Why does academia move slowly? I spent some time talking to researchers about the current system. Below are the notes of an outsider peering in, trying to decipher why things are broken and how one might help fix it:
A conservative cultural feedback loop. People optimize the cultural reward system they’re in. This is one of the reasons why Nigeria doesn’t have 10X more successful startups. It isn’t that they lack the IQ; it’s that when you grow up in Africa you’re told the best thing you can do is provide sustenance for your family. Not start the next Google. “Winning” means something relatively modest by global standards. You move at the cultural cadence set by your peers. And the academic cadence is (a) just not as speedy as Xiaomi’s (b) very conservative. Over time, this becomes particularly pernicious with adverse selection. Anyone seriously adventurous just pursues another path.
It’s bad practice to be openly ambitious. Californian startup culture rewards big thinking. Academia penalizes it. Publicly declaring a big bold goal (“We’ll be the most prolific, hardest working cancer research lab in the world”) is seen as wrong, especially for a young upstart. This isn’t new. Even in industry, the patriarchy often rejects the bold, challenging generation. The difference is the reward function and feedback loop.