01 Sep 2012
Ideas in Action
New ideas from HBS faculty have immediate application in the workplace or in your own careerby Garry Emmons;Julia Hanna;Roger ThompsonTopics:
Issue Focus: Ideas & Impact
Thinking outside the maze
Negotiations expert Professor Deepak Malhotra is the author of the recent international bestseller I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze. It’s a provocative counterpoint to the mega-hit book Who Moved My Cheese?, in which mice are forced to deal with change in their environment (a maze) because their cheese keeps disappearing. The moral seems to be, if you want to survive, adapt.
Malhotra’s book presents an alternative story and a very different message. As he writes: “Even when adaptation appears to be the only viable option, we should do more than blindly accept—and eagerly adapt to—change. We should seek to understand why the change has been forced on us, how we might exert greater control over our lives in the future, and whether the goals we are chasing are the correct ones.”
In I Moved Your Cheese, a few maze-busting mice teach us that many of the presumed constraints (mazes) we face are self-imposed and that we underestimate our ability to alter our circumstances, behavior, and destiny. Malhotra believes that individuals and businesses should set aside time to ask themselves what widely held assumptions—in their lives, organization, or industry—they might benefit from challenging or discarding. “The impact of this simple exercise,” he says, “can be transformational.”
No regrets, please
All too often, those who have experienced vast success in the public realm look back and regret not spending more time with family and friends. They wish they’d actually gone on that cruise of the Greek islands, or taken more vacations in general, for that matter. But the pull of the workplace is too strong—there’s always the next project, the next deadline.
Research by Assistant Professor Anat Keinan may help prevent those feelings of regret. In a study of present-day college students and of alumni returning for their 40th reunion, Keinan asked the two groups to assess their level of regret about how they spent their winter breaks from college on a scale from 1 (“no regret at all”) to 7 (“a lot of regret”). Some of the students were contacted a week after returning from their winter break; other students were asked to look back on how they spent their winter break of a year ago. This latter group were more likely to feel regret that they had spent their break working and studying. And not surprisingly, alumni with 40 years of hindsight were even more likely to feel pangs of regret about trips in which they didn’t indulge.
“It was moving to learn from their experiences,” Keinan says of the older alumni. “We don’t have to wait 40 years to realize these were missed opportunities; simply asking people to anticipate their long-term rather than short-term regrets motivated them to feel less guilty about taking a vacation.” Finally, marketing execs, take note: The same dynamic holds true for shoppers deliberating over a luxury goods purchase. “Marketers can convince consumers that buying their product is actually a farsighted behavior,” she observes. “In that sense, consumers are investing in future memories.”
Build trust in spite of distance
A member of the Organizational Behavior Unit, Assistant Professor Tsedal Neeley researches global collaboration with special emphasis on the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intergroup challenges of working across national boundaries.
While a principal focus is on the workplace impact of mandated English-learning among employees of international firms, Neeley’s research also looks at how distant workers collaborate with colleagues through various means of communication—electronic, voice, or in person—to advance work and relationship goals. Such contacts influence trust, Neeley says, which is vitally important “because trust enhances performance.” She cites two kinds of trust-building interaction among distributed colleagues. “Direct knowledge” is gained from visits to distant collaborators’ work sites, in-person contact with them, and observation of their procedures. “Reflected knowledge” is what collaborators gain in understanding about themselves and their own work context through the lens of distant colleagues.
“The two kinds of knowledge offer different insights that, in complement, foster trust and make you feel closer to distant colleagues,” notes Neeley. In the research that she conducts with INSEAD’s Mark Mortensen, Neeley says, “We find that distributed collaborators have always gained much from direct knowledge acquired during site visits. As for reflected knowledge, we believe its contribution to greater self-understanding has been significantly underestimated, another important insight.”
When hiring, relax but verify
Associate Professor Francesca Gino explores what makes human beings tick. Her research encompasses issues of judgment, decision-making, negotiation, ethics, social influence, motivation, productivity, and creativity, all with pragmatic implications for the workplace. When hiring a person from outside one’s firm, for example, Gino has found that focusing on a candidate’s achievements can preclude consideration of the role of circumstance and context in the individual’s success. “Time and again,” Gino says, “we look at what candidates have achieved without asking where or how they achieved it. In hiring, we must ask, are we appropriately accounting for a candidate’s situation? Are evaluations of the candidate based on both actions and outcomes?”
If that has you feeling anxious about your next hiring decision, another Gino research project reveals that anxiety reduces self-confidence and tends to increase a reliance on others’ advice. Unfortunately, anxiety also reduces the ability to discriminate between good and bad counsel. So it’s best to take a deep breath, seek to resolve the anxiety, consult with a trusted and objective (no conflict-of-interest) third party, and then decide. Ideally, put any decisions on hold until you read Gino’s book, Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed and How We Can Stick to the Plan, forthcoming in March 2013.
Power to the people
Imagine you’re applying for your dream job. You’re asked to deliver a five-minute, nonstop pitch to two interviewers on your qualifications. They listen but give no feedback—none of the encouraging head nods or mmm-hmms that make us feel we’re being heard and understood. Despite these stressful conditions, however, some of the candidates performed significantly better than others when evaluated for “presence” and were more likely to be hired.
Their secret? Striking expansive poses for two minutes before the interview. The study builds on Associate Professor Amy Cuddy’s work on power posing, which showed that holding one’s body in an open power pose (e.g., feet on desk, hands behind head) decreased cortisol (the stress hormone), increased testosterone (the hormone linked to power and dominance), and boosted a subject’s tolerance for risk.
“Wired magazine called this a ‘life hack,’ a free tool that gives you more power,” Cuddy says, noting that power posing can be used before any potentially stressful situation, such as a salary negotiation or, if you’re an entrepreneur, a VC pitch meeting.
So go ahead, strike a pose. A two-minute investment could have a significant long-term payoff.
A Winning Formula
As many organizations know, R&D is an expensive proposition, but when done right, it can be an enormous competitive advantage. HBS’s unique business model gives the School a leg up, says Senior Associate Dean and Director of Research Paul Healy, the James R. Williston Professor of Business Administration.
How is HBS’s research funded?
Research conducted by our faculty is financed by internal funds, which in turn depend on contributions from alumni and friends, as well as revenues from Harvard Business Publishing and Executive Education. This integrated approach allows HBS scholars to undertake complex, cross-disciplinary investigations over multiple years that would not otherwise be possible. It also enables faculty to pursue novel, experimental studies, giving them the opportunity to take risks and shape the intellectual agenda in their field.
How much does the School spend on research, and what do those costs include?
HBS dedicates roughly $100 million to research annually. This funding covers everything from salaries for research associates to materials to field studies to hiring visiting scholars. Research is at the core of many aspects of our model, so funds cover case writing and curriculum development for both the MBA and Executive Education programs. We also support publication expenses related to Harvard Business Publishing, which ensures access to our faculty’s thought leadership. Notably, our model saves on the administrative infrastructure that is needed to comply with external funding requirements.
Is this model typical among business schools?
Our approach, together with the research that it enables, is one of HBS’s key differentiators. Our funding model puts us in a position to leverage a breadth and volume of research that few other schools can match. The promise of academic freedom—the opportunity to focus on big ideas without the distraction of grant writing—is also a competitive advantage in recruiting faculty. Consequently, our work is pathbreaking and has impact on both practice and management education; 80 percent of the cases used in business schools worldwide are from HBS. One exciting challenge for us is the increasing pace and scope of innovation. The coming years will require both careful strategic investment and creativity in preserving HBS’s research edge.