Cup of Coffee: The distance between industry and academia

By Jamil Alkhatib

Last week I was at the German Jordanian University to give a talk during the global entrepreneurship week (GEW). During the day we had different presentations about innovation, entrepreneurship, and collaboration between industry and academia. The overall event was very interesting with lots of inspiring speakers and networking.

After that a group of the speakers had coffee together at the university cafeteria. Sounds like all the other events we have attended. But that simple informal setting and chatting, while having the coffee was amazing. The participants got to know each other as individuals and the organizations they represented by sharing their concerns, questions and experiences.  The best part of the conversations they were genuine, spontaneous, drink coffee and share the reality each of us was experiencing.

At my table were people representing: university staff, professors, private sector, and industrial association, plus students keen to do more than learn in classrooms. The cafeteria was and full of energy and buzzing with future opportunities, NOT just issues.

I noticed that the level, age and experience of the person wasn’t as important to bridging the gap as the ability to listen, question and share.  Everyone was equal and respectful; it is our chance to build the future.

Moreover the people around that table have different backgrounds and they each had a range of experiences with a spectrum of roles (student to business executive to academics). The table combined experiences in engineering, sciences, management and more.

So who said universities and industry can’t share real issues, and consider the others perspective?  Where was the big gap I have heard so much about?,

Maybe, just maybe the gap is in our minds just like other cultural divide (men vs. women, adults vs. youth, German vs. Arabs, academics vs. industry). It can be addressed by not assuming we are the same and exploring the other party and try to understand each other and know different roles and perspectives.

It was great to watch mutual respect turn into trust between academia, industry and students as they learned more about each other.   A cup of coffee was a real first step to mutual understanding.

So a few lessons from a coffee with academics, industry and students:*

a)     Don’t assume we see the world or issues the same,

b)    Consider asking questions to learn about the other parties issues might be more valuable than telling them about yourself (until they ask),

c)     Consider investing time over tea or coffee, to learn about those in your expanded community (not everyone lives, works or thinks like an academic),

d)    Explore opportunities more than issues; future possibilities create more energy than complaining.

e)     Consider reaching out to those you do NOT know every 2-3 weeks to expand your understanding face to face.  Not everything is on the web.

f)      Be ready for fresh insights.

All what we need to bridge the gap, is to share our concerns, opportunities and talk about positive results we achieved in our roles. Such moments will build trust and further collaboration.

So let’s have a cup of coffee, chat and collaborate.


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