Tag: Faculty

Michael Wall wrote this for the Olin Blog. He is a professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship, and co-director of Olin’s Center for Analytics and Business Insights.

Jitterbugging in a juke joint on a Saturday afternoon in 1939 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. (Source: Library of Congress)
Jitterbugging in a juke joint on a Saturday afternoon in 1939 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. (Source: Library of Congress)

This story begins with singer and songwriter Marc Cohn and his smash hit “Walking in Memphis,” released in 1991. If you’re familiar with this song, you may recall the line “W.C. Handy, won’t you look down over me?” You may not be familiar with W.C. Handy. Before getting into him, though, another story must be told, a story that began nearly 80 years before the release of Cohn’s song.

In the early part of the 20th century in the southeastern United States, Black Americans, who were not allowed in establishments for white Americans, would get together to listen to music, dance and converse in establishments called juke joints. The juke joints attracted and inspired many Black musicians from the South, one of whom was W.C. Handy. 

‘The weirdest music’

1914 sheet music cover for "Saint Louis Blues" by W.C. Handy. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
1914 sheet music cover for “Saint Louis Blues” by W.C. Handy. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

William Christopher Handy’s music was inspired by the African American musical folk traditions that he experienced in his early years of traveling and performing. In 1903, while in Clarksdale, Mississippi, heading up a band called Black Knights of Pythias, Handy encountered a guitarist at the Clarksdale train station playing what he referred to as “the weirdest music” he had ever heard.

Throughout the early 1900s, Clarksdale became ground zero for the Delta Blues as it attracted talented artists who are still famous today. Each of these artists brought their own unique flavor to the Delta Blues, enabling it to evolve as the artists interacted with each other.

Inspired by that guitarist, his historical experiences and other local artists, Handy continued to produce music and in 1912 published “Memphis Blues,” the first known title with the word “Blues” in it. That said, it was his 1914 publication of “St. Louis Blues” that became his most famous composition. 

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters in 1976. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

One of those artists was Muddy Waters. In 1943, Muddy boarded a bus at the Clarksdale station and headed to Chicago as part of the Great Migration, when nearly six million black Americans made their way from the South to northern cities and other parts of the US, a decision that would shape American culture and music around the world forever. 

Muddy’s talent was discovered in Chicago, where he recorded his first record in 1947, helping to drive the discovery and popularity of the Blues in the North. In fact, Blues musicians could be seen during “Sunday Jam Sessions” in Chicago. The interaction helped Muddy and the Blues to spread in the US and all over the world. But the story doesn’t end there. The Delta Blues inspired many other artists, who then inspired other artists, and so on, influencing famous music from the ’60s, ’70s and beyond, all over the world. 

Human interaction

Although the story thus far is about music, the point of this story is universal; it is about human interaction. More specifically, diverse interaction and how that interaction, when channeled correctly, can drive innovation that can make a positive and principled difference not only in business but also in society. This idea is supported by both science and research. 

In 2011, Steve Johnson published “Where Good Ideas Come From, The Natural History of Innovation.” In it, he uses science and research to back his position that ideas are “networks” and that the success of an idea is based on two preconditions: the size of the network and the ability of the network to adopt new configurations of the idea.

We can see this concept in our exploration of Blues music. The network was indeed malleable as each artist adopted new configurations of the music they experienced. For example, W.C. Handy adopted new configurations from the guitarist playing “the weirdest music” he’d ever heard.

And although the network was small at the start of the 20th century, limited to black Americans in the southeastern US (a result of racial segregation), it became larger over time. This was a result of Muddy Waters migrating to Chicago in 1943. Racial diversity among those who listened to the Blues in Chicago and other cities helped to drive the Blues into the mainstream. 

Just as the Delta Blues inspired other Black artists, it inspired white artists, including Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. Each went on to create their own innovative style of music, linked to the origins of those that came before them. And this has continued. For example, Lenny Kravits was influenced by a diverse group of artists and groups including Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley and the Beatles.

Research shows …

Academic and industry research has shown that the more diverse the interaction, the greater the innovation. This includes BCG’s 2018 publication “How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation” and the research of Hewlett, Marshall, Sherbin and Gonsalve, which highlighted the power of what they refer to as 2-D diversity.

The first dimension is inherent diversity, the traits you are born with. The second is acquired diversity, the traits you gain from experiences. Their research showed that 2-D firms are 45% more likely to report market share growth from the previous year and 70% more likely to capture new market revenue. 

As a person who lives across academia and the practice of business, I often challenge myself, my students, and my peers to find new ways to solve complex problems. This often starts with knowing what questions to ask. This story sheds light on questions we can all ask.

How can we grow our network and, in the process, make it more diverse, allowing for new ideas to form and existing ideas to improve? How do we drive more interaction in the network to create more ideas and better improve existing ones? If we each can work to answer these questions then perhaps it will unlock opportunities to solve not only complex business problems but also complex social and civic ones as well. 

Top photo: W. C. Handy playing at the fifth annual American Negro Music Festival in St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park in 1944. (Source: State Historical Society of Missouri)

Post-it Notes, Spanx, the iPhone, two-day Prime shipping. From unique gadgets to revolutionary business ideas, the most successful inventions have one thing in common: creativity. But sustaining creativity can be difficult.


New research from Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, has identified one reason some first-time producers struggle to repeat their initial creative productions while others go on to continually produce creative works.

Markus Baer, professor of organizational behavior at Olin, and Dirk Deichmann, of the Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, discovered that recognizing first-time producers of successful novel ideas with an award or recognition can significantly decrease the likelihood that they will produce future creative work.

“In our study, we found that people who develop novel ideas and receive rewards for them start to see themselves primarily as a ‘creative person,’” Baer said.  

“This newfound identity, which is special and rare, is then in need of protection. Essentially, once a person is in the creative limelight, stepping out of it — by producing a novel idea that disappoints or pales in comparison to earlier work — is threatening and to be avoided. One way to do so is to stop producing altogether. You cannot compromise your identity and reputation when you do not produce anything new.”

In other words, fear of failure the second time around can cause producers to avoid taking risks that would threaten their creative identity.

“Harper Lee is a perfect example of this phenomenon,” Baer said. “Her first book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ is one of the bestselling and most acclaimed American novels of all time. Yet she didn’t publish again until 55 years later. And her second book, ‘Go Set a Watchman,’ written in the mid-1950s, is considered to be a first draft of her legendary one hit wonder.”   

About the research

To study the effect receiving an award or recognition had on first-time producers, Baer and Deichmann first conducted an archival study of 224 first-time cookbook authors in the United Kingdom. According to the study authors, the cookbook market is an ideal context to examine sustained creativity because cookbooks are creative works and a labor of love. From this sample, they found only about 50% of first-time cookbook authors went on to produce a second cookbook. Interestingly, they also discovered that the more novel the initial cookbook was, the less likely the author was to produce a second cookbook.

Next, Baer and Deichmann conducted an experiment with business school students. Participants were asked to develop a concept for a potential cookbook. Half of the participants were told that their idea was “highly original and novel,” while the other half were told their idea was “very solid and traditional.” A subgroup of participants was also told that their ideas were “among the ideas most likely to make a big splash in the food community.”

Finally, participants had the option to develop a second cookbook concept or to build upon their original idea with a marketing plan. The experiment showed that when people produce a highly novel, award-winning idea, right out of the gate, they’re less likely to produce a follow-up idea.

A second experiment built upon the original and allowed the authors to more precisely pinpoint the psychological mechanisms at play. In the two experimental studies, the percentage of first-time producers who decided to develop a second idea, as opposed to exploiting the first idea, was 21 and 34, respectively.

“Participants experienced a greater threat to their creative identity when producers of award-winning, novel work were confronted with the possibility of having to continue on their creative journey by having to produce original work yet again,” the authors concluded.

Rethinking how managers recognize creativity

Creativity is most likely to blossom in environments where producers are motivated primarily by the challenge and meaning of the work itself — i.e., the problem they are trying to solve — and have some creativity-specific skills, such as associating or combining ideas from different knowledge domains, Baer said.

Previous research has focused on the benefits of awards, but Baer and Deichmann found that winning an award can, paradoxically, temper the creativity of producers because it introduces an extra layer of stress to the creative environment.

“Awards are only bad for people producing novel stuff because they make the creative identity of such people salient, causing them to feel threatened by the prospect of compromising this identity with mediocre work,” he said.

Baer offered the following strategies for avoiding the potential negative effects of awards and instead using them to encourage creativity: 

  1. Make sure that rewards and recognition are not only offered for the outcome of the creative process — a new product — but also for the process of developing the outcome. For example: Have we challenged key assumptions? Have we tested our prototype properly?
  2. Reward both success and learning from failure. What becomes a success is difficult to predict and often entails a fair amount of luck. Thus, success and failure often lay close together. Learning from failure can be immensely beneficial and should be encouraged.
  3. Do not glorify someone who had one creative success by offering an outsized reward. If you want to glorify people, celebrate those who can produce creative work repeatedly. 

Olin’s Andrew Knight is featured in a conversation with Poets & Quants on “Who Should & Who Should Not Apply For An MBA.”

Knight is vice dean for education and globalization and professor of organizational behavior. He spoke about when an MBA makes the most sense, what the degree still does well, and when to consider other paths for business education.

“I think one of the key factors that comes into play is what the person is looking for,” Knight said. “Someone who’s looking to broaden their generalist skill set, and who has aspirations of really being a leader of people in the long term in their careers, is probably better suited for an MBA.

“Versus someone who really has a hunger to deepen their technical skill set and become the equivalent of the functional or technical guru in a given area. That’s the most basic differentiation where you would see people funneling into those different paths.”

Julie Hail Flory originally wrote this article for The Source.

Mark P. Taylor, dean of Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, will conclude his deanship June 30. He will continue to serve as the Donald Danforth Jr. Distinguished Professor of Finance after taking a year of academic leave, starting July 1 and returning to the university in 2023.

“Mark Taylor has been an exceptional leader and advocate for Olin Business School during his time at the university,” Chancellor Andrew D. Martin said.

‘The school has flourished’

“He has enhanced Olin’s international profile and made significant strategic investments in digital education. During his tenure as dean, the school has flourished, growing by nearly every measure. I’m grateful for his many contributions,” Martin said.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a talented leader and scholar like Mark Taylor guiding Olin Business School for the past five-plus years,” Provost Beverly Wendland said. “As dean, he has moved the school forward in numerous ways. He launched several innovative programs and increased student access, ensuring that the world’s best business students are able to come to WashU. I know the Olin community shares my appreciation for Mark’s leadership throughout the pandemic and takes pride in the successful triple accreditation achieved during Mark’s tenure.”

Taylor was appointed dean in 2016, joining Washington University from the University of Warwick, U.K., where he had served as dean of Warwick Business School and professor of finance. He also has held professorships at Oxford University and Bayes Business School in the U.K., and visiting professorships at New York University, Bordeaux University and the University of Aix-Marseille.

A leading scholar

A leading scholar in international economics and finance, Taylor is one of the most highly cited economists in the world. He has served as an adviser at the Bank of England, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“It has been a great privilege to lead the Olin Business School. We—Olin’s faculty, staff and students— have accomplished so much in the past five-plus years, even through a pandemic,” Taylor said. “I am proud of Olin’s advancements in research, teaching and impact.”

A search committee to identify Taylor’s successor will be announced later this year. During the transition, Anjan V. Thakor, the John E. Simon Professor of Finance and director of doctoral programs and the Wells Fargo Advisors Center for Finance and Accounting Research, will serve as interim dean.

“It is my distinct pleasure to step in to guide Olin Business School as interim dean during this important time,” Thakor said. “Building on the school’s strong foundation—which has been significantly bolstered by Mark Taylor’s leadership as dean—we are poised to reach even greater heights as one of the world’s top business schools. I look forward to working with our students and my faculty colleagues as we continue to advance our efforts to change the world for good.”

When the leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization hit the press, suggesting the court is likely to overturn the Roe v. Wade precedent guaranteeing women the right to abortions, much of the conversation focused on how such a ruling would give Democrats a boost in the 2022 congressional elections.

However, despite intense political discourse in the media, the leak does not appear to have changed the minds of voters about the importance of the abortion issue. The finding is part of a forthcoming study conducted by marketing researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California, Los Angeles.

The research also highlights how Democrats might better frame the abortion issue to attract new supporters and motivate their base ahead of elections.

Anticipating a controversial summer ruling in the Dobbs case, Raphael Thomadsen and Song Yao at WashU’s Olin Business School and Robert Zeithammer at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, surveyed 350 potential voters — prior to the May 2 leak — about their support for hypothetical candidates based on salient issues including taxes, illegal immigration, climate change, health insurance, poverty and abortion. According to the authors, an advantage of this conjoint style of polling is that it reveals not only which candidate the respondent supports, but also how strongly the respondent feels about each issue.

Shortly after the leak, the team surveyed potential voters again—300 in all—to see how the news had affected candidate preference. Even before the leak, abortion was an important issue to most voters. The polls showed that abortion had, on average, a 30% weight in respondents’ candidate preference.

Much to their surprise, though, the authors discovered the leak did not significantly increase the weight voters place on abortion in comparison with other issues the poll considered. For Democrats, that number remained steady at 32% following the leak. For Republicans, that number dipped modestly from 29% to 27% following the leak.


“While the average importance of abortion to voters was incredibly consistent, there is some evidence that abortion became slightly less important of an issue to Republicans after the leak, although the shift is still fairly small,” said Yao, associate professor of marketing at Olin Business School.

“Further, we see that abortion became a more important issue for voters who voted for someone other than Biden or Trump,” Yao said. “However, that group represents just under 2% of the voting population, so even if the Democrats captured these individuals’ votes, it would be hard to see the impact of this shift in the balance of power that would emerge this fall.”

Democrats’ current strategy is flawed

According to Thomadsen, professor of marketing at Olin Business School, there are two issues with the way that Democrats are trying to frame the abortion debate to gain an electoral advantage.


“First, we see the Democrats trying to brand the Republicans as being anti-choice. However, this preference is already baked into the support that Democrats and Republicans are currently getting,” Thomadsen said.

“What would really change the abortion debate, however, is that Americans, as a whole, are strongly against abortion prohibitions in the case of rape, incest or to save the health of a mother. Even many Republicans would prefer abortion being legal for a short amount of time — we tested 12 weeks — to having no exceptions made to the law.”

The team’s most recent simulations suggest that if Democrats can paint the Republican-enacted laws as not allowing for these exceptions, they could increase their net electoral advantage by up to 6%.

“This 6% would reflect a small increase in Democratic votes, but a sizable shift in Republicans who would decide not to vote,” Thomadsen said.

‘Even many Republicans would prefer abortion being legal for a short amount of time — we tested 12 weeks — to having no exceptions made to the law.’

Raphael Thomadsen

Democrats also need to include men in their abortion messaging, Thomadsen said.

“Abortion is framed as an issue for women. However, we find that men are nearly as passionate — and pro-choice — about abortion as women,” he said. “While abortion is an issue about women’s rights, it is important for Democrats to use the issue to rally both men and women, not just women.”

Finally, Thomadsen noted that Democrats also could make inroads with voters on economic issues.

“While the focus of this study was to see how Americans’ preferences shifted toward abortion, we also measured the preferences for many other policies,” he said.  

“We find that fixing health insurance by expanding Medicare to everyone who is not insured is fairly popular,” Thomadsen said. “Similarly, if the Democrats proposed cutting taxes, that would also bring a lot of support.

“This could be done in a very progressive way. For example, reducing each household’s taxes by $2,000, and providing refundable tax credits for those who owe less than a full $2,000 in taxes, is a very popular idea.”

Republicans also gain from lowering taxes, Thomadsen noted, but that is baked into their status quo numbers.

The working paper will be available soon and data is available to media upon request.