The spirit of Kellogg: teaching and research
Professor Daniel Diermeier
the IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice, discussed
the strength of Kellogg's teaching and research, as well as
aspects of his own diverse academic investigations.
World: In your estimation, what are some of the elements that
distinguish Kellogg from its peers as a teaching and research
Professor Daniel Diermeier: At Kellogg, the departments are
very important. In 1997 I came to Kellogg from Stanford where
they don't have departments, and where the school is considerably
smaller than Kellogg. One thing I have seen here that's very
important is that many of our faculty have a strong disciplinary
basis. For example, the people who work in MORS [Management
& Organizations] are very well regarded in social psychology.
The people who work in MEDS [Managerial Economics & Decision
Sciences] are very well regarded in economics. Some of these
people could, if they wanted, work at the best arts and sciences
schools as well. There's a very solid basis in the social
sciences, and the disciplines that make up the social sciences:
psychology, sociology, economics and political science. That
makes Kellogg different from most business schools. That's
the secret: have faculty who are absolutely first-rate in
their disciplines, then put them in an environment where they
can participate in interdisciplinary work. Then exciting things
So would you say that Kellogg, organizationally, constructs
less rigid barriers to keep people exclusively in their own
disciplines, but rather encourages faculty to interact with
other talented peers who may be working in another area?
Yes. In a certain sense, there's a self-selective aspect to
what goes on here. Kellogg's academic environment attracts
people who are interested in testing the boundaries and breaking
new ground. On the other hand, you have to be careful about
how the departments are set up. You need a balance of having
enough people to talk to in your area of interest but still
enough people from other areas who can talk to each other
such that interesting collaborations are possible. You want
to establish links across different disciplinary groups. MEDS
in particular has been very successful in this regard.
Are there special constraints or challenges that business
school faculty may face with regards to their research that
their peers in other disciplines might not encounter?
That's the paradox of teaching in business school: If the
school resists the temptation to have everything immediately
appear on the front page of Business Week, and if the school
really allows for basic research, then you get a school that
thinks outside the box to explore these different approaches
much more than a traditional academic department would. Why?
MBA teaching (because it needs to be close to practical applications
to be successful) allows us to hire much more broadly. In
contrast to a typical academic department, we do not need
to hire for a specific "slot" that is defined by
the existing discipline. For example, a decision analysis
class can be taught by a mathematics PhD, an economist, a
statistician, an engineer, or a mathematically trained political
scientist or psychologist. That allows us to hire smart people
from many different disciplines and let them interact.
A school has to resist the temptation to find the "next
big thing" right away and get it out to the public for
promotional purposes. Most of that stuff is shallow. If you
resist that temptation, or balance it at least, and have enough
freedom for faculty to develop deep concepts or new approaches
in a kind of protected environment, then the potential for
business school research is tremendous.
What are some of the institutional factors that help create
this kind of culture here?
The first institutional factor is that Kellogg holds faculty
to a very high teaching standard, and the research standards
in terms of promotion are also very high. But the school will
not tell you what you can and cannot do in terms of your research.
There's no interference on the topics that people pursue.
The only stipulation is that the work must be first-rate.
So people are encouraged to take risks.
Is such an arrangement the norm among Kellogg's peer institutions?
This is not very common among business schools. This environment,
I think, has come as a result of leadership from the Office
of the Dean at Kellogg.
The second institutional component to consider here is the
school's culture. Kellogg has historically recognized very
good talent early, and then promoted and rewarded that talent.
At Kellogg, you don't see a lot of what goes on in other academic
settings, where there are a lot of bureaucratic hurdles and
where it might take a faculty member 20 years to become a
full professor. That pace just doesn't happen here. If you're
recognized as a leader in your field at an early age, you
will be very nicely rewarded.
Kellogg has created an atmosphere where both very practical
and very abstract research finds a home, and where this research
can connect in surprising ways. Your work can be something
very abstract, something dealing with interactive epistemology
or stochastic processes, for example. But if it's considered
important work, the school will let you do it. In these cases,
I don't think it's a matter of the school necessarily having
a great interest in epistemology or probability theory in
themselves; but the school is interested in having really
creative people around.
What you describe sounds like an evolutionary process where
you want to have variety and innovation that encourages exactly
these kinds of synergies. Can you talk a bit more about the
departmental structure at Kellogg?
The obvious advantage of departments is that I know people
in my department very well. I know what they are working on.
Having departments also ensures a very thorough search process
for hiring faculty and for the promotion and tenure process.
How does the departmental structure help ensure academic
rigor in the tenure process?
If I'm promoting somebody in my department, that person will
be my colleague for a long time. So I want to make sure that
they are first-rate. The smaller department structure encourages
us to take our responsibilities regarding promotion and tenure
very seriously. It's like getting married in a certain sense
-- but without divorce.
The arrangement and composition of the department may ultimately
affect your own career and promotion.
Absolutely. One aspect of the departmental system that we
should remain attentive towards involves communication among
the various areas of the school. At times, there's just not
enough information about what's going on in other places around
the school. I'm calling up a colleague in New York when I
need information that turns out to be really right across
the hall from me. That's not good. It's not insurmountable
but it should be acknowledged because then we can start to
think about institutional factors that can be used to help
bridge these gaps.
Do you find that your teaching and research complement
one another, or do you encounter challenges between these
aspects of your professional life?
There is frequently a gap between the actual research and
the teaching. There's no question about it, and it takes effort
to bridge that gap. What is one of the advantages to being
in a business school in terms of research is that it's clear
we're dealing with exceptional students at the graduate level,
in both the MBA and PhD programs. They're more mature, they're
much more experienced and they are much higher quality than
undergraduates. On the other hand, they are more demanding.
If a professor adopts the right attitude towards the students,
the classroom experience can be very rewardinge for all involved,
and it can be a help to your research. The students really
force you to look at whether your research matters, and whether
your discipline is asking relevant questions. The classroom
dynamics impose another set of disciplines on your research
to help you reevaluate and sharpen what you do.
What else is special about teaching business students compared
to other students?
The students I'm teaching are the ones who are going to run
the corporations of tomorrow. These are the next generation
of business leaders who will have a lot of responsibility.
This circumstance makes you aware of the profound responsibility
you have as a teacher. What an incredible opportunity! We
are, in sense, educating this country's (and other countries')
elites. It's a tremendous responsibility and it is tremendously
motivating, if you take it seriously.
Clearly, you are making an impression on these students.
One indication of your effectiveness is the fact that you
garnered a recent Teacher of the Year award. What have you
found to be most challenging in your role as teacher here?
One challenge a teacher has to overcome is perception by the
students. One of the things that's different from teaching
undergraduates and PhD students, is that for MBAs the professor
is not a role model. The students you are teaching do not
want to be professors when they graduate. They want to learn
something specific from you and that's that. I'm clear on
this when I step into the classroom.
you have to make the classwork relevant.
What I hear from some of my students that, as a teacher, makes
me most happy is they tell me they look at the world differently
after taking my class. They say "I'm looking at the newspapers
and now suddenly the news makes sense to me when it never
made sense before." To get to these types of insights
about business problems doesn't come easy. That comes from
aspects of your research are you currently finding most exciting,
and what are the potential ramifications of this work?
you a few examples and they are far removed from one another.
My class is basically a business and political environment
class. What I'm researching and excited about is some work
I've done on governments, in particular European governments:
how they are formed, how they last and how they collapse.
There's a large literature on this topic. My colleague Antonio
Merlo, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, and
I are inventing a new methodology to look at these problems.
It turns out that if you take that new methodology seriously,
then a lot of what we believe were empirical regularities
in the literature are all wrong. That's exciting.
to know what features in a political constitution lead to,
for example, good, stable governments. With our methodology
we can actually quantify what happens when we remove or manipulate
certain aspects of a constitution. We can perform "what
if?" experiments. It's all built on theory and then we
combine it with empirical analysis.
are some of the implications of this research?
are some far-reaching implications. We can consider how these
political and social institutions affect behavior, and where
these institutions come from. At a practical level it means
that we start to understand decision making in parliamentary
democracies at a more profound level. This is important if
we want to predict the actions of foreign governments and
develop strategies for managing business-government relations
in a global business environment.
very interested in how norms and conventions are sustained,
and there's a variety of work I've done in this area. I'm
also interested in common-knowledge theory and in boycotts.
I mentioned before the abstract work on interactive belief
systems (an area in abstract game theory and theoretical computer
science). At MEDS we have a faculty reading group on this
topic. This seems as far removed from a practical application
as possible. But it turns out that it can be very fruitfully
used to model bubbles, currency crisis and other phenomena
that critically depend on shared beliefs. I am particularly
interesting in consumer boycotts and the role of the media.
How do consumer boycotts come about and what role does the
media play? Information is being created by the media rather
than simply transmitted. Through its coverage of news events,
the media helps shape and create common knowledge and that
may enable collective action that otherwise would be impossible.
In that sense news coverage "creates" social phenomena
such as boycotts.
really seems as if media theory and political science are
now interwoven into contemporary business training, perhaps
in ways that formerly were not as apparent or as pervasive.
to think about technology - biotech, for instance - how it
will be regulated by public officials and how it will be received
by the public and the media. If I don't think about it carefully,
then what happens to me is what happened to Monsanto in Europe:
my wonderful technology goes nowhere. To understand these
things we need to understand the strategic interactions of
very different kinds of actors: companies, politicians, the
media, the public, etc. It is going to take some different
approaches and it's going to require some hard, difficult
work to get anywhere.