Learning Business Strategy Research in Stanford PhD Program
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In Chapter 8 of 21 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, business school professor Ben Hallen finds the greatest challenge rising to the expected level of research. Understanding what it means to create high caliber research. Not only is it rigorous in understanding what is the right behavior to use, but also rigorous in that it strives to learn something that is not understood yet that applies in strategy and management.


Erik: What was most challenging about earning your PhD at Stanford University? Ben: The biggest challenge which I am so, so grateful for was rising to the expected caliber of research, that it is very, very high, you think you understand it, and you learn that you’re not quite – it’s not that you’re not quite at that level but you just can gain such a deep understanding for what high-caliber research is, that you really wanna get it right, because – I mean this is important. If we’re gonna offer advice to someone, we should have some grounding in why we think this is reliable advice. You know, that it’s not just something that we have to talk to an entrepreneur once at a cocktail party. You know, cocktail parties provide great insights that gives us, you know, that spark of, oh I need to go study this, but studying something in such a way that you have some confidence that, this is what the entrepreneur should be doing. You know, is it ever 100%? You know, given my training in statistics I’m not ever gonna claim that, but we have really high confidence that this is the right thing to do, and it’s rigorous research not only in believing that this is the right behavior to use but also rigorous research in that really striving to find something that we don’t understand yet, and which is relevant to either managers or entrepreneurs at the same time. Erik: With regard to rigorous research, what was your expectation, coming into Stanford, and then how did that change as you went through business? Ben: Well – and I’m gonna hesitate a little bit when talking about my expectation coming in because I was trained as an engineer, I was not trained as a social scientist, and that’s very much how I view myself now, is a social scientist. You know, business is about human beings interacting, leveraging, often times the market, sometimes it’s not the market. Yes, you have a pay transaction going on with someone’s salary, they’re working for hire, but there’s also a lot of social dynamics going on as well. Similarly, when you’re interacting with your customer, yes there’s often a financial transaction going on there but there’s so much more. You know, the financial transaction only captures one side of it, so it’s very much at its fundamental level about social interaction. And so business strategy is the study of how can you be more successful in leading organizations to their potential and having them perform at higher levels, and so that’s what I try and do is study entrepreneurship from a strategy perspective. And so I do believe it’s very important to study entrepreneurship, you know, very broadly what leads to entrepreneurship, demography, so forth, but really excites me is approaching entrepreneurship from a strategy perspective, because there’s a lot of people decide to be entrepreneurs but then they find themselves having challenges, so the social science comes in of, what advice can we offer about these sort of social relationships that are at the really heart of entrepreneurship, if you will, be it, you know, having someone understand what your product is, having someone interested in your product, exciting a team to form around you, exciting a team of employees, exciting a team of investors, to offer clear advice to help them realize that vision that they have.