Ideas at Work’s most-read features of 2018 revealed what makes pop music popular, offered health advice, and called for renewed strategic focus amid the seductive distractions of our hyper-connected age.
Read them all here.
Our most popular story of the year, “What Makes a Hit,” explored Assistant Professor Michael Mauskapf’s research into what makes pop music popular. Turns out, these breakout songs have a shared recipe for success — they “simultaneously conform to prevailing musical feature profiles while exhibiting some degree of individuality or novelty,” according to Mauskapf. The article’s interactive graphics allow readers to deconstruct the sonic attributes of all Billboard chart-toppers over the past 60 years. Check out our related stories about the predictable “averageness” of music and about social media’s ability to boost song plays.
The simple act of penning a note to your future self will increase your likelihood of exercising and push you to work out longer, according to Assistant Professor of Business Michael Slepian. His fascinating research shows that, by connecting today’s exercise decisions to future health results through a letter to oneself, people can be motivated to exercise. “Realizing that a new set of skills or credentials are needed to move up the ranks might feel daunting when the future-self feels too far removed,” Slepian writes with his study’s coauthors. “Yet, when seeing the continuity between one’s current and future-self, the benefit obtained by each effortful task may be better realized.”
In this timely story for our hyper-connected age, Professor of Practice Willie Pietersen calls for “a major adjustment to the way we focus our energy.” The average American spends nearly six hours a day on digital media, mostly on mobile. We’re lucky if we sleep as much as we type, text, and tweet. These seductive distractions of the here and now commandeer our attention, control our thinking, and scatter our efforts — requiring leaders more than ever unify their organizations around a strategic purpose, says Pietersen. For more of Pietersen’s insights, read his recent piece: New Year’s Resolution: Escape the Calendar.
When Sears Holdings declared bankruptcy in October, nobody could say that Mark Cohen ’71 hadn’t warned them. For years, the adjunct professor and director of retail studies has been predicting Sears’ demise because of failing to uphold what Cohen calls the five pillars of retail business: product, price, presentation, productivity, and people. “You can’t cost-cut your way to success,” says Cohen, who is now keeping a careful watch on the struggling retailers JC Penney and Macy’s for signs of further distress.
What you name your children could influence how they look — so name carefully. That revelation from Marketing Professor Jacob Goldenberg made international headlines when his study was first published in 2017. In this update to Goldenberg’s ongoing research into name-face matching, he talks about a forthcoming study into how identical twins will over time look less identical because of their names — implying that for twins to remain especially twin-like, they’d need to share the same names and not just the same genes.
Assistant professor and Y Combinator-backed entrepreneur Mattan Griffel lays out the case for MBAs to learn programming and coding. These are no longer the obscure tools of computer scientists, he says, but “an integral part of many professions, making it increasingly necessary for tomorrow’s business leaders to have a working understanding of programming languages such as Python.” Griffel teaches two of the Business School’s most popular new tech courses: Intro to Programming Using Python and Intro to Databases for Business Analytics.
Over the past three years, the division of Decision, Risk & Operations has launched nearly a dozen electives into coding and programming that have exploded in popularity and reverberated across the Business School, touching more than a quarter of the student population and propelling graduates to management positions at Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft, among other top tech firms. “Being technically literate is almost a core skill,” says Angela Lee, Chief Innovation Officer and Associate Dean of Teaching Excellence and Innovation. “We’re responding in a way that provides the technical skills that the business leader needs.”
Like the stock market, the game of soccer is almost impossible to predict, adjunct finance professor Michael Mauboussin explains in this article published before the 2018 World Cup kicked off. “You can only assess skill over a longer period of time,” says Mauboussin, who authored The Success Equation, a book that dissects the difference between luck and skill that goes into winning. “That’s a struggle in the investment industry. We tend to shorten our horizons, whereas for many strategies the sample sizes have to be large to make any kind of reasonable assessment.” Ideas at Work also spoke with Sunil Gulati, the Michael K. Dakolias Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Economics, who recently served as president of the US Soccer Federation for 12 years. In another article, Amit Khandelwal, the Jerome A. Chazen Professor of Global Business, explains why all the World Cup soccer balls are produced in a remote Pakistani city.
When US voters went to the ballot box in November for midterm elections, many were giving their assessment of President Donald Trump’s first two years in office. For an economist’s perspective, Ideas at Work sought input from Dean Glenn Hubbard, the Russell L. Carson Professor of Finance and Economics, and Charles Calomiris, the Henry Kaufman Professor of Financial Institutions. Their big picture answer: Trump’s record is complicated. Hubbard said he would advise Trump improve access to the economy for all and return to “the notion of fiscal sustainability.”
Essential reading for anyone going on vacation, this article offers advice from professors Malia Mason and William Duggan on making the most of time away from work. Duggan, for his part, believes the smartphone has become one of the biggest obstacle to productive mind-wandering — which is why he recommends leaving the smartphone home not just when you go on vacation, but also during regular activities such as when you go to the gym or eat a meal. A vacation can also free the mind from mental labors such as remembering that the laundry needs to be cleaned, that the dog needs a vet appointment, or that the fridge needs milk, says Mason. “Vacation might be a time when you’re not thinking of that stuff in the background or those responsibilities,” she says, “so your mind is free to focus on what’s important.”