Winning coaches’ locker room secret

In an analysis of hundreds of basketball half-time speeches, Berkeley Haas Professor Emeritus Barry Staw and colleagues found that anger goes farther than inspiration.

High school coach instructing basketball players in locker room

It’s a staple of every sports movie: The team is down at the half, and the coach gives an inspirational locker room speech—think Gene Hackman in Hoosiers, Billy Bob Thornton in Friday Night Lights—leading the team to come roaring back to victory. But do pep talks really work?

In a new paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Berkeley Haas Prof. Emeritus Barry Staw and two colleagues, Katherine DeCelles and Peter de Goey, test that question where it counts: the basketball court. Their analysis of hundreds of half-time speeches and final scores from high school and college games found that coaches do better when they shelve the happy talk and bring down the hammer.

In fact, the researchers found a significant relationship between how negative a coach was at half-time and how well the team played in the second half: The more negativity, the more the team outscored the opposition. “That was even true if the team was already ahead at halftime,” Staw says. “Rather than saying, ‘You’re doing great, keep it up,’ it’s better to say, ‘I don’t care if you’re up by 10 points, you can play better than this.’”

This is not the first time Staw has studied basketball. In previous research, he found that NBA coaches were more apt to use expensive draft picks in games—regardless of how well they played—just because they’d paid more for them. Sports, he says, can provide a clear and objective playing field on which to examine behaviors that might not be evident elsewhere.

“In business, there are so many external events and economic factors that it is hard to figure out what is causing organizational performance,” Staw says. “For example, one cannot easily study certain things like the effect of CEO emotions, unless you could convince CEOs to let researchers tape their boardroom talks and office interactions—and even then it would be difficult to figure out whether there are effects on organizational performance.”  In basketball, on the other hand, the outcomes are easier to interpret and more definite: the score of your team vs. the opposition.

Analyzing coaches’ emotional expression

The researchers gathered the information for their study by contacting more than 50 coaches for high-school and college basketball teams in Northern California, asking if they could record their half-time locker room talks. Sometimes getting agreement took some doing. “Coaches regard the locker room as their inner sanctum—so it was kind of an achievement just to get the tapes,” he says. One coach dropped out halfway through the study, out of superstition: “The coach complained that every time we taped the game, they lost,” Staw said.

In the end, Staw and his colleagues were left with speeches for 304 games played by 23 teams. They trained coders to rate each halftime talk on the extent that coaches expressed various emotions, ranging from positive (pleased, excited, relaxed, inspired) to negative (disgusted, angry, frustrated, afraid).

Negative speeches can be motivating—up to a point

The results showed two basic effects of coaches’ emotional expression at halftime. First, there was a strong and clear relationship between negative half-time speeches and higher scores in the second half. That is, expressing negative emotion at halftime helped teams perform better in the second half. However, at the most intense end of negative expression, the researchers found somewhat of a reversal of the effect.  “We’re talking Bobby Knight–level, when you’re throwing chairs,” Staw says, a reference to the notoriously volatile former Indiana University coach. That is, extremely negative expressions of emotion can impede performance.

The researchers also conducted a controlled laboratory experiment, in which they played selected pep talks for participants, and asked them how motivated or unmotivated they felt after hearing them. Again, Staw, DeCelles, and de Goey found that negative speeches could have a motivating effect, but that the effects of such negativity turned downward rather quickly. In other words, the results showed a more traditional bell curve, where motivation dropped off when the coaches became too angry or too negative.

Not a “license to be a jerk”

Staw notes that in the psychology of leadership, the trend has been to emphasize the idea of “positive affect” driving people to greater performance. A smaller strand of research, however, has surmised that at least in the short term, negative emotion might actually push people to greater effort.

Staw and his colleagues conclude that negative emotion can be underrated as a motivational tool. By expressing anger or dissatisfaction, a leader signals to followers that their performance is not at the level where it should be, potentially driving them to greater effort. “We sometimes strip content from emotion, treating it as simply positive or negative expression, but emotion often has a message carried along with it that causes people to listen and pay attention, as leaders try to correct or redirect behavior,” Staw says.

In a business context, Staw, DeCelles, and de Goey caution against applying the findings too liberally—prolonged negative feedback can lead to demoralized employees. However, in some short-term instances, getting a boost in performance is critical, and the situation may parallel the do-or-die moment at half-time in a basketball game, where expressing anger and disappointment can lead a team to renewed effort and improved results.

“Our results do not give leaders a license to be a jerk,” Staw says, “but when you have a very important project or a merger that needs to get done over the weekend, negative emotions can be a very useful arrow to have in your quiver to drive greater performance.”

So sue me: Why narcissistic CEOs can get their firms in legal trouble

Research by Berkeley Haas Prof. Jennifer Chatman shows that narcissistic CEOs are more likely to engage in protracted lawsuits—and are no more likely to win.

Berkeley Haas research found narcissistic CEOs more likely to engage in lawsuits.

In the classic myth of Narcissus, a handsome hunter falls in love with his reflection in pool. Unable to tear himself away, he wastes away and dies. In business, the real problem with excessive self-regard comes less from inaction than from reckless action—such as plunging into the dangerous waters of litigation.

“People who exhibit high levels of narcissism can make charming, extroverted leaders who are bold in taking risks and persisting against formidable odds,” says organizational culture and leadership expert Jennifer Chatman, Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management at the Haas School of Business. “The downside is they are overconfident and tend to focus on the potential benefits and minimize the costs of risky actions. One manifestation of this is that narcissistic CEOs are more likely to lead their organizations into court.”

The dark sides of narcissism

Prof. Jennifer Chatman
Prof. Jennifer Chatman

In a new paper published in The Leadership Quarterly, Chatman and her colleagues found that narcissistic CEOs are significantly more likely to engage their firms in lawsuits and less likely to settle cases. The paper, co-authored by Stanford’s Charles O’Reilly (Berkeley MBA 71 and PhD 75) and UC Berkeley researcher Bernadette Doerr, is part of a series of four studies that examine the effects that narcissistic leaders have on their organizations.

“It’s true that some level of narcissism can help a leader succeed,” Chatman says. “But there are some very real problems with excessive narcissism that can have drastically negative consequences for companies.”

Those dark sides—according to a growing body of research—include a greater tendency to cross ethical lines, such as engaging in financial fraud or tax avoidance, as well as toxic behaviors such as aggression, bullying, or sexual harassment. In an earlier study, Chatman and her colleagues found that narcissistic CEOs also command significantly higher salaries, winning over boards with their confidence of success, and that the gap between narcissistic CEOs’ compensation and those of their top management teams widened over time.

Employees rate their CEOs

Past research has characterized narcissism with such traits as a sense of personal superiority, overconfidence, a desire for power and admiration, a willingness to manipulate others for personal gain, and an inclination toward hostility when faced with criticism. To gauge the narcissism of CEOs, Chatman and her colleagues went straight to those most likely to feel its effects: their employees. Surveying a sample of 250 employees from 32 of the largest publicly traded US hardware and software firms, the researchers asked employees to rate how much on a scale of 1 to 7 their bosses were “arrogant,” “egotistical,” “temperamental,” “extroverted,”and other adjectives that describe narcissistic personalities.

In addition, the researchers cross-referenced these scores with other measures, such as the number of times CEOs used first-person pronouns in letters and the size of their signatures—both measures associated with narcissism—in order to develop a narcissism score for each executive.

Chatman and her colleagues then correlated these numbers with the number and length of lawsuits each firm noted in its annual report. They found that CEOs who were rated as more highly narcissistic led firms that were more likely to be named as defendants in a lawsuit. Lawsuits involving narcissistic CEOs also lasted longer, implying that those leaders were less willing to settle suits quickly—even though they were no more likely to win them.

Why do narcissistic CEOs engage in lawsuits?

In order to better understand why narcissistic CEOs were more likely to become involved in lawsuits, Chatman and her colleagues also ran two experiments. They used a personality test to gauge participants’ degree of narcissism and then they randomly assigned them to imagine one of two different scenarios: what would they do if they were a CEO launching a new product, and the company’s lawyers said there was either low chance or a high chance they would be sued?

The researchers found a striking difference between those who scored low on narcissistic traits and those who scored high. When the chances of being sued were 20 percent, the narcissists and non-narcissists were equally likely to proceed. Yet when told there was an 80 percent chance of being sued, the narcissists were almost three times as likely to go forward with the launch, with about 62 percent saying they’d proceed.

“Narcissists appear to be both less sensitive to high risk and less likely to listen to advice from expert advisors, especially when there’s a chance of a high payoff,” says Chatman. “Further, this greater propensity for risk reflects narcissists’ confidence in their own judgment and suggests that they may be more likely to engage in extremely risky behavior.”

In another experiment, the researchers found a similar pattern in participants’ likelihood of settling a lawsuit. When told the risk of losing was high, 79 percent of non-narcissistic individuals were willing to settle, while only 40 percent of the narcissists said they’d settle.

Harmful to the bottom line

Taken together, Chatman and her colleagues’ research joins a growing body of literature that shows that narcissism isn’t merely an annoying personality trait that carries with it some ancillary benefits; rather, it can be dangerous to a company’s long-term stability and bottom line.

“We already know that most people—and even the boards of directors who hire CEOs—confuse strong leadership attributes and some of the key attributes of narcissists, such as grandiosity and overconfidence, so CEOs are significantly more likely to be higher in narcissism,” Chatman says. “It’s important to pay attention to the difference, because narcissists appear to have a significant, and negative, impact on the organizations they lead.”

Chatman adds that boards should look for CEOs who have a track record of incorporating expert views into their own thinking, and those who can develop inspiring and strategically relevant visions that bring others along with them, and avoid hiring those with narcissistic personalities.


More research by Jennifer Chatman

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A fair shake: Study finds handshaking promotes better deal-making

Research by Berkeley Haas Asst. Prof. Juliana Schroeder finds the simple act of shaking hands can be a powerful expression of cooperative purpose.

Shaking hands promotes cooperation_research by Asst. Prof. Juliana Schroeder

Like any ritual, a handshake may seem like a bizarre gesture when you really stop to consider it. “Why do we touch hands and move them up and down?” says Juliana Schroeder, an assistant professor in the Berkeley Haas Management of Organizations Group. “If you were an alien coming to earth and looking at what people do, you would think, ‘What is the purpose of this thing?’”

Asst. Prof. Juliana Schroeder_headshotIn new research set to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Schroeder has found a profound effect to the simple ritual: Shaking hands can improve the outcome of negotiations for both sides. “When you shake hands with someone, you make an immediate inference that ‘They are going to cooperate with me; they are not going to do me harm,’” she says. “And so you decide to cooperate with them.”

Why do we shake hands?

As far as Schroeder has been able to determine, handshaking has two origin stories. Some believe that it was a way for people in ancient times to show that they weren’t carrying weapons—even going so far as to pump hands up and down to dislodge any hidden knives up their sleeves. Another theory is that it was to seal a promise or an oath. “Both of these things are related to the idea of trustworthiness and cooperation,” Schroeder says. “The gesture cements an understanding we have between us.”

Schroeder has long examined the effect that rituals play in our psychology, looking for example, on how daily rituals around eating can cut calories, or how rituals performed before public speaking can decrease anxiety. In her study, co-written with Jane Risen of the University of Chicago’s Booth Business School and Franscesca Gino and Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, the researchers tested how handshakes changed negotiations in a series of experiments involving classic negotiation games. In one game, for example, two participants negotiated over a car, considering six aspects including price, color, and model. Each participant had different goals in the negotiation, some of which were aligned and some of which weren’t, and they scored points based on how many of their goals they met. Participants were not prompted to shake hands, but researchers noticed that when partners decided of their accord to start their negotiations with a handshake, both ended up scoring more points overall.

Talking more, lying less

That doesn’t necessarily mean that shaking hands produced that outcome. “Maybe handshaking people are just nicer, more conscientious people who tend to be more cooperative,” Schroeder says. In order to test cause and effect, she and her colleagues set up a new negotiation over a job offer, this time encouraging some partners to shake hands before negotiating while sitting others down right away before they had the chance to shake. Once again, those who shook hands reached greater agreement and scored more points. Moreover, the researchers videotaped the exchange, and observers scored how cooperative the two negotiators were. Not only did they score more points, but the pairs that shook hands also lied less, tended to talk more after the negotiation was over, and even leaned closer to each other while talking.

In another experiment, handshaking even seemed to make a difference in zero-sum negotiations in which one side had to lose in order for the other side to win. In that experiment, involving a real estate transaction, the “seller” had the opportunity to withhold crucial information from the buyer that would drive up the price. When the participants shook hands beforehand, however, the seller was more likely to be honest and divulge that information, even if it meant they achieved a lower price overall. “People say they felt less comfortable lying to their partner when they shook hands,” says Schroeder.

Psychological effect

In explaining why handshaking has such an effect on negotiations, Schroeder believes that it goes beyond the physical act of touching and moving together: the ritualistic gesture has a psychological effect, she says. “It changes the way you perceive not just the other person, but the way you frame the whole game,” she says. “You say to yourself, ‘Now we are in a cooperative setting rather than an antagonistic one.’”

Signaling goodwill

In fact, another experiment demonstrated that the power of handshaking is less tied to the specific physical gesture than the meaning we’ve attributed to it.  The researchers instructed some participants to not shake hands, and instead to tell their partner that they were sick and didn’t want to infect them. Others were instructed to shake and later tell their partner about their germy hands. In that case, the results were completely reversed, with those who didn’t shake hands achieving a more cooperative settlement. “The same physical behavior takes on a totally different meaning,” Schroeder says. “It’s not so much the physical act, it’s more about thinking this person is behaving in a cooperative way.”

For those entering negotiations in a business context, a handshake can be a surprisingly easy way to demonstrate that spirit of cooperation, perhaps leading to a better, fairer deal for both sides. That makes it all the more surprising that in the researchers’ first experiment—in which participants decided on their own, without prompting, whether to shake hands or not—only 30 percent of them did so. “It’s a seemingly small gesture that influences negotiations,” Schroeder says. “Engaging in the everyday ritual of handshaking can improve cooperative outcomes.”

More by Juliana Schroeder:


Summer by the book: Cal football star Patrick Laird challenges kids to read

Patrick Laird, with fan Patrick Sproul, the first grader who sparked the idea for Laird's summer reading program.
Patrick Laird, BS 18, with fan Patrick Sproul, the first grader who sparked the idea for Laird’s summer reading program. Photo: Cal Athletics

Cal Bears running back Patrick Laird, BS 18, was getting ready to play a game last year, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“This guy says he wants to introduce me to his son,” Laird remembers. Looking down, he saw the boy, first-grader Patrick Sproul—the great-great-grandson of former University of California president Robert Gordon Sproul—was wearing a jersey with Laird’s number, 28. “That’s when I suddenly realized I had a new platform. And I wanted to do something positive with it.”

With his newfound young fan base, Laird wanted to do more than just promote the game. He decided to create the Patrick Laird Summer Reading Challenge to encourage elementary kids in first through sixth grade to read.

Fighting “summer reading loss”

For two years on the football field, Laird had struggled to be noticed. Then, in the second game last season against Weber State, he was called in when the starting running back suffered a knee injury. Laird scored three touchdowns and rushed for 191 yards—the beginning of a breakout season for the Haas undergraduate student, who became only the 16th player in Cal history to rush more than 1,000 yards in a season.

Patrick Laird in action. Photo: Cal Athletics.
Patrick Laird in action. Photo: Cal Athletics.

Laird, who graduated from Haas in May but is finishing a dual political science degree this year at Berkeley, was inspired to launch his program after reading about the phenomenon of “summer reading loss,” in which kids lose their academic skills during vacation months. “They are with their teachers all year and getting better at reading and math, and then they are not reading for two and a half months,” he says. “They show up in the fall, and sometimes teachers have to spend six weeks re-teaching material that they learned last year.” The issue particularly affects low-income children, whose parents may have fewer resources to sign kids up for educational programs over the summer.

It was natural for Laird to focus his energies on reading. Growing up as the fourth of six children in Arroyo Grande, California, his parents read to him every night before bed. “I couldn’t wait until I could read chapter books like my older siblings,” he says. Racing through the “Magic Tree House” and “Hardy Boys” series, Laird was reading social science books such as “Freakonomics” by 7th grade. Those books inspired an entrepreneurial streak, propelling him to create his own businesses in video editing and car detailing in high school, and culminating in his decision to study business at Haas.

Launching a program

In fact, Laird became so known for always having his nose in a book that his teammates who lived with him in a football house two years ago joked that if he ever scored, he’d read a book for his touchdown celebration. Laid made good on that promise this season, when after scoring his first touchdown, he mocked putting his hands together and opening them in front of his face as if reading in the end zone. “I’m not ashamed to say I like to read and I love education,” he says.

Patrick Laird signing autographs. Photo: Cal Athletics
Patrick Laird signing autographs with potential recruits for his reading program. Photo: Cal Athletics

When Laird conceived of the reading challenge, he consulted Haas leadership Lecturer Dan Mulhern about how to create a website. A planned 15-minute meeting lasted over an hour, as Mulhern encouraged Laird to think bigger.

“I was afraid of what people would think putting my name on this reading challenge,” Laird says. “He said, ‘Who cares about what people think, just do what you are passionate about.’ ” Ultimately, Laird created a downloadable journal where kids commit to read a certain number of books, according to their age. If they succeed, they can turn the journal in to receive four free tickets to Cal’s home opener against North Carolina on September 1.

Sending a message to students

Haas finance Lecturer Stephen Etter helped Laird work out the logistics of the launch. To promote the program, Laird toured 20 nearby elementary schools. “The kids could have spent hours asking him questions,” says Kelsey Matthiesen, a teacher at Berkeley’s School of the Madeleine. “The kids were curious about Patrick’s favorite book, animal, and color.” Laird’s example sent a positive message to the students, says Matthiesen, who estimates that well over half of them will sign up for the challenge. “They were able to relate to Patrick and look up to him because he is successful in both the classroom and on the football field.”

One student he’s already inspired is Laleaga, a rising 5th grader at Pleasant Hill’s Valhalla Elementary School who recently started reading Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” “I’m very happy that Patrick came up with this idea,” she enthused. “It’s fun and a good activity to do over the summer.”

Laird stresses that even if kids didn’t download the journal at the beginning of summer, they can still catch up and get credit for the books they’ve already read. “A lot of kids say, I like to read anyways, and I think that’s awesome,” he says. “As long as they are reading more than they would have otherwise, the challenge will be a success.”

Replication revolution: Haas researchers lead social psychology shake-up

In a famous psychological study performed 20 years ago, researchers gave two groups of participants a trivia test. Beforehand, they asked members of the first group to imagine what their daily lives would be like if they were a “professor”; they asked a second group to imagine their lives as a “soccer hooligan.” Amazingly, the first group scored 13 percent higher on the test.

“That’s a huge effect,” says Haas doctoral candidate Michael O’Donnell, who says the study also had a huge effect on the field of psychology. Cited more than 800 times to date, the study helped establish the concept of behavioral priming, the theory that people’s behavior can be influenced by subtle suggestions. “For psychologists, it’s seductive to think that we can address these weighty issues through simple manipulations,” says O’Donnell, PhD 2019.

Berkeley Haas researchers have shown there's no "professor effect"
Turns out, you can’t make yourself smarter by imagining you’re a professor. 

Seductive maybe, but in this particular case, it turns out not to be true. Working with Haas Prof. Leif Nelson, O’Donnell recently ran an exhaustive experiment to try and replicate the “professor priming” study. Their effort—one of the first to answer a call from the Association for Psychological Science for systematic replication studies—involved 23 labs and more than 4,400 participants around the world.

Depending on the lab, the “professor” group scored anywhere from 4.99 percent higher to 4.24 lower on the test. On average, they scored just 0.14 percent better—essentially, a statistically insignificant result. “It was 1/100th the size of the original effect,” O’Donnell says. “That’s pretty strong evidence there was no effect.”

Crisis of conscience

Over the past eight years, the field of social psychology has been undergoing something of a crisis of conscience, sparked by the work of Nelson and other skeptics who began calling into question research results that seemed too good to be true. It’s grown into a full-blown movement—which Nelson and co-authors Joseph Simmons and Uri Simonsohn of Wharton refer to as “Psychology’s Renaissance” in a new paper in Annual Review of Psychology. Researchers are systematically re-visiting bedrock findings, examining new research under new standards, and establishing new methodologies for how research is conducted and validated.

Nelson says he started to suspect something was amiss in social psychology about a decade ago, during weekly meetings he organized with colleagues to discuss scientific journals. “I had noticed that more and more of the comments seemed to boil down to something like, ‘this just does not sound possible…’ A challenge of plausibility is a challenge of truth, and I started to feel as though there wasn’t enough truth in what we were reading.”


Berkeley Haas Prof. Leif Nelson
Leif Nelson

In 2011, Nelson joined with Simmons and Simonsohn to publish “False-Positive Psychology,” which identified and pinned the blame on certain practices they dubbed “P-hacking.” The term refers to the P-value, a calculation which researchers use to determine a study’s validity. A P-value of less than 5 percent is the gold standard—meaning the probability that the results were due to pure chance rather than experimental conditions is less than 5 percent. In analyzing papers, Nelson noticed that many of them had P-values just a hair under that limit, implying that researchers were slicing and dicing their data and squeaking in under the wire with publishers. For example, a wildly outlying data point might be seen as a glitch and tossed—a practice accepted as “researchers degree of freedom”.

“Basically, P-hacking references a set of often well-intentioned behaviors that lead to the selective reporting of results,” Nelson says. “If scientists report selectively, then they will tend to select only those results that will look most positive.”

These were practices that everybody knew about but rarely confessed. Haas Prof. Don Moore compares the 2011 paper to the child in the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”  “Nelson’s paper changed the world of social science research,” he says. “After he had the courage to speak the truth, people couldn’t ignore it any more. Everyone knew that everyone else knew, and the emperor had been exposed as naked.”

The replication challenge

Taking up the challenge, other researchers attempted to reproduce the findings of a number of suspect studies, and in many cases, were unable to do so. Most famously, Simmons and Simonsohn called into question a small 2010 study co-authored by Dana Carney and Andy Yap, then of Columbia University, and Amy Cuddy, then of Harvard, which found that holding “power poses” could increase risk taking, increase testosterone levels, and lower cortisol levels. The study had involved a sample size of just 42 people, but power posing had become a pop-culture phenomenon after Cuddy created a TED talk that garnered 64 million views.

Lead author Carney—now an associate professor at Haas—joined the skeptics, serving as a reviewer on failed replication attempts, and as evidence mounted, publicly disavowing the findings. In 2016, she posted a statement detailing the problems in the original work, including several points where P-hacking had occurred.

Not surprisingly, the battle over validity in this and other cases got heated. The effort by the Association for Psychological Science aims to cool down the vitriol through comprehensive Registered Replication Reports (RRRs). For each RRR, the original author participates in approving the protocol for the study, which is registered beforehand, and then performed by dozens of labs, all of whom have their results peer-reviewed.

“An operational definition of scientific truth is that if you follow an identical procedure you expect to observe the same result,” says Nelson. “Running replications helps the field keep track of that goal.”

More transparency

The replication movement now extends far beyond psychology across a wide range of disciplines—for example, in a recent Nature article, “How to Make Replication the Norm,” Haas Prof. Paul Gertler made recommendations on how to lower barriers for replication studies in economics research.

For the “professor priming” study, O’Donnell worked with the original author, Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis, who accepted the results. “Science is supposed to be constantly updating our views and testing things, but in practice it doesn’t always work like that,” says O’Donnell. “I hope something like this will contribute to the process of updating, and encourage the kind of skepticism we are supposed to have.”

Nelson and his co-authors strike a hopeful note in “Psychology’s Renaissance,” concluding that the new scientific practices have dramatically improved their field. They argue for even more transparency, including that researchers pre-register their hypotheses and subject their methods to peer-review before they run their experiments—something that Moore has also been outspoken about. That way, once the data come in, psychologists can be confident about their validity.

The in-crowd: New book makes case for “Radical Inclusion”

Berkeley Haas Lecturer Ori BrafmanAs an undergrad at Berkeley, Ori Brafman had been many things—a peace and conflict studies major, anti-war protestor, and vegan activist whose McVegan campaign had taken on McDonald’s and won. The last place he thought he’d find himself a decade later was in the office of a 4-star army general. “At the time, I had no idea what a 4-star general was,” admits Brafman, BA 97, a Berkeley Haas lecturer who teaches improvisational leadership in the MBA and undergraduate programs. “My first question was, ‘Is there a 5-star general?’”

Yet, that meeting in 2009 with Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsy would lead to an unlikely collaboration examining just how much the definition of leadership has changed in the era between the Twin Towers attack and the rise of “fake news.” Their ongoing conversation has culminated in the publication of a new book, Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership.

The economic case for inclusion

The book makes the case that in military bunkers and corporate boardrooms alike, leadership today means bringing everyone into the fold.

“Typically we look at inclusion as something that’s nice to have from a psychological perspective,” Brafman says. But he and Dempsey argue that including everyone in a way that gives them stake in decision-making makes economic sense as well. Members of an organization who don’t feel a sense of buy-in will be a drag on productivity, or jump ship altogether, costing time and energy in finding their replacements. “From an economic perspective, you are actually paying a cost for control. You need to ask yourself if you could achieve the results through inclusion in a more economically efficient way,” Brafman says.

At the same time, inclusion is vital to communication, for leaders to both receive and transmit essential truths. “You need inclusion to get better information from the edges of the network and also to be able to analyze that data. And you need enough different people around you, so you are not surprised by a piece of data when it comes in,” Brafman says.

Radical inclusion lessons from Burning Man

Dempsey contacted Brafman after the publication of his first book, the Starfish and the Spider, which argues for the effectiveness of distributed networks over top-down hierarchy. A New York Times bestseller, the book resonated with everyone from Greenpeace to the Tea Party. It also struck a chord in the military, which had been struggling to diffuse authority in order to counter the threat posed by distributed terrorist networks in the wake of 9/11.

In their first meeting, Brafman showed the general slides from Burning Man, the famously hedonistic annual gathering of artists and iconoclasts in the Nevada desert. The power of the event, Brafman insisted, came from the fact that everyone is welcomed—and everyone is encouraged to participate—creating an intimate sense of shared purpose among diverse individuals which enables them to create a successful gathering in the harshest of conditions.

As Brafman began talking to Dempsey, however, he realized that he had just as much to learn from the Army’s strengths in this same area. “A big part of their sauce is that they engender a sense of belonging,” he says. That sense of belonging is the first key to inclusion, the authors write. “The most important responsibility of leaders—no matter how busy they are and how many other priorities demand their attention—is to make their people feel like they belong.” The way to do that, they continue, is to devote time into building shared memories—whether it’s a kind word in the hallway or on the battlefield, or an unexpected phone call or visit—that makes people feel like they are valued participants whose work matters to the organization.

Amplifying voices

Beyond making employees feel included, Brafman and Dempsey say, leaders must also communicate both inside and outside the organization in an inclusive way. In a world of distributed information, organizations can no longer count on persuading audiences with facts alone. As organizations compete with viral videos and “fake news,” they must also create the best story. “As a leader you are responsible for creating a narrative of the organization both internally and externally,” says Brafman. “Then your job becomes how do I create a sense of ownership and involvement with that narrative.”

Brafman and Dempsey further distill their own message into six leadership lessons, such as “Co-Create Context” and “Relinquish Control,” which help to apply the principles of inclusion to create a successful organization. “If you are saying I need to control my people, then you might have control, but you are not going to win in this market,” Brafman says. “Right now, listening and amplifying voices and winning the competition of narratives is much more important.”

Prof. Aaker’s new book shows the power of story

In Creating Signature Stories, emeritus marketing professor David Aaker explains why storytelling is essential for brand marketing.

Back in 1984, Zhang Ruimin was promoted to lead a struggling Chinese refrigerator company that would later become Haier. When a customer brought in a defective fridge, he went through an inventory of 400 units to find a replacement; unfortunately, he found that 20 percent of them were also faulty. Zhang promptly ordered all of the defective units to be brought to the factory floor and gave the employees sledgehammers, inviting them to destroy them.

Prof. Emeritus David Aaker's new book explores the power of Signature Stories.
Prof. Emeritus David Aaker

“That dramatic story led to a change in the firm’s quality culture that is a foundation of Haier today,” says David Aaker, emeritus professor of marketing strategy. “Asserting that the firm was going to have a quality-first culture would not be noticed or believed. But the story penetrates.”

Aaker uses that example in his new book, Creating Signature Stories: Strategic Messaging that Energizes, Persuades and Inspires, to show how effective stories can be in creating an organizational culture or managing a brand’s image. “It is so difficult today to cut through the clutter and engage a disinterested and skeptical audience,” Aaker says. “Stories are enormously powerful, and can be much more impactful than facts.”

“Father of modern branding”

Author of 100 articles and 15 books who has been called the “father of modern branding,” Aaker is currently vice chairman of the brand consultancy Prophet. He was inspired to write the book by conversations with his daughter, Jennifer Aaker, a behavioral psychologist at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Stories work, studies have found, because they engage the emotions, allow listeners to deduce the logic for themselves, and are much more difficult to argue against than facts. “There are hundreds of studies that demonstrate the power stories have,” says Aaker.

For businesses, stories can be helpful in engaging both employees and customers. “There is a whole cadre of young employees who will not work for companies they are not proud of,” says Aaker. “If you want to compete for the best people, you need to have a higher purpose, and the way to communicate that is with a story.” At the same time, a small but meaningful subset of customers are looking for authentic engagement with a brand. “Even if this percentage of the market is small, it can still be the difference between making money and losing money.”

Creating a signature story

Creating Signature Stories by David Aaker book coverFor companies looking to find or create a “signature story,” Aaker first recommends they hone the strategic message they are trying to communicate. Then, he suggests that they focus on a protagonist who can exemplify that messages—whether it’s a customer, an employee, a leader, or a product. L.L. Bean company founder Leon L. Bean, for example, had a stitching problem with the first 100 boots he sold that made them less than watertight. He refunded every customer’s money, though it nearly put him out of business. Nordstrom often repeats the story of an employee in Alaska, who—when a customer brought in a pair of tires to return—gave him a full refund even though the store didn’t sell tires.

If a company doesn’t have a ready-made story of their own, they can borrow a story from elsewhere. In the 1990s, incoming Columbia CEO Peter Guber faced a dysfunctional workplace of competing departments. He united them with the story of Lawrence of Arabia, who famously united warring Arab tribes to capture the strategic city of Aqaba. He presented executives with pictures of actor Peter O’Toole playing Lawrence in the eponymous Columbia film, and made “Aqaba” a rallying cry in the company.

Authenticity is key

While there is “no checklist of elements a signature story has to have,” Aaker says it helps if it is intriguing, authentic, and engaging. Generating and testing such stories can take serious investment by companies, some of which have hired editors, videographers, and social media experts, and even chief story officers to make up a storytelling team. After creating a signature story, it can become an art in itself to disseminate it and keep it alive over time. To this day, Haier has a sledgehammer on display at its corporate offices in China.

One of the most effective signature stories that Aaker describes in his book is Lifebuoy soap, which has worked to educate children in developing countries on the importance of handwashing to prevent disease. The company has created a series of videos of parents and children in India as part of its “Help a Child Reach 5” campaign—in one of them, for example, a mother is dancing joyously by a tree. It turns out that the custom in the village is to mark a child’s birthday on the tree, and she was celebrating the fact that her child turned five, in a place where many don’t reach that milestone. “Compare that with any effort to explain why Lifebuoy bar soap was better than others, or even to factually describe the hand-washing program,” Aaker says.

Making the story effective required a real commitment on the part of Lifebuoy, which has set a goal of changing handwashing for 1 billion people by 2020. But that commitment has paid off: to date, the videos have had more than 44 million views. By learning how to tell those kind of authentic and emotionally engaging signature stories, companies can assure that their employees and companies associate them with a higher purpose, creating loyalty to the brand for years to come.

David Aaker will talk more about Signature Stories at his Dean’s Speaker Series at 12:30 pm Tuesday, Feb. 13, in Chou Hall’s Spieker Forum. The paperback goes on sale March 8 (Kindle version now available). 

A handout or a helping hand? How we judge others guides how we help others

Asst. Prof. Juliana Schroeder_headshotCharities often emphasize the desperation and dependence of those they assist—as in heart-tugging videos of starving children in Africa. Yet a focus on helplessness may change how we choose to help those in need, and not necessarily for the better, according to research by Berkeley Haas Asst. Prof. Juliana Schroeder.

“Charities want to motivate people to give more, but they may also make people think poor people don’t have the ability to take care of themselves,” says Schroeder, a social psychologist who studies judgment and decision-making as well as interpersonal and intergroup processes. “If you perceive of someone as having less mental capacity to think or feel, then you are subtly degrading and dehumanizing them.”

In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Schroeder and co-authors Adam Waytz of Northwestern University and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago found that people act more paternalistically towards those they believe have lower mental capacity. What’s more, they found, people often believe they have more mental capacity than do others.

Their findings reveal fundamental truths about how people think about giving and receiving aid. These insights have implications not just for international charity, but also for policies on a wide range of issues, from soda taxes to gun control.

Paternalistic aid_Juliana Schroeder researchPaternalistic aid

Schroeder and her colleagues conducted a series of nine experiments, making a distinction between paternalistic aid, in which givers make a decision about what recipients need, and agentic aid, in which recipients can decide for themselves what they need.

In the first experiment, they asked people to rate their perceptions of poor people in Kenya and Uganda, using an eight-point scale that measured perceived self-control, memory, planning, thoughtfulness, and cognition. They then asked subjects to decide whether they’d rather contribute to a charity called GiveDirectly, a relatively agentic charity which transfers money to poor people with no strings attached, or to a more traditional, paternalistic charity such as the Red Cross, which provides food, medicine, and other services.

They found that those who rated the mental capacity of the African aid recipients more highly were also more likely to choose GiveDirectly, and less likely to believe the recipients would waste the money. “When you think of a person having less self-control and willpower, you think they will make bad decisions and will be more likely to waste the aid,” says Schroeder. “They don’t know what is good for themselves.”

(Schroeder’s study didn’t examine which charity was actually more effective, focusing rather on which charity people thought would be better. However,  a controlled experiment  by Princeton professors Johannes Haushofer and Jeremy Shapiro found no evidence that recipients of GiveDirectly’s unconditional cash transfers waste the money; rather, the cash transfers measurably increase food security and economic and psychological well-being. A group of researchers, including Berkeley’s Michael Walker and Ted Miguel, are currently conducting a larger study on the program.)

Helplessness vs entrepreneurial spirit

Moreover, the researchers found that people’s ideas about aid recipients’ mental capacity could be easily manipulated. In another experiment, they gave more than 500 visitors to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry a token representing a dollar, and then asked them to drop it in one of two slots—one for GiveDirectly and the other for OxFam, a more paternalistic global charity that seeks to alleviate poverty.

Beforehand, they gave participants one of two descriptions about charity recipients: one highlighted their drive and entrepreneurial spirit; the other, their neediness and resignation. While overall, 58 percent of participants gave to OxFam versus 42 percent to GiveDirectly, those who were told of the recipients’ pluck were 23 percent more likely to choose GiveDirectly. “Even when the recipient group is exactly the same, the information you give someone about them meaningfully influences their giving behavior,” Schroeder says.

Different rules for ourselves

Schroeder and colleagues also found that when it comes to themselves, however, people tend to prefer a more hands-off approach. In another set of experiments, they presented participants with a series of policies on issues including healthy eating, credit card debt, retirement savings, and gun control. They then asked them whether a paternalistic or agentic policy would be more effective for the average citizen, as well as which policy would be more effective for themselves.

Participants were much more likely to choose the paternalistic policy for others. For example, 35 percent recommended a ban on unhealthy foods over a policy of listing calories in restaurants for others, whereas only 28 percent recommended it for themselves. Likewise, 55 percent recommended mandatory retirement accounts rather than optional accounts for others, versus 39 percent for themselves. A similar 55 percent recommended bans on certain firearms over a gun safety course for others, but only 39 percent for themselves.

Using statistical analysis, the researchers found that the results were largely determined by how people rated others’ mental capacities versus their own. “People are pretty convinced they have a lot of willpower, while others don’t have the same level of self-control,” Schroeder says.

Thinking twice about assumptions

In yet another experiment, however, researchers found this assumption too is changeable. The day before Thanksgiving, the researchers asked participants whether they had high willpower; they then asked a different group of people the same question the day after Thanksgiving—presumably after they’d had one or two extra helpings of turkey and apple pie. The second group not only rated themselves as having lower willpower, but they were also more open to paternalistic policies on healthy eating, both for themselves and others.

Schroeder points to the fact that such perceptions are malleable as a good reason to question how our perceptions of ourselves and others may affect the way we behave. Charities that emphasize the helplessness of aid recipients may unintentionally send a signal they have low mental capacity. “When you dehumanize an individual or a group it can affect how you help them,” Schroeder says.

Meanwhile, those donating to charities or setting policies for fellow citizens may want to think twice about the assumptions they are bringing to their own altruistic impulses, and what is most likely to empower those they seek to help. “People can be more cognizant about the ways they are thinking about their own mental capacity and that of others,” says Schroeder, “and pause to get more information before they start helping.”

More research by Asst. Prof. Juliana Schroeder:

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