Human behavior and decision-making

Human behavior and decision-making is a featured research topic at Harvard Business School.
Ever since their origins about three decades ago, the Behavioral Science areas of economics, ethics and managerial psychology have been rapidly evolving. In the 1980's and 1990's, early work by Max Bazerman in judgment and negotiation, Matthew Rabin in behavioral economics, and James Sebenius in negotiations was instrumental in shaping research on Human Behavior & Decision-Making. Today, our research focuses on individual and interactive judgment and decision making and explores the role of personal bias, cognition and learning, time, perception, ethics and morality, and emotion.  
  1. In Pursuit of Everyday Creativity

    Teresa M. Amabile

    Creativity researchers have long paid careful attention to individual creativity, beginning with studies of well-known geniuses, and expanding to personality, biographical, cognitive, and social-psychological studies of individual creative behavior. Little is known, however, about the everyday psychological experience and associated creative behavior in the life and work of ordinary individuals. Yet evidence is mounting that such individuals can be responsible for important instances of creativity and innovation in the world: open innovation, user innovation, and citizen innovation. Research into this phenomenon could do much to advance the study and practice of creativity.

    Keywords: Creativity; Behavior; Innovation and Invention;


    Amabile, Teresa M. "In Pursuit of Everyday Creativity." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 18-002, July 2017. View Details
  2. Sampark Foundation: Transforming Primary Education in India

    V. Kasturi Rangan and Shweta Bagai

    Founders Vineet and Anupama Nayar had rapidly scaled their foundation to reach 3 million primary school children (grades 1 to 3) in two states with Math and English programs. Their goal was to reach 10 million children by 2025 and completely spend down the $100 million foundation corpus. A new opportunity presented itself in a third state with a potential to add another 4 million children. In grappling with this new opportunity they had to make certain strategic decisions on whether to go deeper (expand to grades 4 and 5) or go broader to more grade 1 to 3 children. They were wrestling with the question of which option would lead to more impact and leave their social innovation in a sustainable position after their exit.

    Keywords: nonprofit management; k-12 education; frugal innovation; government partnership; Impact; developing countries; Education; Decision Choices and Conditions; Growth and Development Strategy; Business and Government Relations; Outcome or Result; India;


    Rangan, V. Kasturi, and Shweta Bagai. "Sampark Foundation: Transforming Primary Education in India." Harvard Business School Case 518-006, July 2017. View Details
  3. Entrepreneurship for All

    Lynda M. Applegate and Julia Kelley

    Entrepreneurship for All (EforAll) is a Lowell, Massachusetts-based nonprofit that hosts business accelerators for entrepreneurs in underserved communities. By mid-2017, EforAll has five office locations in Massachusetts, and its leadership and the Board of Directors must decide whether EforAll is ready to open its first out-of-state office. Students are asked to consider a variety of factors—including funding, hiring, population demographics, and distance from Massachusetts—to determine whether EforAll has the capacity to expand, and if so, which new city it should expand to first.

    Keywords: Entrepreneurship; Growth and Development Strategy; Decision Choices and Conditions;


    Applegate, Lynda M., and Julia Kelley. "Entrepreneurship for All." Harvard Business School Case 818-007, July 2017. View Details
  4. Case Study: Follow Dubious Orders or Speak Up?

    Sandra J. Sucher and Matthew Preble

    The article discusses an intern for the technology security company Zantech addressing her concerns about her boss in Seoul, South Korea, regarding an inappropriate suggestion on misrepresenting her identity. An overview of the ethical aspects of addressing her concerns to the company’s management, including in regard to corporate culture and the ethical behavior of Zantech’s competition, is provided.

    Keywords: Ethics; Labor and Management Relations; Organizational Culture;


    Sucher, Sandra J., and Matthew Preble. "Case Study: Follow Dubious Orders or Speak Up?" Harvard Business Review 95, no. 4 (July–August 2017): 139–141. View Details
  5. Firms, Crowds, and Innovation

    Teppo Felin, Karim R. Lakhani and Michael L. Tushman

    The purpose of this article is to suggest a (preliminary) taxonomy and research agenda for the topic of “firms, crowds, and innovation” and to provide an introduction to the associated special issue. We specifically discuss how various crowd-related phenomena and practices—for example, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, user innovation, and peer production—relate to theories of the firm, with particular attention on “sociality” in firms and markets. We first briefly review extant theories of the firm and then discuss three theoretical aspects of sociality related to crowds in the context of strategy, organizations, and innovation: (1) the functions of sociality (sociality as extension of rationality, sociality as sensing and signaling, sociality as matching and identity); (2) the forms of sociality (independent/aggregate and interacting/emergent forms of sociality); and (3) the failures of sociality (misattribution and misapplication). We conclude with an outline of future research directions and introduce the special issue papers and essays.

    Keywords: crowdsourcing; innovation; open innovation; organization theory; strategy; Collaborative Innovation and Invention; Organizations; Theory; Strategy;


    Felin, Teppo, Karim R. Lakhani, and Michael L. Tushman. "Firms, Crowds, and Innovation." Special Issue on Organizing Crowds and Innovation. Strategic Organization 15, no. 2 (May 2017): 119–140. (doi: 10.1177/1476127017706610.) View Details
  6. Who Will Vote Quadratically? Voter Turnout and Votes Cast Under Quadratic Voting

    Louis Kaplow and Scott Duke Kominers

    Who will vote quadratically in large-N elections under quadratic voting (QV)? First, who will vote? Although the core QV literature assumes that everyone votes, turnout is endogenous. Drawing on other work, we consider the representativeness of endogenously determined turnout under QV. Second, who will vote quadratically? Conditional on turning out, we examine reasons that, in large-N elections, the number of votes that an individual casts may deviate substantially from that under pure, rational QV equilibrium play. Because turnout itself is driven by other factors, the same determinants may influence how voters who do turn out choose the quantity of votes to cast. Independently, the number of votes actually cast may deviate dramatically from pure QV predictions because of the complex and refined nature of equilibrium play. Most plausibly, voting behavior and outcomes would be determined predominately by social and psychological forces, would exhibit few of the features emphasized in the analysis of hyper-rational equilibrium play,and would have consequential properties that require a different research agenda to bring into focus. Some of our analysis also has implications for voting behavior under other procedures, including one person, one vote.

    Keywords: voting; voting turnout; Paradox of voting; Quadratic voting; Pivotality; Elections; Voting; Political Elections; Mathematical Methods;


    Kaplow, Louis, and Scott Duke Kominers. "Who Will Vote Quadratically? Voter Turnout and Votes Cast Under Quadratic Voting." Special Issue on Quadratic Voting and the Public Good. Public Choice 172, nos. 1-2 (July 2017): 125–149. View Details
  7. Stop the Meeting Madness: How to Free Up Time for Meaningful Work

    Leslie Perlow, Constance Noonan Hadley and Eunice Eun

    Many executives feel overwhelmed by meetings, and no wonder: On average, they spend nearly 23 hours a week in them, up from less than 10 hours in the 1960s. What’s more, the meetings are often poorly timed, badly run, or both. We can all joke about how painful they are, say the authors, but that pain has real consequences for teams and organizations. Every minute spent in a wasteful meeting eats into solo work that’s essential for creativity and efficiency. Chopped-up schedules interrupt deep thinking, so people come to work early, stay late, or use weekends for quiet time to concentrate. And dysfunctional meeting behaviors are associated with lower levels of market share, innovation, and employment stability. The authors have found that real improvement requires systemic change, not discrete fixes. They describe a five-step process for that—along with the diagnostic work you’ll need to do in advance.

    Keywords: Time Management; Performance Efficiency; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Performance Improvement;


    Perlow, Leslie, Constance Noonan Hadley, and Eunice Eun. "Stop the Meeting Madness: How to Free Up Time for Meaningful Work." Harvard Business Review 95, no. 4 (July–August 2017): 62–69. View Details
  8. Maggie Wilderotter: The Evolution of an Executive

    Boris Groysberg, Sarah L. Abbott and Robin Abrahams

    In a career that spanned over 30 years, Maggie Wilderotter served as CEO of two publicly traded companies and served on 32 corporate and nine association and non-profit boards of directors. As CEO of Frontier Communications, a U.S. telecom company with over $25 billion in assets, Wilderotter executed three major acquisitions, transforming the company’s business mix and more than doubling its size. This case explores Wilderotter’s career, examining the personal characteristics that made her such a successful executive and board member. The case also looks at the turning points in Wilderotter’s career; the decisions she made and the way in which she built her skills.

    Keywords: leadership; managing people; Personal Development and Career; Personal Characteristics; Leadership Style; gender; power and influence; networks; strategy and leadership; Personal Development and Career; Personal Characteristics; Leadership Style; Social and Collaborative Networks; Gender; Power and Influence; Telecommunications Industry; United States;


    Groysberg, Boris, Sarah L. Abbott, and Robin Abrahams. "Maggie Wilderotter: The Evolution of an Executive." Harvard Business School Case 417-091, June 2017. View Details
  9. Task Selection and Workload: A Focus on Completing Easy Tasks Hurts Long-Term Performance

    Diwas S. KC, Bradley R. Staats, Maryam Kouchaki and Francesca Gino

    How individuals manage, organize, and complete their tasks is central to operations management. Recent research in operations focuses on how under conditions of increasing workload, individuals can increase their service time, up to a point, to complete work more quickly. As the number of tasks increases, however, workers may also manage their workload by a different process—task selection. Drawing on research on workload, individual discretion, and behavioral decision making, we theorize and then test that under conditions of increased workload, individuals may choose to complete easier tasks in order to manage their workload. We label this behavior Task Completion Bias (TCB). Using two years of data from a hospital emergency department, we find support for TCB and also show that it improves short-term productivity. However, although it improves performance in the short-term, we find that an overreliance on this task selection strategy hurts performance—as measured both by speed and revenue—in the long run. We then turn to the lab to replicate conceptually the task selection effect and show that it occurs due to the positive feelings individuals get from task completion. These findings provide an alternative mechanism for the workload-speedup effect from the literature. We also discuss implications for both research and the practice of operations in building systems to help people succeed in both the short and long run.

    Keywords: Employees; Decision Making; Performance Effectiveness; Performance Productivity;


    KC, Diwas S., Bradley R. Staats, Maryam Kouchaki, and Francesca Gino. "Task Selection and Workload: A Focus on Completing Easy Tasks Hurts Long-Term Performance." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 17-112, June 2017. View Details
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