Ethan S. Bernstein

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Unit: Organizational Behavior

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Ethan Bernstein is an Assistant Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at the Harvard Business School. He teaches the first-year MBA course in Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD) and a PhD course on the craft of field research. His teaching and research address topics related to leadership, collaboration, teamwork, design thinking, and learning in organizations.

Professor Bernstein’s work has been published in journals including Administrative Science QuarterlyResearch on Organizational Change and Development, and the Cornell Law Review, and it has appeared in The Washington PostThe Boston Globe, NPR, Forbes, MSNBC’s Bottom LineYahoo! FinanceInc.EsquireUnited Hemispheres, and TEDx Boston, among others. His research has won awards including the Academy of Management’s 2013 Outstanding Publication in Organizational Behavior award, the Academy of Management’s 2013 Best Publication in Organization and Management Theory award, 2013 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award from the International Leadership Association, the HBS Wyss Award, and the Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award.

In his current research, Professor Bernstein examines how, and under what conditions, privacy makes groups more productive—and specifically how the sharing of information across and within boundaries affects learning, innovation, and organizational performance. In a world obsessed with transparency, his findings suggest that boundaries may sometimes provide unanticipated benefits and be an underutilized managerial performance lever. Put differently, attention matters for performance, and boundaries can be strategically important in directing it. 

Professor Bernstein earned his doctorate in management at Harvard, where he also received a JD/MBA degree. While a doctoral student, he was a Kauffman Foundation Fellow in Law, Innovation, and Growth, and he remains a member of the New York and Massachusetts Bar Associations. He holds an AB in Economics from Amherst College, which included study at Doshisha University in Kyoto.

Prior to joining the faculty, Professor Bernstein spent a half-decade at The Boston Consulting Group in Toronto and Tokyo. Tapped by Elizabeth Warren to join the implementation team at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he spent nearly two years in executive positions, including Chief Strategy Officer and Deputy Assistant Director of Mortgage Markets, at the newest United States federal agency.

In addition to his organizational behavior courses, Professor Bernstein has taught a wide range of topics and students, including Accounting and Finance in the HBS MBA Analytics program, Operations at the Samsung Premier Leadership Development Program, Economics at Harvard College, and the Business Leadership Program at HBS.

Professor Bernstein is a self-declared culinary adventurer and avid cyclist, runner, skier, reader, and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me listener. Originally from Los Angeles, he lives in Newton with his wife, Maly (HBS MBA 2006), and young son.

Publications

Journal Articles

  1. The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control

    Using data from embedded participant-observers and a field experiment at the second largest mobile phone factory in the world, located in China, I theorize and test the implications of transparent organizational design on workers' productivity and organizational performance. Drawing from theory and research on learning and control, I introduce the notion of a transparency paradox, whereby maintaining observability of workers may counterintuitively reduce their performance by inducing those being observed to conceal their activities through codes and other costly means; conversely, creating zones of privacy may, under certain conditions, increase performance. Empirical evidence from the field shows that even a modest increase in group-level privacy sustainably and significantly improves line performance, while qualitative evidence suggests that privacy is important in supporting productive deviance, localized experimentation, distraction avoidance, and continuous improvement. I discuss implications of these results for theory on learning and control and suggest directions for future research.

    Keywords: transparency; privacy; organizational learning; Operational Control; organizational performance; Chinese Manufacturing; field experiment; Performance Productivity; Theory; Boundaries; Interpersonal Communication; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Job Design and Levels; Working Conditions; Leadership Style; Business or Company Management; Management Practices and Processes; Production; Organizational Design; Groups and Teams; Networks; Labor and Management Relations; Social and Collaborative Networks; Power and Influence; Adaptation; Manufacturing Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan S. "The Transparency Paradox: A Role for Privacy in Organizational Learning and Operational Control." Administrative Science Quarterly 57, no. 2 (June 2012). View Details
  2. Strategic Change and the Jazz Mindset: Exploring Practices That Enhance Dynamic Capabilities for Organizational Improvisation

    How can leaders adopt a mindset that maximizes learning, remains responsive to short-term emergent opportunities, and simultaneously strengthens longer-term dynamic capabilities of the organization? This chapter explores the organizational decisions and practices leaders can initiate to extend, strengthen, or transform "ordinary capabilities" (Winter, 2003) into enhanced improvisational competence and dynamic capabilities. We call this leadership logic the "jazz mindset." We draw upon seven characteristics of jazz bands as outlined by Barrett (1998) to show that strategic leaders of business organizations can enhance dynamic capabilities by strengthening practices observed in improvising jazz bands.

    Keywords: dynamic capabilities; strategic change; leadership; jazz; jazz mindset; improvisation; innovation; Change Management; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Innovation Leadership; Knowledge Use and Leverage; Leading Change; Leadership Style; Leadership; Management; Management Style; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Organizational Culture; Organizations; Creativity; Strategy; Auto Industry; Banking Industry; Bicycle Industry; Computer Industry; Consulting Industry; Consumer Products Industry; Education Industry; Electronics Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Financial Services Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; Health Industry; Information Technology Industry; Manufacturing Industry; Music Industry; Pharmaceutical Industry; Retail Industry; Semiconductor Industry; Service Industry; Technology Industry; United States; Japan; Taiwan; Europe; Asia;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan S., and Frank J. Barrett. "Strategic Change and the Jazz Mindset: Exploring Practices That Enhance Dynamic Capabilities for Organizational Improvisation." Research in Organizational Change and Development 19 (2011): 55–90. View Details
  3. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Financial Regulation for the Twenty-First Century

    After existing regulatory systems failed to prevent the recent financial crisis, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a sweeping reform designed to alleviate the crisis and prevent its recurrence. Out of this Act, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was born. This new agency is charged with making markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans, a task that was previously spread out among seven different federal agencies with varying priorities. This Article describes, with a series of concrete case studies, four key principles that have guided the Bureau as it strives to fulfill Congress's mandate. First, the Bureau has taken a market-based approach that reflects its belief in the power of markets and competition to produce increasingly better outcomes for consumers and responsible providers alike. Second, recognizing that understanding a market well is essential to effective regulation, the Bureau has relied on evidence-based analysis to inform all of its activities. Third, the Bureau has complemented its empirical analysis with input from all segments of the public—including consumers, advocates, and regulated entities. To facilitate the kind of robust public participation that will make for more effective regulation, the Bureau has employed innovative technologies and strong transparency policies. Finally, the Bureau has studied and learned from historic regulatory experiences and has adopted best practices from the public and private sectors. These four principles, and others which cascade from them, define the Bureau's twenty-first century approach to promoting a well-functioning market for consumer financial services and effective consumer protection.

    Keywords: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Dodd-Frank; CFPB; financial crisis; reform; new agency; market-based approach; evidence-based analysis; innovative technologies and transparency policies; BEST practices; Government and Politics; Government Administration; Finance; Financial History; Law; Markets; Organizations; Organizational Design; Business and Government Relations; Balance and Stability; Strategy; Financial Services Industry; Banking Industry; United States;

    Citation:

    Kennedy, Leonard J., Patricia A. McCoy, and Ethan S. Bernstein. "The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Financial Regulation for the Twenty-First Century." Cornell Law Review 97, no. 5 (July 21, 2012): 1141–1176. View Details
  4. All's Fair in Love, War, & Bankruptcy: Corporate Governance Implications of CEO Turnover in Financial Distress

    Prior discussions of management turnover during financial distress have examined bankrupt and non-bankrupt firms as distinct groupings with little overlap. Separately investigating rates of turnover in-bankruptcy and out-of-bankruptcy, without a direct comparison between the two, has resulted in a narrowing of the accepted influence of bankruptcy law to post-petition, in-court decisions. Based on new evidence of CEO turnover in 2001, I argue empirically that this distinction between in-court and out-of-court restructuring has become meaningless from a governance perspective. In 2001, filing for bankruptcy did not change the rate of CEO turnover when one controls for financial condition. This statistically significant finding indicates that the shadow of bankruptcy has lengthened, making bankruptcy law a central tenet of governance policy regardless of whether a Chapter 11 petition is ever filed. After presenting these results, this article considers the implications of these results on the changing perceptions of the role of CEOs and the evolution of the multi-pronged U.S. corporate governance system.

    Keywords: CEO Turnover; bankruptcy; restructuring; Shadow of Bankruptcy; Borrowing and Debt; Credit; Financing and Loans; Corporate Governance; Finance; Theory; Markets; United States;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan S. "All's Fair in Love, War, & Bankruptcy: Corporate Governance Implications of CEO Turnover in Financial Distress." Stanford Journal of Law, Business & Finance 11, no. 2 (spring 2006): 299–325. View Details

Book Chapters

  1. Problem Solving and Search in Networks

    This chapter examines the role that networks play in facilitating or inhibiting search for solutions to problems at both the individual and collective levels. At the individual level, search in networks enables individuals to transport themselves to a very different location in the solution space than they could likely reach through isolated experimental or cognitive search. Research on networks suggests that (a) ties to diverse others provide a wider menu of choices and insights for individuals, and (b) strong ties will be relatively more useful for complex information, and weak ties for simple information. At the collective level, these conclusions become less clear. The key question is how the collective operates to coordinate within the group versus beyond it so as to balance experimentation and convergence towards a solution. Collective coordination of search, and collective evaluation of potential solutions, may significantly influence the optimal network structure for collective problem-solving search.

    Keywords: networks; network organizations; search; problem solving; individual; individuals and teams; collective; cognitive search; network search; search typology; Networks; Social and Collaborative Networks; Theory; Knowledge Sharing;

    Citation:

    Lazer, David, and Ethan Bernstein. "Problem Solving and Search in Networks." Chap. 17 in Cognitive Search: Evolution, Algorithms, and the Brain, edited by Peter M. Todd, Thomas T. Hills, and Trevor W. Robbins, 269–282. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. View Details

Working Papers

  1. Facts and Figuring: An Experimental Investigation of Network Structure and Performance in Information and Solution Spaces

    Using data from a novel laboratory experiment on complex problem solving in which we varied the network structure of 16-person organizations, we investigate how an organization's network structure shapes performance in problem-solving tasks. Problem solving, we argue, involves both search for information and search for solutions. Our results show that the effect of network clustering is opposite for these two important and complementary forms of search. Dense clustering encourages members of a network to generate more diverse information, but discourages them from generating diverse theories: in the language of March (1991), clustering promotes exploration in information space, but decreases exploration in solution space. Previous research, generally focusing on only one of those two spaces at a time, has produced an inconsistent understanding of the value of network clustering. By adopting an experimental platform on which information was measured separately from solutions, we were able to bring disparate results under a single theoretical roof and clarify the effects of network clustering on problem-solving behavior and performance. The finding both provides a sharper tool for structuring organizations for knowledge work and reveals the challenges inherent in manipulating network structure to enhance performance, as the communication structure that helps one antecedent of successful problem solving may harm the other.

    Keywords: Networks; Organizational Structure; Performance;

    Citation:

    Shore, Jesse, Ethan Bernstein, and David Lazer. "Facts and Figuring: An Experimental Investigation of Network Structure and Performance in Information and Solution Spaces." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 14-075, March 2014. (Revised June 2014.) View Details

Cases and Teaching Materials

  1. Opening the Valve: From Software to Hardware (B)

    Valve, one of the world’s top video game software companies, has also become an iconic example of an organization with virtually no hierarchy. A 400-person organization, Valve’s unique organizational form (described in detail in the case and accompanying employee handbook) includes 100% self-allocated time, no managers (and therefore no managerial oversight), a structure so fluid that all desks have wheels to allow free movement between “cabals” (teams) on a regular basis (which happens frequently enough that Valve created a homegrown tracking app to allow peers to find each other), a unique hiring apparatus that supports recruitment of T-shaped individuals, and a purely peer-based performance review and stack ranking.

    As customer demand and market forces draw Valve into hardware in 2013, Valve questions whether their organizational model will need to change as it expands from software into hardware—and, if so, whether they should prioritize strategy over structure or structure over strategy. The case therefore presents students with a strategic and organizational challenge which tests students’ understanding, and Valve’s resolve, with regard to the congruence between their organizational model and strategic direction.

    Students should have read and discussed the (A) case, and Valve's options for entering hardware, prior to the (B) case being distributed. The (B) case provides significant detail on Valve's initial decisions but keeps the final outcome as a work-in-process.

    Keywords: Valve; Self-Managed Organizations; organization design; strategy; Flat Organization; Video Games; organization alignment; Organizational Change and Adaptation; software; Hardwre; family business; Steam; Steam Machine; Design; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Human Resources; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Technological Innovation; Leadership Style; Management Practices and Processes; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Organizational Culture; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Groups and Teams; Alignment; Software; Hardware; Video Game Industry; Seattle;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, Francesca Gino, and Bradley Staats. "Opening the Valve: From Software to Hardware (B)." Harvard Business School Supplement 415-016, August 2014. View Details
  2. Opening the Valve: From Software to Hardware (A)

    Valve, one of the world’s top video game software companies, has also become an iconic example of an organization with virtually no hierarchy. A 400-person organization, Valve’s unique organizational form (described in detail in the case and accompanying employee handbook) includes 100% self-allocated time, no managers (and therefore no managerial oversight), a structure so fluid that all desks have wheels to allow free movement between “cabals” (teams) on a regular basis (which happens frequently enough that Valve created a homegrown tracking app to allow peers to find each other), a unique hiring apparatus that supports recruitment of T-shaped individuals, and a purely peer-based performance review and stack ranking.

    As customer demand and market forces draw Valve into hardware in 2013, Valve questions whether their organizational model will need to change as it expands from software into hardware—and, if so, whether they should prioritize strategy over structure or structure over strategy. The case therefore presents students with a strategic and organizational challenge which tests students’ understanding, and Valve’s resolve, with regard to the congruence between their organizational model and strategic direction.

    Keywords: Valve; Self-Managed Organizations; organization design; strategy; Flat Organization; Video Games; organization alignment; Organizational Change and Adaptation; software; Hardwre; family business; Steam; Steam Machine; Design; Games, Gaming, and Gambling; Human Resources; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Technological Innovation; Leadership Style; Management Practices and Processes; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Organizational Culture; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Groups and Teams; Alignment; Software; Hardware; Video Game Industry; Seattle;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan, Francesca Gino, and Bradley Staats. "Opening the Valve: From Software to Hardware (A)." Harvard Business School Case 415-015, August 2014. View Details
  3. Leadership and Teaming

    Small differences in the leadership of teams can have large consequences for the success of their efforts. Many initiatives fail not because of a fatal error in judgment or insufficient ideas, knowledge, motivation, or capabilities to deliver a solution. They fail because, as is so often heard, "we needed to be more of a team to succeed," "we weren't a sufficiently high-performing team," or "our team suffered from a lack of leadership." In a world where most problems faced by organizations are too complex for a single individual to tackle alone, leadership frequently involves designing, launching, and managing teams. And yet teams are fickle. Even as teams become more common at all levels of organizations, a shocking number of them fail to live up to their potential or even to deliver at all. Teams remain the most flexible and powerful units of learning, change, and performance in most organizations but require effective leadership to succeed. This note summarizes the conditions leaders can create to increase the chances of creating, managing, and participating in successful teaming environments.

    Keywords: teams; teaming; leadership and managing people; leadership; Team Effectiveness; Team Performance; Team Design; team leadership; Teamwork; Team Process; Team Function; Team Launch; 60/30/10 Rule; Team Boundary; Distribution of Leadership Authority; Self-Managed Teams; Virtual Teams; Unbounded Teams; Acts of Leadership; Execution Teams; Decision Making Teams; Creativity Teams; Team Size; Task Design; Team Timeline; Team Roles; Team Representation; diversity; Team Familiarity; Collective Intelligence; Team Stages of Development; Team Coaching; Performance Pressure; X-Teams; Team Focus; Interaction; Management Teams; Managerial Roles; Management Systems; Management Style; Management Skills; Management Practices and Processes; Organizational Design; Organizational Structure; Performance Effectiveness; Performance Efficiency; Performance Productivity; Groups and Teams; Networks; Social Psychology; Behavior; Conflict and Resolution; Creativity; Social and Collaborative Networks; Satisfaction; Prejudice and Bias; Power and Influence; Personal Characteristics; Familiarity; Cognition and Thinking; Attitudes; Projects; Organizational Culture; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Leadership Development; Leadership Style; Leading Change; Knowledge Use and Leverage; Knowledge Sharing; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Innovation and Management; Innovation Leadership; Design; Interpersonal Communication; Accommodations Industry; Accounting Industry; Advertising Industry; Aerospace Industry; Agriculture and Agribusiness Industry; Air Transportation Industry; Apparel and Accessories Industry; Auto Industry; Banking Industry; Battery Industry; Beauty and Cosmetics Industry; Bicycle Industry; Biotechnology Industry; Chemical Industry; Communications Industry; Computer Industry; Construction Industry; Consulting Industry; Consumer Products Industry; Distribution Industry; Education Industry; Electronics Industry; Employment Industry; Energy Industry; Entertainment and Recreation Industry; Fashion Industry; Financial Services Industry; Fine Arts Industry; Food and Beverage Industry; Forest Products Industry; Forestry Industry; Green Technology Industry; Health Industry; Industrial Products Industry; Information Industry; Information Technology Industry; Insurance Industry; Journalism and News Industry; Legal Services Industry; Manufacturing Industry; Media and Broadcasting Industry; Medical Devices and Supplies Industry; Mining Industry; Motion Pictures and Video Industry; Motorcycle Industry; Music Industry; Pharmaceutical Industry; Public Administration Industry; Public Relations Industry; Publishing Industry; Pulp and Paper Industry; Rail Industry; Real Estate Industry; Retail Industry; Rubber Industry; Semiconductor Industry; Service Industry; Shipping Industry; Sports Industry; Steel Industry; Technology Industry; Telecommunications Industry; Tourism Industry; Transportation Industry; Travel Industry; Utilities Industry; Video Game Industry; Web Services Industry; Asia; North and Central America; South America; Atlantic Ocean; Central Asia; Europe; Latin America; Middle East; Oceania; West Indies;

    Citation:

    Bernstein, Ethan. "Leadership and Teaming." Harvard Business School Background Note 414-033, September 2013. (Revised June 2014.) View Details
  4. Jieliang Phone Home! (A)

    At Precision Electro-Tek's mobile phone manufacturing facility in southern China, thousands of operators—bright and capable young men and (mostly) women like Jieliang Hao—are motivated to improve line productivity through small innovations for faster assembly and have discovered many ways to increase their performance. Meanwhile a globally networked team of manufacturing experts led by Marty Cole, the case protagonist, is trying to spread best practice from other sites around the globe. Unfortunately these two processes sometimes inadvertently clash, presenting a management challenge. The case helps students examine the implicit assumptions managers make in organizing work inside a factory. These assumptions reflect theories of worker behavior and motivation in combination with managers' beliefs of what constitutes "best practice." Students are offered an opportunity to dissect these lean manufacturing theories and recognize that in this particular implementation, implementation of best practice without sufficient consideration of the interplay of theories on motivation has led to unexpected outcomes. The case offers an opportunity to explore the link between work design and compensation and to understand the differences between compensation and motivation. The case frames the role of the general manager in setting up work structures and compensation systems in a very traditional and explicit setting, one where linkages should be clearly visible yet assumptions are often deeply buried and implicit. Our expectation is that students will see the lessons generalize to most, if not all, of the organizations where they have worked. There are three cases: the (A) case describes the management view, the (B) case describes the direct labor worker view, and the (C) case details the results of an employee survey that was conducted on two manufacturing lines.

    Keywords: Compensation and Benefits; Job Design and Levels; Business Processes; Behavior; Motivation and Incentives; Manufacturing Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Shih, Willy, Ethan Bernstein, and Nina Bilimoria. "Jieliang Phone Home! (A)." Harvard Business School Case 609-080, February 2009. (Revised July 2012.) View Details
  5. Jieliang Phone Home! (B)

    At Precision Electro-Tek's mobile phone manufacturing facility in southern China, thousands of operators - bright and capable young men and (mostly) women like Jieliang Hao are motivated to improve line productivity through small innovations for faster assembly and have discovered many ways to increase their performance. Meanwhile a globally-networked team of manufacturing experts led by Marty Cole, the case protagonist, is trying to spread best practice from other sites around the globe. Unfortunately these two processes sometimes inadvertently clash, presenting a management challenge. The case helps students examine the implicit assumptions managers make in organizing work inside a factory. These assumptions reflect theories of worker behavior and motivation in combination with managers' beliefs of what constitutes "best practice." Students are offered an opportunity to dissect these lean manufacturing theories and recognize that in this particular implementation, implementation of best practice without sufficient consideration of the interplay of theories on motivation has led to unexpected outcomes. The case offers an opportunity to explore the link between work design and compensation, and understand the differences between compensation and motivation. The case frames the role of the general manager in setting up work structures and compensation systems in a very traditional and explicit setting, one where linkages should be clearly visible yet assumptions are often deeply buried and implicit. Our expectation is that students will see the lessons generalize to most, if not all, of the organizations where they have worked. There are three cases: the (A) case describes the management view, the (B) case describes the direct labor worker view, and the (C) case details the results of an employee survey that was conducted on two manufacturing lines.

    Keywords: Motivation and Incentives; Behavior; Production; Innovation and Invention; Performance Productivity; Groups and Teams; Management Practices and Processes; Compensation and Benefits; Labor; Surveys; Decisions; Manufacturing Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Shih, Willy, Ethan Bernstein, and Nina Bilimoria. "Jieliang Phone Home! (B)." Harvard Business School Supplement 609-081, February 2009. (Revised July 2012.) View Details
  6. Jieliang Phone Home! (C)

    At Precision Electro-Tek's mobile phone manufacturing facility in southern China, thousands of operators - bright and capable young men and (mostly) women like Jieliang Hao are motivated to improve line productivity through small innovations for faster assembly and have discovered many ways to increase their performance. Meanwhile a globally-networked team of manufacturing experts led by Marty Cole, the case protagonist, is trying to spread best practice from other sites around the globe. Unfortunately these two processes sometimes inadvertently clash, presenting a management challenge. The case helps students examine the implicit assumptions managers make in organizing work inside a factory. These assumptions reflect theories of worker behavior and motivation in combination with managers' beliefs of what constitutes "best practice." Students are offered an opportunity to dissect these lean manufacturing theories and recognize that in this particular implementation, implementation of best practice without sufficient consideration of the interplay of theories on motivation has led to unexpected outcomes. The case offers an opportunity to explore the link between work design and compensation, and understand the differences between compensation and motivation. The case frames the role of the general manager in setting up work structures and compensation systems in a very traditional and explicit setting, one where linkages should be clearly visible yet assumptions are often deeply buried and implicit. Our expectation is that students will see the lessons generalize to most, if not all, of the organizations where they have worked. There are three cases: the (A) case describes the management view, the (B) case describes the direct labor worker view, and the (C) case details the results of an employee survey that was conducted on two manufacturing lines.

    Keywords: Globalization; Compensation and Benefits; Surveys; Innovation and Invention; Management Practices and Processes; Production; Performance Productivity; Groups and Teams; Labor and Management Relations; Behavior; Motivation and Incentives; Manufacturing Industry; Telecommunications Industry; China;

    Citation:

    Shih, Willy, Ethan Bernstein, and Nina Bilimoria. "Jieliang Phone Home! (C)." Harvard Business School Supplement 609-082, February 2009. (Revised July 2012.) View Details
  7. Assembling Smartphones: Takt Time ≠ Cycle Time?

    The case was prepared to be used as part of a process review in the first year Technology and Operations Management course at HBS. It offers students an opportunity to discuss the context of a manufacturing process choice, and then examine actual production numbers that resulted from a series of choices. While there isn't a traditional case issue, the discussion should focus on the gap between theoretical process designs and the reality of practical implementations, with the impact of operator variability in pace and the complex intertwining with work scope. The case only meant for one discussion pasture to review the Hayes-Wheelwright product-process matrix, and the impact of variability on line performance. While comparative numbers for the process choices are provided, the hope would be to develop students' intuition around why the numbers change so much.

    Keywords: Cognition and Thinking; Research and Development; Design; Six Sigma; Measurement and Metrics; Production;

    Citation:

    Shih, Willy, and Ethan Bernstein. "Assembling Smartphones: Takt Time ≠ Cycle Time?" Harvard Business School Case 611-012, September 2010. (Revised December 2012.) View Details

Magazine Articles

  1. 公益資本主義 の確立に向けて公式・非公式の「制度」を再設計する.

    Keywords: Capitalism;

    Citation:

    Hara, George, David James Brunner, Ethan Bernstein, and Asumi Nonomiya. "公益資本主義 の確立に向けて公式・非公式の「制度」を再設計する." Shūkan Daiyamondo [Diamond Weekly] 97, no. 41 (October 17, 2009): 164–171. View Details
  2. 公益資本主義 の確立に向けて 株主至上主義・市場万能主義の限界

    Keywords: Capitalism;

    Citation:

    Hara, George, David James Brunner, Ethan Bernstein, and Asumi Nonomiya. "公益資本主義 の確立に向けて 株主至上主義・市場万能主義の限界." Shūkan Daiyamondo [Diamond Weekly] 97, no. 40 (October 10, 2009): 164–171. View Details

    Research Summary

  1. Overview

    Professor Bernstein’s research is currently focused on the relationship between transparency and productivity in organizations. He seeks to understand how observability affects learning, innovation, and performance—for both the observer and the observed.

    In the name of collaboration, organizations have striven for transparency in the workplace, literally tearing down walls in an effort to let managers and employees observe each other. Despite transparency’s broad appeal (at least to the observer), we know very little about how transparent observation—by managers, peers, subordinates, customers, the public—impacts performance.

    What if there’s a downside to all of this transparent observation? For example, when observed, we tend to put pressure on ourselves to meet the expectations of our observers—something we can do in a multitude of ways with different consequences for productivity.

    Drawing on field experiments, laboratory experiments, and qualitative field work, this developing body of research, representing collaborations across faculties and institutions, is increasingly finding a home in the organically emerging HBS “Transparency Lab.” Below are selected contributions by Professor Bernstein (past and forthcoming) to that growing body of research.

    Keywords: privacy; transparency; Field Experiments; Lab Experiments; China; manufacturing; organizational learning; Operational Control; Chinese Manufacturing; Interpersonal Communication; Design; Governance; Governance Controls; Government Administration; Innovation and Invention; Law; Management; Organizations; Organizational Design; Organizational Culture; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Performance; Groups and Teams; Networks; Social and Collaborative Networks; Strategy; Theory; Manufacturing Industry; Technology Industry; Service Industry; Consulting Industry; Financial Services Industry; Banking Industry; Bicycle Industry; Consumer Products Industry; Electronics Industry; Industrial Products Industry; Video Game Industry; Retail Industry; Legal Services Industry; Biotechnology Industry; United States; China; Japan; Taiwan; Korean Peninsula; Europe;

  2. Transparency, Organizational Learning, and Operational Control: Do Zones of Privacy Make Us More Productive?

    Transparency, or accurate observability, of an organization’s low-level activities, routines, behaviors, output, and performance provides the foundation of both organizational learning and operational control. Yet, in a world obsessed with transparency, Professor Bernstein’s first significant finding was that boundaries to transparent observation may sometimes provide unanticipated benefits, and may in fact be an underutilized managerial performance lever. Using data from embedded participant-observers and a field experiment at the world’s second-largest mobile phone factory (located in China), he found that transparency on the factory floor systematically reduced workers’ performance by 10 to 15 percent as they concealed their activities through codes and other costly means. This finding indicates that creating zones of privacy may, under certain conditions, increase performance. 

    In addition, in a curious phenomenon Professor Bernstein defines as the “transparency paradox,” he finds that watching your employees less closely at work might actually yield more transparency at your organization.

  3. Transparency and Problem Solving: Does Privacy Improve Problem Solving in Networked Search?

    If you wanted to design an organizational structure to optimize problem-solving prowess, how would you do it? Would you design perfect transparency (everyone observing everyone), or would you include boundaries for individual or sub-team privacy? In a set of problem-solving lab experiments involving a Clue-like mystery game, Professor Bernstein and his colleagues asked individuals in 16-person organizations to solve problems, recording both their activities and their performance (individually and collectively). Different 16-person organizations solved the same problems but under different degrees of transparency and with varying success. In the end, boundaries played an important role in performance. For example, transparency benefited fact-finding but hindered the process of accurately interpreting those facts develop correct theories/answers.

    Professor Bernstein continues to explore how the structure of communication networks can affect the balance between innovative and imitative thinking. Understanding this dynamic is the first step in balancing the need for the system to share information rapidly so that individuals have all the information necessary to solve the problem, and the need to preserve a diversity of theories among participants in order to make the interpretation of information effective.

  4. Transparency and Creative Knowledge Work

    We have assumed that taking down walls in high-value, high-talent workplaces like architectural firms, biotech laboratories, and health-care operations will improve output by generating more interdisciplinary collaboration. The results above, however, suggest there may be hidden costs to interdisciplinary transparency. When observed, human beings tend to try to meet the expectations of those observing them, and yet in these creative, knowledge-intensive environments, it may be the most unexpected, weird-looking idea that solves a dilemma or saves a life. What is the net effect? Do these environments work the same or differently than the manufacturing and problem-solving environments above?

  5. Transparency and “Flat” Self-Governed Organizations

    An increasing number of organizations, including several recently in the press, are adopting “flat,” manager-less, self-governed organizational structures. When hierarchy is flattened and bureaucracy is dissolved, peer observation can become far more important as a governing constraint. 

    Does transparency, in the absence of hierarchy, yield organizations that operate innovatively, effectively, and efficiently, or does it recreate the worst of high-school cliques within adult organizations? When implemented correctly, these organizations can be highly successful, but initial research suggests that “correctly” involves some degree of well-designed boundaries to transparency.

  6. Transparency and Global Organizations

    As organizations, and even teams within organizations, become more global, how much should different geographies observe each other? If productivity were the only concern, should every office have monitors showing the activities, captured via video cameras, of team members in other geographies? Would it be better to only see, via internal messenger programs or shared calendars, when someone is online? Does it depend on the type of team or organizational unit? These questions are best answered through rigorous qualitative field work on cross-border teams, which is currently underway.

  7. Transparency and Service Operations

    In modern organizations, customer service associates find themselves being watched by both customers and managers. How much does observation of customer service associates by managers (who do not have direct contact with the customer) improve or reduce levels of customer service? How much does observation by customers (who do not have direct contact with organizational leadership and policies) improve or reduce levels of customer service? Research is currently in-progress to investigate both of these questions.

    Teaching

  1. Overview

    Professor Bernstein teaches Leadership and Organizational Behavior (LEAD). This course focuses on how managers become effective leaders by addressing the human side of enterprise.

    The course is divided into five modules:
    1. Leading Teams: In a world where most problems faced by organizations are too complex for a single individual to tackle alone, leadership frequently involves forming, mandating, and managing teams. And yet teams are fickle. Even as teams become more and more common at all levels of organizations, a shocking number of them fail to live up to their potential or even deliver at all. Small differences in the leadership of teams can have large consequences for the success of their efforts. In six class sessions, we build an understanding of how leadership of team identity/design and team processes can significantly improve team effectiveness and the chances of becoming a high-performing team.
    2. Enhancing Interpersonal Effectiveness: Those in charge have always depended on others to get work done. This means building a network of effective work relationships. The segment begins by identifying the critical ingredients for building effective relationships with superiors, colleagues, and subordinates. We will look at various interpersonal relationships from different perspectives, including hierarchical, demographic, and cultural aspects, exploring the nuances of working with those from varied demographic backgrounds and the advantages and disadvantages of different communication and influence strategies. The aim of this segment is to enable managers to successfully build effective work relationships as they apply to managing in all directions.
    3. Leading, Designing, and Aligning Organizations: This module explores in depth what it takes to be an effective leader. This segment will also examine what it takes to achieve “congruence” among an organization's elements: its strategy, critical tasks, formal organization, people, and culture. We will study a number of leaders “in action” to gain insight into the critical functions and personal qualities that contribute to effective leadership. To be effective, the critical elements of an organization need to be in alignment.
    4. Leading Change: Leaders’ attempts to renew or change their organizations often fail. In this segment of the course we will compare and contrast efforts to transform organizations in order to identify critical stages and activities in the change process. We will identify different approaches for developing and communicating a vision for an organization and for motivating people to fulfill that vision. We address the following questions: What are the primary sources of resistance to change? What are the most appropriate ways for overcoming them? What change strategies “work” and under what conditions?
    5. Developing Your Path: In this final module, we will focus on several strategic issues involved in building a dynamic career, paying particular attention to early- and mid-career choices and dilemmas. We will consider the following topics: How do individuals learn to lead? What critical experiences and relationships are needed?

    The LEAD course has the following six goals:
    • The course offers a realistic preview of what it means to manage
    • The course helps students begin to transform professional identity from individual contributor to manager
    • The course helps students confront both the task learning and personal learning involved in becoming a manager
    • The course addresses the process of developing effective relationships with a diverse collection of individuals and groups
    • The course helps students develop an understanding of what it takes to be an effective leader
    • The course helps students learn how to be proactive and entrepreneurial in developing your leadership talents over the course of your career


    • Professor Bernstein takes particular joy in teaching LEAD as he was a student in the LEAD course in the fall of 2000 (Section D).

      Professor Bernstein also teaches a PhD seminar in the craft of field research.

    Keywords: Leadership; Leadership Development; Leadership Style; Innovation Leadership;

  1. Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award: Winner of the 2013 Fredric M. Jablin Doctoral Dissertation Award, awarded by the International Leadership Association and the Jepson School for Leadership Studies for demonstrating substantial insights and implications for the study of leadership through Professor Bernstein's dissertation, “Does Privacy Make Groups Productive.”

  2. Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award in Organization Design, Effectiveness, and Change: Won the 2010 Susan G. Cohen Doctoral Research Award in Organization Design, Effectiveness, and Change from the CEO (Center for Effective Organizations at the USC Marshall School of Business) and the Academy of Management's Organization Development and Change Division for his work, "Innovation Boundaries: Deconstructing Autonomy."