#164 from R&D Innovator Volume 4, Number 6          June 1995

FORUM—from our readers

Anonymous Forums

The Oxford American Dictionary defines “forum” as a place where public discussions are held or can take place.  From that point of view, this section of R&D Innovator seems to be missing the target.  Perhaps it ought to be renamed "Anonymous Researcher Complaint Letters."  Authors of many of these Forums discuss problems that could be addressed, and solved, simply by stating what they wrote, directly to their managers.

Are all researchers afraid to discuss important problems with their managers?  Do they all need an anonymous mechanism like the Forum to pass messages along?   If the answer is ‘yes,’ they are partly responsible for their problems, since they can't communicate with colleagues, which is what we should see managers as.

For instance, in R&D Innovator Volume 4, No. 2, the anonymous Forum writer presents arguments why he or she should attend a technical meeting that only the supervisor attends.  Couldn’t the writer just discuss that concern with the supervisor?  If the supervisor doesn’t agree (perhaps sufficient funds aren’t available), I don’t see any special problems.  Are there actually companies where making such an innocuous request would be  penalized?  I can’t imagine working in such a company. 

Sylvain Durocher

Project Leader, Process Development
Imperial Tobacco Limited


Mr. Durocher is focusing on something I didn’t expect when Forum was initiated; that most writers would prefer to remain anonymous (however, I know who they are).  This tells me there must be a need for anonymous “complaining.” 

In fact, when I consult with companies, often the most important information I receive about the real environment comes from people who want their identity concealed.  Therefore, Mr. Durocher raises an important point by asking if researchers are afraid to discuss working problems with their managers.  Unfortunately, the answer is that many of them are, and that’s why I accept anonymous Forums.

Perhaps their own managers will be “notified” through R&D Innovator.  At the least, complaints we publish are of general enough nature that they will be recognizable to many managers.  I hope that  some them will be stimulated to think twice about their activities.   Anonymous comments also permit us to talk about real-world solutions to problems in cases where authors don't want to embarrass colleagues.

These anonymous letters help us get to the root cause of innumerable management problems—the lack of effective communication.  We hear, continually, the importance of good communication; but for many people, in many organizations, it's still difficult to achieve.

In Webster’s dictionary, “forum” is also defined as an opportunity for open discussion.  Hopefully, anonymous (as well as signed) Forums will induce some open discussion in the workplace, and help break through the many communication barriers that inhibit productive R&D.

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