With glowing comments from nominators, Associate Marketing Professor Cynthia Cryder was named one of Poets & Quants top 40 under 40 professors for the year.
It was the second consecutive year a WashU Olin professor made the list. Last year, the online business school magazine tapped Seth Carnahan, associate professor of strategy, for the recognition.
In its page on Cryder among the top 40 profs published on Monday, P&Q cited remarks from those who nominated Cryder for the honor. One said, “Professor Cryder is a shining example of how one professor can embody both research excellence and teaching excellence.”
P&Q noted that Cryder was the first to teach Olin’s MBA marketing core fully online (because of COVID restrictions) and the first woman ever to teach in Olin’s marketing core (online or offline). The feature also noted the many times she had been cited in the media in the past year on the question of whether people should be incentivized to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Professor Cryder is able to take cutting-edge psychological research and translate it into actions that are relevant to the marketing managers of today and tomorrow,” another nominator wrote. “Professor Cryder continues to produce outstanding research that is published in the best academic journals.”
Forget the 30,000-foot, big-picture view. When faced with a cutting-edge technological idea, business leaders who approach the idea in more concrete “how” terms — rather than in abstract “why” terms — are less likely to be deterred by its novelty and more likely to recognize its utility, which increases their propensity to invest, according to new research from Olin.
This method of information processing, known as a low-level construal, is especially useful for leaders who lack technological expertise.
In today’s rapidly changing world, companies that are willing to embrace new technologies often have an edge over the competition. Yet decision-makers who are out of their depth with a novel technology often reject it because they lack the expertise to make sense of the technology, resulting in a sense of uncertainty and general unease with the idea.
“The further removed decision-makers are cognitively from an idea, the less likely they are to invest in it,” said Markus Baer, professor of organizational behavior and study co-author. “Keeping up with the rapid pace of technology can be especially challenging. But missed opportunities and failing to keep up, technologically speaking, is a recipe for failure.”
What’s a business leader to do?
“Research suggests that managers tend to undervalue ideas that fall outside their area of expertise and overvalue ideas that are squarely in their wheelhouse,” Baer said.
“And it gets worse. The further removed they are intellectually from the idea, the more likely they are to view it as too ‘out-there’ and as less useful, both of which make it less likely that decision-makers will financially commit to the idea.”
To overcome this expertise gap, previous research has suggested managers should engage in a type of deliberate cognition that involves drawing on prior experience with similar ideas to evaluate new technological ideas. However, that’s not possible when the idea is truly novel.
Baer — along with Matthew P. Mount of Deakin University and Matthew J. Lupoli of Monash University, both in Australia — wanted to better understand the ways in which managers process information about novel technological ideas and how that influences their interpretation and likelihood to invest.
Their research findings, forthcoming in Strategic Management Journal, offer a way for business leaders to overcome organizational inertia and recognize new technological opportunities.
Abstract vs concrete?
Baer, Mount and Lupoli conducted two experiments to study how expertise distance and information-processing style influence perceptions of novel technological ideas and likelihood to invest.
The first experiment took place “in the field” and involved 300 senior R&D and innovation investment decision-makers who work for organizations that were exploring Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) as a novel cybersecurity technology. QKD is a secure communication method that relies on cryptographic protocol involving components of quantum mechanics. Participants were given information about the technology and then were asked to rate how novel and useful the technology was. Finally, they were asked to specify the proportion of their annual disposable income they would be willing to invest to bring QKD to market.
The second experiment, an online survey, included nearly 500 middle- and upper-level managers. Participants assumed the role of a senior executive of a fictitious, application-based taxi company “AppCab” faced with the prospect of investing in a fleet of self-driving cars. They were randomly assigned to one of the four conditions — expert/concrete thinking, expert/abstract thinking, non-expert/concrete thinking or non-expert/abstract thinking.
Respondents in the expert groups were given detailed information about the self-driving cars, while respondents in the non-expert group were given general background information about the taxi industry. Respondents in the high-level construal groups were asked a number of “why” questions to switch their thinking to an abstract mode, while respondents in the low-level construal groups were asked “how” questions to shift their thinking to a more concrete mode. They also were asked questions about the perceived novelty and usefulness of the technology. Finally, they were asked to rate how likely they were to invest in the fleet of self-driving cars.
“Across our two studies, we show that decision-makers who are distant from a highly novel technological idea in terms of domain expertise are less likely to invest in it. However, our results also show that the effect of expertise distance is entirely dependent on how abstractly vs. concretely they approach the idea,” the authors wrote.
Shifting managers’ perspectives
As the current research demonstrates, how decision-makers process information influences their interpretation of novel technological ideas, which ultimately shapes their investment decisions.
“Highly novel ideas, when evaluated by decision-makers who have no expertise in the relevant domain, are perceived as too uncertain and too risky,” Baer said. “Changing how they approach the idea can help managers mitigate the negative effect of expertise distance.”
Many leaders believe they need to focus on the big picture and leave the day-to-day tasks and small details to lower-level managers and employees. Indeed, there can be benefits to this high-level perspective. Decision-makers engaged in high-level thinking are future-oriented and tend to focus their attention on abstract, broad information related to distant goals.
However, when it comes to evaluating novel technology, this type of high-level construal thinking can hold leaders back.
“Most decision-makers have a preference for rationality and predictive accuracy over the uncertainty inherent in novel technological ideas,” Baer said. “When leaders focus only on the high-level, abstract features of the technology, they tend to over-emphasize the novelty and risks of the idea, which, in turn, decreases their likelihood to invest.
“Our research shows this type of thinking can compound the negative effects of decision-makers’ expertise distance on the propensity to invest in novel ideas.”
In contrast, decision-makers using low-level construal are present-oriented and tend to focus their attention on concrete, narrow information related to the benefits and feasibility of adopting the novel technology. By focusing on the idiosyncratic, technical details of highly novel ideas and aspects of feasibility, decision-makers may be more inclined to perceive the idea as being useful and, by extension, less novel and risky, Baer said.
Ultimately, the research highlights the unique value of adopting a more concrete way of thinking when faced with radical technological change.
“By shifting the way in which they evaluate novel ideas — from abstract to concrete — managers will improve their ability to recognize the potential value of groundbreaking ideas, maintaining a technological edge on the competition,” Baer said.
Panos Kouvelis contributed this post. He is the director of The Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation and Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management.
There was no worse time for global supply chain managers to hear about a 1,300-foot ship carrying 18,000 containers and weighing over 200,000 tons stuck, diagonally, in the Suez Canal and stopping global trade flows between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
Major supply chain pains already were in play. Electronic chip supply chains were suffering shortages affecting diverse industries, such as autos and consumer electronic products. Tight shipping capacity was overstretched in an effort to respond to a quickly recovering demand for durable goods shipped from Asia to Europe and the US. Ports were severely congested on the West Coast of the US and in Europe. Now a major shipping route handling $10B in global trade a day was blocked for six days.
All of the supply chain headaches got worse because of the Suez Canal incident. (The ship was freed March 29.) Some of the ships carried electronic components and products that got further delayed, to the despair of factory managers and consumers waiting for them. Furthermore, other commodities from steel, coal and grains needed for production and consumption either in Europe, Asia or the East Coast of the US were going to be coming at least a week to a few weeks late.
360 ships in waiting
It would take days to get the 360 ships in waiting through the canal and to their next port. And, as queueing theorists like to remark, the “batched departures” from the canal would hit the already congested ports in Europe (e.g., Antwerp and Rotterdam) and on the West Coast (e.g., LA and Seattle) as “batched arrivals,” an overloading pattern creating further delays for the ships in finding berthing space and getting unloading services. The delays would result in further loss of shipping capacity for all products, and as much as 4% for shipping crude and petroleum products.
For ships rerouted around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope the delays would be for at least two weeks and with increased fuel costs of at least $30,000per day. Freight costs that were already high, with China to the West Cost more than double and China to Europe more than triple over a year ago, would get even higher for the coming year. Moreover, containers stuck at sea and waiting for unloading at ports accentuated the empty container shortages and imbalances in this crucial ingredient of global shipping flows.
More for coffee and gas
As you sip your gourmet coffee from Africa, get ready to pay a few extra cents for your coffee and your gas, and to wait a few weeks longer for your Japanese car, exercise bike, new PlayStation and iPad.
On the other hand, if you hold shares in major ocean shipping companies, these are good times. Probably not the best times, though, for ship and maritime load delay insurance companies. As always, some win and some lose.
Global supply chain managers feel no great relief: They know all about ripple effects and “bullwhips” cracking and hitting long lead-time, just-in-time, global chains in painful ways. The Suez Canal incident will be felt within their retailing, manufacturing, chemical and oil chains at least for the next month.
Olin’s 2020 EMBA program consisted of 87students, all of whom continued or finished the program as the country shut down due to a global pandemic. Luckily, the EMBA program responded quickly and effectively to the newly-virtual and distanced educational experience. From virtual graduation ceremonies to hybrid classrooms, here’s how Olin EMBA students responded to the pandemic, by the numbers:
day to redirect travel and set up EMBA 55 on-campus DC residency after Washington University suspends travel on March 9
virtual graduation watch parties, along with celebration kits sent out to grads
cohorts—54 and 55 hybrid global residency
months—EMBA hybrid classrooms at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Clayton
months with virtual-only classes
conversations over cocktails with Olin experts, attended by 400 alumni and students
SimNet online Excel courses
lunches delivered to student homes in March and April
boxes packed and delivered to FedEx and DHL containing books and course packs
“mobile break station” packages delivered to student homes between May and December
We congratulate the EMBA program for their resilience and efficiency during this challenging time.