience. Students, on the other hand, love practising what they have learnt – two worlds come together.”
Transferring knowledge in both directions
On her return to the university, Corves concluded: “After eight months as an interim manager at Google, I am more closely networked in practical terms. This has resulted in even more exciting opportunities for co-operations between commerce and science. I have also revised my lectures and added many examples.” Hopes that Google will transfer know-how to HAW to enhance students’ digital skills, as Corves requested, are now high: “On November 14, Google invited my first and third-term students to visit the company,” she added.