Tag: Faculty



If you run into Olin’s Erik Dane at an academic conference, watch out.

Dane, an associate professor of organizational behavior, will be happy to talk with you about data you’re analyzing, methodological trends, the Cardinals, the Cubs, the endorphins of running.

Dane

But he and his coauthor, Kevin Rockmann, professor of management at George Mason University, also might ask you the pointed question they, as editors of the Academy of Management Discoveries, have been asking people for years:

“How often do you open the latest issue of one of our leading journals and read each article—or even one article—in its entirety?”

Dane and Rockmann threw down the gauntlet in a March 7 article for AACSB International, The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business: “It’s Time for Academics to Write Differently.”

The snooze button

“Stop hitting the ‘snooze’ button on your academic writing,” they implore readers. “Instead, produce scholarship that audiences will not only read but—dare we say it—enjoy.”

The article is based on research they published last year in the Academy of Management Discoveries, “Listen up! Revitalizing our writing to stir our readers and supercharge our thinking.”

They surveyed members of the journal’s editorial review board, asking them to rate two lists. The first: Nineteen top academic journals from the Financial Times 50’s list of prominent journals in business school disciplines. The second list contained 25 popular press outlets that report on management research (e.g., The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal).

“The results were startling,” Dane said. “Our 77 respondents ranked the nonscientific journals higher, not just for enjoyability, which is troubling enough, but also for informational value.”

If their small study is an indication, he said, “even scholars are put off by academic writing.”

More citations for your work

Dane and Rockmann, however, are on a mission to drive home these points:

  • Researchers serve their careers and their audiences better by writing in more accessible prose.
  • When scholars experiment with literary techniques, they improve their thinking as well as their writing.
  • Established journals could begin promoting fresher academic writing by posting public-facing content on their websites, reserving complete papers for print.

“We argue that there are several compelling reasons for academics to revitalize our writing,” they say.

Vigorous writing can aid career advancement. “Studies have shown that better-written papers—those that use techniques such as first-person narration and vivid contextual detail, and go easy on scientific jargon—are more broadly cited on the whole.”

Accessible writing expands the audience for ideas. “By continuing to write only for other scientists (who mostly, as we’ve seen, prefer to get their knowledge elsewhere), we cede the practitioner audience to Harvard Business Review, Sloan Management Review and other venues for ‘translational writing.’”

Experimenting with literary techniques can improve scholars’ thinking as well as writing. “Too often, we approach our subject matter with our ‘scientist’ hat already fixed in place. Inflexible habits of thought don’t do justice to the world’s phenomena—or our own theory-making. If we looked at the world with an eye toward dramatizing rather than dissecting, we might see possibilities and points of view that would otherwise remain invisible within our cognitive comfort zone.”




In the wake of the slap heard ‘round the world—actor Will Smith’s blow to comedian Chris Rock’s left cheek—scholars in the business of entertainment at the Olin Business School say the situation is shot through with reputational risk.

But not where you might think.

In the middle of the ABC TV broadcast of the Oscars on March 27, Rock’s joke at the expense of actor Jada Pinkett Smith prompted her husband to bound onto the stage and smack the comedian. Soon after, Smith twice shouted at Rock—using an expletive both times—to not mention his wife’s name.

Olin finance Professor Tim Solberg, academic director for the school’s minor in the business of the arts, said the biggest risk may lie within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself.

As the NAACP in a statement decried “the way casual violence was normalized tonight,” the Academy Awards leadership was considering its response amid calls to take disciplinary action.

Solberg

“The academy itself may suffer damage if it does not take action,” Solberg said, noting the academy issued a statement saying it does not approve of violence. “There is a lot of discussion on the radio and on the web around this as it relates to a public display of violence by highly visible and admired stars.”

Solberg raised the prospect of the academy stripping Smith of his Oscar for best actor in a motion picture for his role as the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams in “King Richard.” Smith received the award about 45 minutes after the slapping incident. The act of violence could constitute a violation of the academy’s code of conduct.

On Monday, the academy issued a statement condemning the action and noting it would start a formal review to “explore further action and consequences in accordance with our bylaws, standards of conduct and California law.”

Ironically, Solberg said, Smith and Rock may suffer no ill effect in their earnings. “The two stars have their followings and the audience is segmented,” he said. “They will probably not have a drop in earnings as a result. In that sense, their brand is not harmed financially.”

Glenn MacDonald, the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy at WashU’s Olin School, agreed with Solberg.

MacDonald

“In entertainment, they often say there is no such thing as bad publicity. Obviously, getting attention for doing something people would generally find disgusting is a counterexample,” said MacDonald, who teaches a course in the economics of entertainment at Olin. “But a wise guy comedian getting hit on TV by a very physical guy for making a bad comment about the latter’s wife is really just extra attention for a couple of guys in the latter stages of their careers.

Rock’s joke made reference to Pinkett Smith’s hair. She has spoken of her hair loss as a result of alopecia.

Solberg noted a fourth potential stakeholder that could be affected: the movie studios. “While financially, the stars have their brand and their following, unless a studio boycotts or the public cancels Will Smith—a major box office star making money for the company—due to the public show of violence, he will maintain his financial draw even if his brand is tarnished,” Solberg said.




On March 21, President Biden issued an urgent warning to American business leaders to strengthen their companies’ cyber defenses immediately. In recent weeks, experts have been surprised by the lack of full-scale cyberattacks by Russia. But the threat of devastating cyberattacks is still very real and American companies and individuals must remain vigilant, warned Liberty Vittert, professor of practice of data science at Olin Business School.  

“With the war in Ukraine seeming to only ramp up, instead of down, and Putin’s aggression against those that would defend the Ukrainian people increases, it only seems appropriate to ask ‘What is an act of war against the United States?’” Vittert said.

Liberty Vittert, professor of practice in data science at Olin Business School, studies how big data is impacting society. Photo art created by Jennifer Wessler
Vittert

The United States was launched into World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, killing 2,403 American soldiers and civilians. That was an act of war that the U.S. could not ignore. It’s unlikely that Russia would attack the U.S. in the same way, though.

“Most assume that nowadays it would be an act of cyber warfare, not an actual physical attack. But what does that mean?” Vittert asked.  

“The Russians and the Chinese have been responsible for cyberattacks for years on the United States. From the SolarWinds Russian-linked cyberattack in 2020, and the cyberattack on the Colonial Oil pipeline less than a year ago, we have numerous examples of Russia testing our systems. 

“China has been much worse, with multiple Chinese-linked cyber hacks on Microsoft, on Google and even on our news sources like The New York Times,” she said.

Previous cyberattacks have not been treated as acts of war, which begs the question: What sorts of actions would cross that line?

“If Russia targets the U.S. banking system, is that enough? Do they just need to access the systems, do they need to shut it down, do they need to steal? What is bad enough that we would call it an act of war?” Vittert said.

“If pipelines are targeted, how long do they need to be down before it is an act of war? Someone I spoke with recently said it would be an act of war if Americans died. If the U.S. has access to oil pipelines shut down for any period, I can guarantee you there will be deaths. How many is necessary to consider it an act of war?

“The answers to these questions are complicated and frankly unknown. This is a new tool in the new toolbox of war,” she said.

Already, Russia has attacked Ukraine in multiple ways, including hacking business and financial systems in the country. As for an attack in the U.S., Vittert said it is just a matter of time.  

‘They only need to get in once’

“Most would say that the U.S. has the most sophisticated (cyber) defense systems and—on the other side of it—the most sophisticated attack systems,” Vittert said. “But the problem with cyberattacks is that they only need to get in once to cause devastating damage, whereas we have to defend against so many.” 

Most large corporations and financial systems likely have in-house cyber protection capabilities but, for smaller businesses, Vittert recommended hiring a cybersecurity company to ensure your company is protected. All businesses—large and small—should review their cyber protection systems to ensure they are up to date and as protected as they believe them to be.

“This isn’t something to take lightly whether it be an attack from a foreign adversary or simply a criminal one,” Vittert said.

As for individuals, Vittert said it’s important to change your passwords regularly and never use the same password for your banking systems as you do for other websites.

“It’s much easier to hack a magazine website, for example, but if you use the same passwords, you’re potentially facing some real trouble,” Vittert warned.




Last month, Russia and China declared that their friendship had “no limits.” But since Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, that friendship has been strained. As the war has gone on, China has sought to distance itself from Russia to avoid the same financial sanctions and economic isolation that has rocked Russia in recent weeks.

Most recently, China’s top envoy to Washington went as far as to pledge his country “will do everything” to de-escalate the war in Ukraine, but refused to condemn Russia’s attack. 

Following President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping March 18, international business experts John Horn and Patrick Moreton at Olin Business School offered their perspectives on the developing situation, the challenges facing China and what impact its actions could have on the Chinese and global economies.

China is watching closely

All along, China’s stance in the conflict has been more anti-American than pro-Russian, said Moreton, professor of practice in strategy and management and academic director of the Olin’s MBA Global Immersion program.

Moreton

“China’s official narrative on Ukraine reflects their dissatisfaction with the position the U.S. has taken on issues that they consider core interests, including Taiwan, Xinjiang and Hong Kong—to name just three—and a general chafing at what they consider the American outsized role in the global political and economic system,” Moreton said.  

“I would expect that these are some of the issues that will come up when the U.S. and China sit down to discuss Russia and Ukraine.”

Horn, professor of practice in economics, agrees.

“My sense is that China is looking at this not as a communism versus the rest of the world construct, but rather as China versus the rest of world construct—what’s best for China,” Horn said.  

Like many countries, China likely thought Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was going to be a very short-term effort. If this had transpired, and Russia did not face strong pushback from other countries, Horn said China could have interpreted that as an opportune time to militarily take control of Taiwan.  

But much to Russia’s chagrin, the situation has not played out as expected, putting China in a tricky position.

What’s at stake for China?

Horn

“From China’s perspective, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, if successful, could have provided an increased opportunity for China to partner with western Europe as a trade alternative to the United States, if the latter had been seen as unable to use its leadership position to prevent the Russian aggression,” Horn said.

Moreton added, “There is also the possibility that China sees considerable opportunity in the current crisis and may very well be asking the U.S. and the European Union for concessions on issues it considers important in exchange for a particular response to Russia’s request for help.”

It’s a delicate balance for China, though. The Chinese government and businesses are acutely aware of how Russia’s actions have decimated its international business and trade and want to avoid the same fate. While China is Russia’s No. 1 trading partner, China relies more heavily on trade with the European Union and the U.S.

Beyond financial and economic implications, there are also serious reputational issues at stake both outside of and inside of China, Moreton said.

“The fact that the Chinese people aren’t being allowed to see what is happening in Ukraine seems to me to be a clear indication that the Chinese leadership sees a legitimacy problem at home if it supports Putin and it becomes widely known just how wrong his invasion and conduct of the war has been,” Moreton said.  “The Chinese people are not indifferent to the suffering of others, and they, like most Americans, expect their government to conduct itself in a moral manner.”

From a global perspective, Horn said, “The Chinese government appears to be playing this situation in a way that at the end, China is stronger than where they were a month ago relative to the United States, relative to Western Europe.

“And while a successful Russian invasion could have drawn into question the U.S. role as a global leader, the fact that the majority of countries have followed the U.S.’ lead with economic and trade sanctions, and that there hasn’t been a backlash toward the U.S. more broadly, makes that potential goal harder to achieve,” he added.

What is the best approach to working with China?

Moreton said it’s important for Americans to recognize that each country has many different types of interests, some of which are familiar and others that are quite different based on culture, stage of development, regional and global security, etc. 

“In that regard, I think it’s important for Americans to recognize that what we think is right or wrong may not appear so to China and vice-versa,” Moreton said. “This doesn’t mean we acquiesce to these interests. Rather, it simply means that countries trying to work with China have to try to understand their interests and offer a set of carrots and sticks that resonate productively with China’s interests and are consistent with the country’s values.”

But imposing economic sanctions on China is likely not on the table, in part because it would be too politically risky for the Biden administration Moreton said.

“The fractured nature of the American body politic makes harsh sanctions on China like what we have imposed on Russia very hard to pull off politically,” he said. “There are plenty of political and media opportunists who will jump on an opportunity to beat the Biden administration about the head for the inevitable disruptions that this move will have. To pull it off right now would require a level of political leadership beyond what I’m seeing in our political system.

“That’s not to say that more selective sanctions like we currently have aren’t possible, though.”

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Image: Shutterstock)




Leslie Gibson McCarthy, executive digital storyteller in University Marketing & Communications, originally wrote this blog post for The Source.

Every day we make thousands of decisions, from the small—what to eat? what to wear?—to the potentially life-changing decisions involving our health or financial future.

Hannah Perfecto, a consumer behavior psychologist at Olin Business School, studies the juncture of judgment and decision-making and says it doesn’t have to be so hard—even as most of the daily decisions we make can be dull and monotonous.

“Most of the time we’re not that enthused by the options we’re facing,” she says. “When you’re deciding what to eat, for example, you’re typically not deciding which fancy high-end restaurant to go to, but which TV dinner in the freezer to heat up or what you can throw together from leftovers.”

‘Which one do I not want?’

Perfecto says we can feel better about the process by reframing it in a negative manner, which may seem counterintuitive. “Which one do I not want? Which dinner do I want to leave in the freezer?

“We’re learning that when when people match how positive or negative the options are with how positively or negatively they think about that decision, they feel a lot better about the outcome,” Perfecto says. “Or they make the decision faster, find the decision easier to make and more confident they made the right one.”

It’s a small change, but Perfecto says that even with small changes dramatic shifts can be seen in how people feel about an outcome. And when people feel better, “they change, they influence, they act.” 

Perfecto does the bulk of her research in what she calls “small data land” as opposed to “big data” — an area in which many companies feel most comfortable, analyzing the electronic movements taken during a typical day. 

“Big data is purely passive,” she says. “You can observe patterns, and you can see what might be happening, but you don’t know why it’s happening.

The why, she says, can be discovered by doing experiments on decision-making and gathering those nuggets of information that make small data so compelling. “Changing one minor variable on a question, and then watching what changes might have come of that — and then following up on what motivated a study participant to give the answers they did,” she says. “We try to figure out a consumer’s thought process in order to help companies make a better advertisement or a government agency produce a better public service announcement.

“We want people to make better choices,” she says.

The why of decision-making

The why of decision-making has been a passion for Perfecto since she was in high school and knew she wanted to study human behavior. “It was the time when a lot of these pop psychology books, like ‘Freakonomics’ and ‘Nudge,’ were using data to answer questions about how people are behaving on a large scale,” she says. “That was fascinating to me.”

After completing undergraduate studies at Yale University, she went west to the University of California at Berkely, where she earned both a master’s and a PhD in business administration. She has been a faculty member and researcher at WashU since 2017, teaching market research and continuing research in consumer behavior, behavioral decision theory, metacognition and research replicability and reliability.

All “niche” fields, as Perfecto says, and a field of study in which, when she was a young undergraduate, was not populated by many women. But Perfecto recalls one professor who had an impact on the way she viewed both her subject matter and her teaching: Teresa Treat (who is now at the University of Iowa) who taught statistics for psychology.

“I was taken back by her enthusiasm, deep knowledge and expertise of the subject,” Perfecto says of Treat. “She was very confident in her knowledge, and was excited to share these nuggets of expertise with us. I never forgot that.”

It’s an enthusiasm she channels in her teaching such concepts as statistical models to undergraduates at Olin, especially young women. “The last few semesters I’ve had a few young women reach out to me and tell me I made them feel as if it’s OK to be kind of nerdy about a geeky topic like statistics,” she laughs. “Since I’m clearly a nerd, and I seem to be doing all right.”

Graphic: Monica Duwel/Washington University




Russia is facing a financial meltdown. In response to its invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. and global allies have hit Russia with financial sanctions, isolating the country from the global financial system. In particular, the penalties on Russia’s central bank have effectively frozen the vast majority of its foreign-held assets.

The unprecedented scale and unanimity of these penalties will be crippling to the Russian economy, according to Mark P. Taylor, dean of Olin Business School and the Donald Danforth Jr. Distinguished Professor of Finance.

But what does this all mean? And what affect might these sanctions have on the global economy today and in the future? Taylor, a leading global authority on international finance, answered these questions and more.

What does it mean to freeze a nation’s assets?

According to Taylor, freezing a nation’s assets is very similar to freezing an individual’s bank account. The money is still there and may even earn interest, but the account holder — in this case, the Russian government and wealthy oligarchs — cannot access it.  

Taylor

While it’s difficult to get a full handle on just how much Russian money is held outside its borders, Taylor said there is evidence that Russia has stockpiled over $600 billion in foreign currency reserves. The vast majority of that is frozen. Among the countries where Russia holds the bulk of its foreign reserves, only China has not imposed sanctions on Russia to date. 

“On top of that, there are other sanctions on individuals and corporations,” Taylor said. “For example, Russian individuals have approximately $11 billion in deposits in Switzerland, a major financial center, right now. And that’s bank deposits. That does not include securities and bonds. The true number could be five times that — like $50 billion — just in Switzerland. That money is frozen.”

‘It’s a new form of economic warfare. No one wants to go to conventional war with Russia, but this will definitely impact them severely.’

Dean Mark P. Taylor

Historically, the government, Russian businesses and wealthy oligarchs have chosen to hold their assets in foreign banks because the currencies are less vulnerable than the ruble, Taylor explained.

Making matters worse for Russia, the country also has been cut off from SWIFT — a platform for facilitating money transfers that is integrated into banking systems worldwide — making international payments difficult.

“Initially, people thought Russia would route payments through China,” Taylor said. “But that’s not happening, interestingly. There’s no evidence that Russians are circumventing sanctions by going through China, possibly because Chinese banks are worried about sanctions as well.”

How have these sanctions impacted Russian, global economies?

The effect of these penalties on the Russian economy has been severe and immediate. The ruble and stock market are down 30-40%, Taylor said. Russians are lining up at banks and ATMs to withdraw their money. And it will be increasingly difficult for Russia to import necessities with a large percent of its assets frozen and no way to make international payments.

Russia’s biggest trading partners, India and China, are still willing to trade with the country, Taylor said. But many companies throughout Europe had already stopped purchasing and selling to Russia since the sanctions imposed on the country when it invaded Crimea in 2014.

Globally, the biggest concern is the impact these sanctions will have on energy prices and how that might contribute to inflation.

“Russia is the biggest producer and supplier of oil and natural gas to Europe in particular,” Taylor said. “Prices were already high and have gone up even more since the start of the conflict. This will have an impact on global energy prices and so have a ripple effect beyond Europe and will also be felt in the U.S., for example.”

If the energy price hikes are sustained, it could exacerbate inflation. Faced with higher energy bills, households will have less money to spend elsewhere. And businesses will be forced to raise prices in response to the higher energy costs. But we’re not there yet, Taylor said.

“People are panicking at the moment. A lot of the energy price hikes depends on what happens in the conflict. If the price increases do not last for long, it will not have a significant impact on trade and inflation. The pain will be tolerable,” Taylor said.

A new form of economic warfare

Financial sanctions are not new, of course. In recent years, the EU and U.S. have imposed financial sanctions on Myanmar and Belarus, for example. What makes this situation different, though, is the near global unanimity in which they have been applied, Taylor said. The G7 — the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Italy, the U.K. and Japan — plus Switzerland and the EU more broadly have acted in unison to isolate and punish Russia.

While many were surprised that Switzerland broke its neutrality, Taylor sees the situation differently. “What does it mean to be neutral? If virtually the whole world is lining up to say this act of aggression is wrong, then agreeing with that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve broken neutrality,” he said.

According to Taylor, the unprecedented unanimity in these financial sanctions on Russia is one of the few positive things to come out of the conflict. And it could change the way global powers respond to threats in the future. China, for example, will be keeping a close eye on the situation.

“These types of sanctions would not have been effective during the Cold War because the Russia and the whole Soviet bloc was largely a sealed, communist economic area. Today, however, Russia is a capitalist economy that relies on global trade and international finance, making them more vulnerable to sanctions,” Taylor said.

“It’s a new form of economic warfare. No one wants to go to conventional war with Russia, but this will definitely impact them severely.”