EK: Do you often incorporate research into your teaching?
Valery Yakubovich: First, in keeping with the spirit of data-driven management, I like to think of the classroom as an organization and test the theories that we talk about. When we discuss social networks in organizations, for example, we can map students’ own networks in class and try to figure out what they mean. We can even conduct crowdsourcing experiments. I think ‘live’ and interactive experimentation should be a regular part a classroom activity: not only does it increase class participation; it also gives students hands-on, practical experience with the latest concepts and theories that could later serve them in the workplace.
Students need skills so the research that I introduce – in terms of studies that I’ve published – tends to be actionable, practice-oriented research. For example, I often refer to “The Darwinian Workplace” (Harvard Business Review) because it sheds light on a very real and practical problem for many firms: the competition between the employees of a firm has its up sides and down sides, so how do you strike the balance?
What are the benefits?
In trying to answer that question - “how do you strike a balance?” - students quickly realize that management, like research, is about experimentation. In my fields, sociology and organizational theory, you can tell managers what to try, but trying doesn’t guarantee success which is always context-specific. I show my students data patterns and relationships, and help them interpret these patterns and link them to existing theories. That said, theorizing doesn’t mean that the same patterns will work for your organization, and this is an important lesson for a future business leader.
I think students also appreciate the diversity in my professional background: I started my academic career in the former Soviet Union and worked there on the research projects of a few European scholars; I wrote my MA thesis in the UK (Warwick) and got my PhD in the US (Stanford). In the classroom, the anecdotes I present from this diverse background give life and color, as well as an underpinning of real evidence, to the subject at hand.
Ultimately, I try to teach is data-driven management. I teach students how they can look at the data they have around – and today we have more and more data in organizations – and see how they can use this intelligently to figure out something specific to their organization. I teach them to go through a process of experimentation and work through failure to achieve success.
Do research and teaching naturally go hand in hand?
I think that using research in teaching comes with experience. Experience really helps one to create synergies between the two activities of faculty. There can sometimes be a tension between teaching and research – especially amongst younger faculty. This is not simply because young professors face the “publish or perish” dilemma. Often, they are fascinated by ideas per se and do not even think that others might not share their fascination. Students, like practitioners, are looking for relevant and actionable information. Usually it’s only later in an academic career that professors develop a feel for and interest in practice-oriented research and learn how to present their ideas accordingly.
"The Darwinian Workplace", published in Harvard Business Review