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. High Liner Foods, 2015

    John R. Wells and Galen Danskin

    In 2015, Canadian-based High Liner Foods Ltd was one of North America's largest frozen fish processors with extensive shares of both the food service and retail channels in Canada, the USA and Mexico. With over C$1 billion in revenues, the company had grown four fold in the previous decade. President and CEO Henry Demone was pleased with recent progress, but things had not always been so good. As he approached retirement after 25 years as president, 61 year-old Demone reflected on the company's past challenges. When he first took office in 1989, High Liner operated Canada's largest fishing fleet, operating within the country's newly established 200 mile limit into the Atlantic. But storms were on the horizon. To conserve fish stocks, the Canadian government first cut fishing quotas by 12% and then followed this up with more draconian cuts. Demone recalled, "Imagine a paper company, if 95 percent of the forest disappeared." In response, Demone took High Liner out of the fish harvesting business and focused on processing fish. In 2015, the company imported fish from hundreds of suppliers around the world and was a leading supplier of frozen fillets and value-added fish products to retailers and food service distributors throughout North America.
    In 2015, Demone was planning for his succession while charting routes to sustain the company's growth. In Canada, High Liner was number one in both the food service and retail channels and had achieved four times the retail brand share of the next competitor. What goals should he be setting the newly appointed head of Canadian operations, Jeff O'Neill? Should he retain focus on frozen fish or broaden horizons? In the USA, High Liner was also leader in food service, but number two in the retail channel and facing strong competitors. Did it make sense to fight well-entrenched firms for market share? Or should the company's focus be on developing markets such as Asia? High Liner already sourced from the region. Should its use its expertise in frozen fish to build its business there?

    Keywords: strategy; Strategic Analysis; strategic decision making; family business; commodities; Strategic Planning; Strategy; Competitive Strategy; Food and Beverage Industry; North America; Canada;


    Wells, John R., and Galen Danskin. "High Liner Foods, 2015." Harvard Business School Case 715-463, June 2015. View Details
  2. 2012 Obama Campaign: Learning in the Field

    Leonard A. Schlesinger and Jason Gray

    The development and utilization of an intentional Field learning strategy developed for the Obama for President campaign in 2012 following an after action Review calling for it after the 2008 elections

    Keywords: training; political campaigns; Learning Organizations; Organizational Change and Adaptation; Learning; Political Elections; Organizational Change and Adaptation; United States;


    Schlesinger, Leonard A., and Jason Gray. "2012 Obama Campaign: Learning in the Field." Harvard Business School Case 315-127, June 2015. View Details
  3. Mums the Word! Cross-national Effects of Maternal Employment on Gender Inequalities at Work and at Home

    Kathleen L. McGinn, Mayra Ruiz Castro and Elizabeth Long Lingo

    Our research considers how inequalities in the public and the private spheres are affected by childhood exposure to non-traditional gender role models at home. We test the association between being raised by an employed mother and adult men's and women's outcomes at work and at home. Our analyses rely on national level archival data from multiple sources and individual level survey data collected as part of the International Social Survey Programme in 2002 and 2012 from nationally representative samples of men and women in 24 countries in North and South America, Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Adult daughters of employed mothers are more likely to be employed, more likely to hold supervisory responsibility if employed, work more hours, and earn marginally higher wages than women whose mothers were home full time. The effects on labor market outcomes are non-significant for men. Maternal employment is also associated with adult outcomes at home. Sons raised by an employed mother spend more time caring for family members than men whose mothers stayed home full time, and daughters raised by an employed mother spend less time on housework than women whose mothers stayed home full time. Our findings reveal the potential for non-traditional gender role models to gradually erode gender inequality in homes and labor markets.


    McGinn, Kathleen L., Mayra Ruiz Castro, and Elizabeth Long Lingo. "Mums the Word! Cross-national Effects of Maternal Employment on Gender Inequalities at Work and at Home." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 15-094, June 2015. View Details
  4. The Valuation and Financing of Lady M Confections

    Mihir A. Desai and Elizabeth A. Meyer

    This case explores the decision-making process that small, private businesses must undertake when considering an expansion and when selling equity to outside investors. In the process, students are asked to complete two exercises: a break-even analysis and a valuation exercise.

    Keywords: lady m; bakery; foodservice industry; valuation; Breakeven analysis; restaurant industry; Forecasting; forecast; financial analysis; Borrowing and Debt; Corporate Finance; Equity; Financial Management; Financial Strategy; Finance; Food; Valuation; Food and Beverage Industry; New York (city, NY);


    Desai, Mihir A., and Elizabeth A. Meyer. "The Valuation and Financing of Lady M Confections." Harvard Business School Case 215-047, June 2015. View Details
  5. The Coca-Cola Company's Case for Creative Transformation

    Thales S. Teixeira and Elizabeth Anne Watkins

    In 2013, the Coca-Cola Company was awarded Creative Marketer of the Year by the Cannes Lions Festival (known as the "Oscar of Advertising") for the first time ever in history and nearly 50 years after the Festival's inception. Just one year before that, Jonathan Mildenhall, Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing Content and Design Excellence, orchestrated the development of Content 2020, a blueprint for how all Coca-Cola's branding content ranging from traditional TV commercials to viral and social media content should be procured, built, tested, and distributed in the next 10 years. This case provides a unique opportunity to "look under the hood" and understand how the main principles of Content 2020 work and infer how the beverage company achieved its most prestigious marketing award of all time.

    Keywords: attention economics; creativity; Creating Connections; marketing; digital marketing; marketing innovations; social networks; advertising; advertising content; networked brand; beverage industry; Coca-Cola; Digital Innovation; digital transition; Marketing; Marketing Communications; Innovation Strategy; Social and Collaborative Networks; Advertising; Creativity; Consumer Products Industry;


    Teixeira, Thales S., and Elizabeth Anne Watkins. "The Coca-Cola Company's Case for Creative Transformation." Harvard Business School Multimedia/Video Case 815-714, June 2015. View Details
  6. To Buy or What to Buy (Your First Home)

    Charles F. Wu, Steven Hirsch, Beatrice Liem, Kevin Ryan and Derrick Snyder

    Case that outlines the process, analysis and challenges of buying a home. Peter and Kate Rose are a young couple looking to buy their first home in the Boston area. They must make a decisions regarding choosing a home, a purchase price, a broker, a mortgage package, how to source a down payment, and whether to stay renting in their current apartment. Both quantitative and qualititave factors are considered in their decision making.

    Keywords: real estate; real assets; Housing; Investing; personal investing; brokerage; Housing; Property; Private Ownership; Investment; Real Estate Industry; United States; Boston; New England; Massachusetts; North America;


    Wu, Charles F., Steven Hirsch, Beatrice Liem, Kevin Ryan, and Derrick Snyder. "To Buy or What to Buy (Your First Home)." Harvard Business School Case 215-080, June 2015. View Details
  7. 1996 Welfare Reform in the United States

    Matthew Weinzierl, Katrina Flanagan and Alastair Su

    On August 22, 1996, U.S. President Bill Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA)—a dramatic reform of the American system of economic assistance for the poor that, as its title suggested, attempted to encourage labor force participation rather than reliance on federal support. Clinton's decision to support a proposal that substantially cut spending on economic assistance was controversial among members of the Democratic Party, especially so close to the 1996 election. Republicans, in contrast, hailed the signing of PRWORA. Was the 1996 welfare reform a triumph of centrist policymaking that would establish a more sustainable version of economic assistance for poor Americans, or was it a dangerous first step toward the gradual disappearance of that assistance? Whose vision of American society did it represent?

    Keywords: welfare state; Poverty; public goods; moral hazard; median voter theorem; Poverty; Welfare or Wellbeing; Public Administration Industry; United States;


    Weinzierl, Matthew, Katrina Flanagan, and Alastair Su. "1996 Welfare Reform in the United States." Harvard Business School Case 715-030, June 2015. View Details
  8. Rebooting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

    Dennis A. Yao and Hillary Greene

    David Kappos is confirmed as Undersecretary of Commerce and Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in August 2009. The primary activity of USPTO, an executive agency with a $2 billion budget and nearly 10,000 employees, is to examine and issue patents. While progress has been made in terms of increasing the quality of issued patents, the time it takes to process them has increased markedly. Since 2005, processing time has increased nearly 20% to more than 34 months and the backlog of unexamined patent applications has grown to more than 750,000. Agency morale is low, the applicant base is unhappy, and the fallout of the financial crisis nearly forced the agency to furlough most of its employees. In addition, a major initiative of the agency for addressing the backlog problem has been stopped pending the outcome of litigation between the agency and two of its applicants. This case explores the strategy and leadership challenges associated with turning around a large government organization.

    Keywords: strategy formulation; leadership; service operations; turnarounds; operational effectiveness; government organizations; Patents; Leadership; United States;


    Yao, Dennis A., and Hillary Greene. "Rebooting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office." Harvard Business School Case 715-458, June 2015. View Details
  9. Morality Rebooted: Exploring Simple Fixes to Our Moral Bugs

    Ting Zhang, Francesca Gino and Max Bazerman

    Ethics research developed partly in response to calls from organizations to understand and solve unethical behavior. Departing from prior work that focused mainly on examining the antecedents and consequences of dishonesty, we examine two approaches to mitigating unethical behavior: (1) values-oriented approaches that broadly appeal to individuals' preferences to be more moral, and (2) structure-oriented approaches that redesign specific incentives, tasks, and decisions to reduce temptations to cheat in the environment. This paper explores how these approaches can change behavior. We argue that integrating both approaches while avoiding incompatible strategies can mitigate the risk of adverse effects that arise from taking a single approach.

    Keywords: corruption; dishonesty; Unethical Behavior; interventions; structure; values;


    Zhang, Ting, Francesca Gino, and Max Bazerman. "Morality Rebooted: Exploring Simple Fixes to Our Moral Bugs." Research in Organizational Behavior 24 (2014): 63–79. View Details
  10. You Need an Innovation Strategy

    Gary P. Pisano

    Why is it so hard to build and maintain the capacity to innovate? The reason is not simply a failure to execute but a failure to articulate an innovation strategy that aligns innovation efforts with the overall business strategy. Without such a strategy, companies will have a hard time weighing the trade-offs of various practices—such as crowdsourcing and customer co-creation—and so may end up with a grab bag of approaches. They will have trouble designing a coherent innovation system that fits their competitive needs over time and may be tempted to ape someone else's system, and so they will find it difficult to align different parts of the organization with shared priorities. As Corning, a leader in glass and materials science, has found, an innovation strategy must address how innovation will create value for potential customers, how the company will capture a share of that value, and what types of innovation to pursue. Critics tend to discount "routine" innovation that leverages a company's existing technical capabilities and business model and extol "disruptive" innovation, but that is a simplistic view. A company's unique competitive circumstances should dictate the innovation portfolio it pursues. Because innovation cuts across functions, only senior leaders can set an innovation strategy. In doing so, they must recognize that the strategy, like the process of innovation itself, requires continual experimentation and adaptation.


    Pisano, Gary P. "You Need an Innovation Strategy." Harvard Business Review 93, no. 6 (June 2015): 44–54. View Details
See all faculty publications on Human Behavior and Decision Making »