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Faculty Viewpoints

How to Make the Most of Next Year—According to the Research

We asked faculty with expertise in strategy, psychology, competition, and organizational design for their best ideas to make 2020 a year filled with accomplishment and purpose.

The sun rising over mountains and a lake

Levi Bare/Unsplash

Walk a Block in Your Public Servant’s Shoes
Rodrigo Canales, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior

We are living through a particularly complex period in the relationship between police officers and the citizens they serve. The contract between them, necessary for the joint creation of public safety, is at best under strain and, in many places, entirely broken. The gap is partly sustained and amplified by a perception, generalized on both sides, that we are different. Here is us. There is them. Citizens are used to ubiquitous images of police misconduct, negligence, abuse. Justifiably, their trust in the police is at an all-time low. Officers, in turn, feel under siege. Under-appreciated. Misunderstood. In a photojournal exercise, one of the most common photos taken by police officers during their beats was that of a dog. “It is difficult to find a pig in the city, but that is what the picture should be. This is what I feel people see first when they see my uniform. They don’t know me. But they have decided that they do. Apparently, the day I put on my uniform I stopped being a person, a citizen.” When asked, officers say that they also don’t trust citizens. “They lie. They want rules to apply to others but not them. They do horrible things to others. When I am on my lunch break, in the middle of my 12-hour shift, all they think is ‘that fat, lazy fuck.’ I’m not supposed to need to eat.”

But here’s the thing. How many police officers do you know? How much do you know about their work? What they regularly deal with? This holiday season, maybe pause when you see that police officer and just say hi. For a moment, be genuinely curious. Ask about their work. Their day. Why they became a cop. What they hate most about their work. What they love most. When we have asked police officers to do this with random citizens, they come back to report that it has helped them realize that their perception of citizens had become a caricature. A result of the fact that, by nature of their work, police officers interact with citizens at their worst moments or in their worst behavior. They have created an image from a very small and very biased sample. But if we are to rebuild the contract between citizens and their police, we have to start from empathy. From realizing that most of us are more similar than we realize. And we want very similar things. Starting from the very basic desire to be seen.

Talk about Your Mistakes
Taly Reich, Associate Professor of Marketing

In the age of misinformation and rampant skepticism, nobody wants to be dismissed as fake news. People want to appear credible, and their efforts toward this goal often lead them to paint pristine, unerring pictures of themselves—and, in particular, their purchase history. This glistening gloss, we propose, might be exactly wrong. Instead, should people hope to persuade others—specifically, in the context of authoring online reviews of products—our research finds that admitting to past mistakes makes others more likely to accept the advice to buy, hinting at a promotional approach with great promise for practitioners.

Use the Good Kind of Peer Pressure
Nathan Novemsky, Professor of Marketing

When trying to build a new habit or change an engrained behavior that is important to us but difficult to execute on (like most New Year’s resolutions), psychologists might be able to help! Sheer willpower is limited, so psychologists suggest adding the power of social influence to help achieve success. Next time you set an important goal, find a friend or relative to tell about it and give them very concrete details, like ”I want to only drink two cups of coffee a day.” Then ask them to help you by checking in on how you are doing. Sometimes the added pressure that you will have to tell someone else about your personal slipup is enough to keep you from doing it!

Shift How You Think about the Future
Paul Bracken, Professor of Management and Political Science

Every company looks to sharpen their ability to think in forward ways, to anticipate what’s coming next. Just as important is making sure you’re not locked in to the past, either because of groupthink or a corporate culture that no longer fits a changing environment. Here is a useful way to do this that also widens the scope of your assessment. It’s one of the basic concepts taught in the Yale Problem Framing course at the School of Management.

Instead of asking, “What’s the likelihood of x next year?” ask a different question: “Suppose x happens. What impact does it have on my company?”

The idea is to redefine what it means to forecast something. Most companies and most academics use the term “forecast” to mean prediction. There are considerable resources put into making better forecasts; i.e. predictions. GDP growth rate, the stock market, election outcomes—all of these forecasts are about what’s likely to happen.

But here’s another way to think about forecasting. Instead of asking, “What’s the likelihood of x next year?” ask a different question: “Suppose x happens. What impact does it have on my company?” Here the focus shifts from the methodology used for prediction to the consequences of different possibilities, specifically, on you.

An example: instead of trying to predict whether globalization will continue or ebb, ask a different question. Suppose nationalism increases in many countries, and the power of transnational institutions like the World Trade Organization, the EU, and OPEC declines. What difference does that make for my company? It probably means that multinational companies will have to restructure to give more authority to their national or regional units. It could also mean a restructuring of key service departments, such as legal, accounting, and HR. For example, accounting and legal firms would have to become even more integrated across borders than they already are.

The focus shifts from predicting the unpredictable (“Will globalization continue?”) to the critical impact that underlies the question in the first place—namely, what difference it makes. The shift in focus gets at something that’s supported by a lot of research and a great deal of experience. Companies miss major changes in their environment far more often because they don’t think about them at all, rather than because they haven’t used the latest techniques for predicting. Narrow framing of problems for prediction overlooks what is often a much more important issue: the practical implications of a change.

Forecasting needs to be viewed in two ways. One is as a prediction, the common way that it is used by most groups. The other is to explore the consequences of a change for a company or department. Both are important. Yet in most organizations there isn’t nearly enough attention given to analyzing the impact of important changes that are difficult to predict in any precise way.

Be a Savvy Consumer of News and Social Media
Michael Sinkinson, Assistant Professor of Economics

The economics of the vast majority of news media are that they create content for consumers, and in exchange for the attention of those consumers, they sell that attention to advertisers. This model is often lost on media consumers, who think that the media exist to tell a truth or communicate facts. In reality, media outlets can often make more profits from news that generates clicks or views than news that is genuinely true and factual. This perverse incentive is one reason we are beset by “fake news.” To make the most of 2020, you should consume media in a savvy way, which means to understand the motivations of both the journalist (who writes the story) and the editor (who writes the headlines) of the media you consume. Further, make sure you consume a variety of voices, as it is easy to fall into an “echo chamber” of voices that are never questioned. Finally, beware of social media promotion of products, where “influencers” tell you about products they are being paid to advertise without disclosing that they are paid endorsers. The FTC is trying to address this problem. We as consumers of social media need to know that most of the product endorsements we see are paid product placements, even though required disclosures don’t happen.

Be Open to Gig Work
Judith A. Chevalier, William S. Beinecke Professor of Finance and Economics

The rise of gig work has both upsides and downsides. My research with my coauthors suggests that rideshare gig workers value the opportunity to work flexible hours and that many rideshare drivers work few hours per week and are using gig work as a secondary economic activity. These features are positive, while at the same time, the displacement of reliable full-time employment opportunities with short-term contract work can be a negative. While my current research focuses on rideshare drivers, temporary and contract work is an increasingly important factor in creative and analytical fields. As with the rideshare drivers I study, freelancers in other fields are balancing the positive opportunity to set their own schedules and rules against the uncertainty inherent in contract work. The first rule of thriving in a gig economy is to be open to the possibility of gig work. Increasingly, opportunities to demonstrate or develop a skill are available in temporary contracts or positions.

On Climate: Panic, But Don’t Get Paralyzed
Todd Cort, Lecturer in Sustainability

Our time is up to avoid the consequences of climate change and it is past time to panic. But this does not mean that we should throw our hands up and wait for the collapse. There is still opportunity to avoid the worst-case scenarios detailed by scientists and governments around the world, and there is plenty of room for optimism that the solutions to climate change can also create better jobs, lower inequality, and healthier lives. Yale SOM graduates are at the center of these solutions in their careers and passions, but all of us can do the “small things” that collectively add up to significant change:

  • Walk (or bike). I get it, there are logistic and time hurdles to walking. But if you can overcome those, you will reduce your carbon footprint, save substantial money, and take a few inches off that waistline.
  • Re-use. Carry a re-usable bag and water bottle. Plastic is great to use, but pretty bad to produce (energy and petroleum-based raw materials) and dispose (low recycling rates, giant ocean patches of garbage, etc.). Save a turtle and save yourself a nickel.
  • Donate. Giving just a small amount of your time or money to charities or campaigns of your choice goes a long way. Go find a climate march. Donate $25. It will energize you and engage you.
  • Invest. Becoming a sustainable investor is easy. No matter your investing strategy, there are environmentally or socially responsible investments that match or outperform the market. The easiest and most cost effective is to find a low-fee mutual fund that considers environmental or social aspects.

…and most importantly…

  • Vote. Our elected policy-makers and the regulations they pursue are incredibly influential. Which means your vote changes the world.

Make the Most of a Thank You
K. Sudhir, James L. Frank ’32 Professor of Private Enterprise and Management, Professor of Marketing

Gratitude and giving are in the air everywhere during the holiday season. For example, nonprofits send their supporters annual, end-of-the-year thank you notes. These notes are costly and increase overheads that can otherwise be used to help the cause. However, the psychology of reciprocity suggests that these mere expressions of gratitude evoke reciprocal feelings of goodwill and can generate more support for the organization. In our research, we found that a nudge to give (with a simple giving coupon accompanying the thank you letter) without a request to give generates significant incremental giving. Surprisingly, even an explicit request for support in a thank you note generates negative feelings and reduces giving only among people who have very recently given, but for most others serves as a reminder to support the organization they care about. You can ask for more for a good cause.

To Negotiate Effectively, Learn about the Other Side
Daylian Cain, Senior Lecturer in Negotiations and Ethics

Use your ears more, mouth less. That’s my New Year’s sales and negotiation advice.

In my workshop on “Collaborating with Difficult People,” participants read a sheet of role information (for a buyer or seller) prior to the session. I start by pointing to a participant and rhetorically ask, “If this seller cheats and secretly reads the buyer’s sheet, who is going to win?” We don’t need to know if the seller is a slick talker, extroverted, or anything else about his or her personality. The seller will win because of a massive information advantage. My point is to see negotiation as learning about the other side. In the real world, there are no sheets to read, but you can just ask: 1) what do they want, 2) why, and 3) in what order. Learn about their interests and priorities—both from them and (in advance) from your friends who know people like them.

The following is a smart opening gambit by a Yale alum named Daniel Weisfield who was assigned as a buyer: “I know you are selling—you have placed advertisements. But I just was curious, what are your goals for the sale? I mean, are you selling to the highest bidder, or do you have other goals in mind?” What a great opener! You see, money is often a win-lose fight, and thus a poor start to the conversation. Money often carves up the pie but doesn’t expand it. So, instead of first talking financials, pushing your agenda, and ruining rapport, focus first on finding any possible common interests and then on discovering things that are valuable to them but cheap to you. Everyone wants to be paid, but that is expensive. At the same time, people also want to be heard, understood, and respected. They also want their own victory lap. Sometimes, these things are easy to give. On issues like these, give them what they want, and you will get what you want.

If negotiation is learning, should you be talking profusely or listening intently? Ask, then listen. Although empathy often helps, it can be exhausting, especially when dealing with difficult people. You need not feel for them, but you should understand what they feel. As Chip and Dan Heath write in The Power of Moments, smart doctors are increasingly asking not “What is the matter with you?” but “What matters to you?”

Department: Faculty Viewpoints