LIVE BETTER NOW
Research-infused life hacks from Tuck faculty.
BY KIRK KARDASHIAN
July 31, 2018
Tuck’s 53 faculty members are world-renowned scholars and teachers whose work is aimed at a business-oriented audience: colleagues and academics who read their research papers, students who take their courses, and practitioners out in the business world.
But their knowledge has a utility in everyday life, too. Business is, after all, people-oriented. If we can become more aware of our biases, or more methodical in our approach to all kinds of challenges, or even more mindful of who we are, everyone benefits. To that end, here’s how five Tuck professors can help you lead a better life.
VIJAY GOVINDARAJAN has made a career of advising companies on how they can gain or maintain market leadership through strategy and innovation. In fact, for him, strategy and innovation are practically the same thing. That’s because strategy looks to the uncertain future and charts a course based on the best guess of what might change—innovation is how companies respond to the change. In life as in business, random forces alter the course of human events in significant ways.
Planned Opportunism is Govindarajan’s theory about how best to prepare for and respond to chance. The theory is rooted in the Hindu principle of karma, which holds that a person’s destiny is a function of two things: their work and uncontrollable events. “Hinduism says to take responsibility for your outcome by focusing on your own efforts, not on the things you can’t control,” he says.
What karma doesn’t provide is a direction for our efforts, and this is where Govindarajan fills in the gaps.
These are the steps he recommends.
1 INVEST IN YOURSELF AND BUILD YOUR CAPABILITIES
2 UNDERSTAND YOUR AMBITIONS
3 HAVE AN HONEST ANALYSIS OF YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
This is the planning you can do. The more you are sure of yourself, the more you can take advantage of random events to achieve your ambitions."
– VIJAY GOVINDARAJAN
FIND AND BE AN
During his 250 interviews of exceptional leaders like Larry Ellison, Ralph Lauren, and Alice Waters, SYDNEY FINKELSTEIN saw an overarching pattern: they didn’t just run companies or organizations, they created talent factories. They did this by following a few principles, some of which may be counterintuitive, such as accepting churn, adapting the organization to fit the talent, and recruiting for intelligence, creativity, and adaptability. If you have any desire to further your career, you want to work for a superboss. And if you have any desire to help people do their best, for the good of the organization and themselves, you want to be a superboss. Here are Finkelstein’s tips for each case.
To find a great boss, ask two questions in your interview:
1 Ask your prospective boss to tell you a little bit about some of the people who worked for her and where they are today. “What you don’t want to hear is, ‘I have no idea,’” Finkelstein says. “You want someone who has kept track of a reasonable number of those people, and who is able to share with evident pride that they are doing even better today than they were before.”
2 Ask how your prospective boss spends her day. “You want a manager or boss who makes the time to interact with you one-on-one to teach you,” he says.
To be a great boss:
1 Customize how you work with each member of your team, according to their skills and preferences. “You need to spend some time talking to each person on your team to know how each person likes to be managed,” Finkelstein says. “Most bosses don’t pay attention, because the assumption is that the team members have to accommodate the boss. I’m talking about quite the reverse.”
2 Get your employees to think long term. Ask what they want to accomplish in 1, 5, and 10 years, and help them map out a plan to achieve it. That might involve working in another part of the organization, or changing what they do. It might even mean helping them find another job somewhere else,” Finkelstein says. “What you get in return is really hardworking people, tremendous loyalty, and you become a talent magnet. So you might lose one great person, but you’ll have five knocking on your door.”
How to Think
By Andrew King
Professor of Business Administration
Celebrated physicist Richard Feynman said that ‘science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.' What he meant by that, I believe, is that all of us should think critically and scientifically about the evidence and ideas we hear.
– ANDREW KING
Celebrated physicist Richard Feynman said that “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” What he meant by that, I believe, is that all of us should think critically and scientifically about the evidence and ideas we hear. But how do we do that? Doesn’t it take years of training to be able to evaluate an expert’s ideas? In some areas of understanding, that is surely so, but within many “empirical” subjects, independent evaluation is within our grasp. I believe we can and should evaluate the evidence for proposed new diets, exercise programs, investment opportunities, business strategies, public policies, and even the medical advice we are given.
So how do we think critically? The first step is to understand the limitations of scientific processes. Most scientists are trained, intelligent, and honest, but they still make many mistakes. Just in the last 10 years, prestigious scientists have argued that: female hurricanes kill more people than male ones; sitting near a window makes you prefer salad; standing in a “power pose” changes your hormones; and economies falter once the national debt reaches 90 percent of GDP. As of today, our best guess is that none of these claims is true. And yet we also don’t know if they’re false.
Which leads to the second fact we need to understand: our use of evidence to form conclusions is inherently bounded by our need to make assumptions. These assumptions mean that we can never know anything for sure, and when used too heavily, these assumptions can lead us to false conclusions.
And the final point to remember is that human beings are pattern-seeking, storytelling animals. We want to find order in the world around us, and so we are likely to spot canals on Mars and then invent an explanation for the pattern we see: an intelligent civilization built them for irrigation. Richard Feynman captured this tendency in another one of his aphorisms: “the first principle is not to fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
Are there some steps we can take to better assess the empirical basis for ideas we hear? Philosophers of science have worked on the problem for centuries. I have been working on teaching materials to bring some of this thinking to Tuck Students. Here are four points I think are important.
Punam Anand Keller
Charles Henry Jones Third Century Professor of Management
More than two decades of studying consumer choice behavior and regret aversion.
Goals without implementation plans are fantasies.
The shorthand way of describing Punam Anand Keller’s research interest is “social marketing.” In other words, she’s really good at understanding why people don’t make choices that are in their long-term best interests, and then designing ways to help them be better at it. That’s why organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Endowment for Financial Education have asked her to help them create and implement consumer communications initiatives that get people to, say, start exercising or saving for retirement.
Keller has noticed that activities conferring benefits in the far future are easily thwarted by short-term costs. We want to be healthier, we want to be more mindful, we want to learn something new every day—whatever it is, there are hundreds of immediate excuses not to go after it.
The way around this, Keller asserts, is to transform those nebulous desires in your head into specific goals with implementation plans that help you rise above the obstacles. Here are Keller’s guidelines for achieving your goals—just beware, “goals have tradeoffs, they are lines in the sand,” she says. “You have to make a commitment and know that you might fail.”
1 Think hard about what you want, and what you're willing To do to get it. Write it down.
2 Create an explicit implementation plan, with clear steps or strategies.
3 Give yourself a fair chance at success. Goals are always hard in the beginning. Make the commitment easier by calling it a "pilot"—something you're just trying on. But also know that it will get easier over time.
FEEL BETTER ABOUT
EESHA SHARMA’s work exists at the intersection of marketing, behavioral economics, and psychology. She’s curious about why people make certain financial decisions—to go into debt for a purchase, for instance—and how good they are at predicting their own behavior and the feelings that behavior will evoke. This research has obvious implications for marketers and managers: they can know their customers on a deeper level. But it arguably has even more benefit for consumers ourselves, because it provides insights into our oftentimes obtuse spending behavior.
In two recent research papers, Sharma has homed in on some truths about our spending decisions. Here are her findings and how they can help you.
1 You’re more likely to go into debt for experiential purchases than material ones. Other research has shown that experiences might make people happier than buying products, but that doesn’t take affordability into account. If you need to go into debt for a vacation, make sure you can pay off the debt quickly to avoid interest charges, and also to avoid the psychological pain of paying for something when its benefits have long receded into the past.
2 Talking about our purchases reminds us of our financial constraints and tends to decrease our pleasure in these types of conversations. “This is interesting because sometimes we think consumption can compensate for areas in which we feel we’re lacking—give us validation, for example,” Sharma says. “In this case, talking about your spent money does not make you feel better about your financial standing. However, if you focus on the expenditure of time rather than money, these negative feelings are less likely to arise.”
Associate Professor of Business Administration, Paul E. Raether T’73 Faculty Fellow
Using a combination of behavioral experiments and field studies, Sharma has published papers in top journals on topics such as how people react to perceived scarcity, and the factors that may improve or worsen consumer financial decision making.
Being aware of our subconscious biases about spending can help us make better financial decisions—and be happy about them afterwards.
*This article originally appeared in print in the summer 2018 issue of Tuck Today magazine.