First Look

February 14, 2017

Among the highlights included in new research papers, case studies, articles, and books released this week by Harvard Business School faculty:

After the business sold, it became a hit

After 18 months of unsuccessful product launches, the CEO of shopping advice site Yabbly agreed to sell the company. But a few weeks before the deal’s close, a last ditch marketing push was a hit with customers. The new case study Anthology: Pivoting the Business Model, highlights the dilemma: “With only two weeks of promising data, the CEO must decide whether or not to abandon the planned sale to pursue the new product and, if so, what terms he should offer new and existing investors to finance the next phase of product development." The case was written by Shikhar Ghosh and Christopher Payton.

The best location for a shopping mall

“Is it better off for a developer to build a shopping mall in a highly populated area or in an affluent area? This simple question, it turns out, is quite complicated…” write researchers Doug J. Chung, Kyoungwon Seo, and Reo Song. Their paper Where Should We Build a Mall? The Formation of Market Structure and Its Effect on Sales offers mall location advice.

Patent trolls cost jobs

Frivolous patent-infringement claims made by “patent trolls” costs small businesses money and jobs. The working paper Patent Trolls and Small Business Employment finds that when anti-troll legislation is enacted, a 2 percent increase in employment follows at small high-tech firms, and there are also fewer bankruptices. The paper was written by Joan Farre-Mensa and colleagues.

A complete list of new research and publications from Harvard Business School faculty follows.

— Sean Silverthorne
  • 2016
  • Scientists Making a Difference: One Hundred Eminent Behavioral and Brain Scientists Talk about Their Most Important Contributions

The Motivation for Creativity

By: Amabile, Teresa M.

Abstract—Scientists Making a Difference is a fascinating collection of first-person narratives from the top psychological scientists of the modern era. These readable essays highlight the most important contributions to theory and research in psychological science, show how the greatest psychological scientists formulate and think about their work and illustrate how their ideas develop over time. In particular, the authors address what they consider their most important scientific contribution, how they got the idea, how the idea matters for the world beyond academic psychology, and what they would like to see as the next steps in research. The contributors, who were chosen from an objectively compiled list of the most eminent psychological scientists, provide a broad range of insightful perspectives. This book is essential reading for students, researchers, and professionals interested in learning about the development of the biggest ideas in modern psychological science, described firsthand by the scientists themselves.

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  • January 2017
  • American Economic Review

Are Online and Offline Prices Similar? Evidence from Large Multi-Channel Retailers

By: Cavallo, Alberto

Abstract—Online prices are increasingly used for measurement and research applications, yet little is known about their relation to prices in physical stores where most retail transactions occur. I conduct the first large-scale comparison of prices simultaneously collected from the websites and physical stores of 56 large multi-channel retailers in 10 countries. I find that price levels are identical about 72% of the time. Price changes are not synchronized but have similar frequencies and average sizes. These results have implications for national statistical offices, researchers using online data, and anyone interested in the effect of the Internet on retail prices.

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  • January 2017
  • Journal of Conflict Resolution

Beyond Zeroes and Ones: The Intensity and Dynamics of Civil Conflict

By: Chaudoin, Stephen, Zachary Peskowitz, and Christopher Stanton

Abstract—There is a tremendous amount of variation in conflict intensity both across and within civil conflicts. Some conflicts result in huge numbers of battle deaths, while others do not. Conflict intensity is also dynamic. Conflict intensity escalates, deescalates, and persists. What explains this variation? We take one of the most prominent explanations for the onset and occurrence of civil conflict—variation in economic conditions—and apply it to the intensity and dynamics of civil conflict. Using an instrumental variables strategy and a rich set of empirical models, we find that the intensity of conflict is negatively related to per capita income. We also find that economic conditions affect conflict dynamics, as poorer countries are likely to experience longer and more intense spells of fighting after the onset of conflict.

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  • forthcoming
  • Talent Flows in the Global Economy

Digital Labor Markets and Global Talent Flows

By: Horton, John, William R. Kerr, and Christopher Stanton

Abstract—We review the rapid development of digital labor markets that connect companies and contractors on a global basis. We describe the environment in which these markets have taken root, the micro- and macro-level studies of their operations, their ongoing evolution and recent trends, and the different perspectives for undertaking research with microdata from these labor platforms. Digital labor markets are an exciting frontier for global talent flows and growing rapidly in importance.

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  • forthcoming
  • Management Science

Discretionary Task Ordering: Queue Management in Radiological Services

By: Ibanez, Maria, Jonathan R. Clark, Robert S. Huckman, and Bradley R. Staats

Abstract—A long line of research examines how best to schedule work to improve operational performance. This literature typically takes the perspective of a central planner who directs individuals to execute tasks in a prescribed order. In many settings, however, workers have discretion to deviate from the assigned order. This paper considers the operational implications of “discretionary task ordering,” defined as the task sequence resulting from an individual’s ability to select which task to complete next from a work queue. Using data from more than 2.4 million radiological studies read by 91 physicians over a period of two and a half years, we examine the conditions under which discretion is exercised to deviate from the assigned First-In-First-Out scheduling policy, and the performance effects of those choices. Exploiting random assignment of tasks (cases) to doctors’ queues, together with variation in queue characteristics, we find that, on average, deviations lead to slower completion times, providing evidence of the costs of exercising discretion. Doctors tend to deviate more, and deviations tend to be less detrimental with experience, yet deviations remain harmful even for high levels of experience. Moreover, doctors tend to deviate to follow two common ordering strategies: shortest expected processing time and batching similar cases. Choosing the shortest tasks first is particularly detrimental for speed. Batching is associated with better performance when it occurs naturally, but not when it results from using discretion, suggesting that the benefit of repetition does not compensate for the cost of exercising discretion in this setting. Our research offers a behavioral perspective on queue management and highlights that discretion may have unintended negative costs.

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  • forthcoming
  • Psychological Science

Psychologically Informed Implementations of Sugary Drink Portion Limits

By: John, Leslie, Grant Donnelly, and Christina Roberto

Abstract—In 2012, the New York City Board of Health prohibited restaurants from selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. Although a state court ruled that the Board of Health did not have the authority to implement such a policy, it remains a legally viable option for governments and a voluntary option for restaurants. However, there is very limited empirical data on how such a policy might affect the purchasing and consumption of sugary drinks. Four well-powered, incentive-compatible experiments evaluate two possible ways in which firms might comply with such a policy: bundles (i.e., dividing the contents of oversized cups into two regulation-sized cups) and free refills (i.e., offering a regulation-sized cup with unlimited refills). Bundling causes people to buy less soda. Free refills can increase consumption, especially when waiter-served. This perverse effect is reduced in self-service contexts, which require walking just a few steps to get a refill.

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  • 2016
  • Financial Market History: Reflections on the Past for Investors Today

The Origins of High-Tech Venture Investing in America

By: Nicholas, Tom

Abstract—The United States has developed an unparalleled environment for the provision of high-tech investment finance. Today it is reflected in the strength of agglomeration economies in Silicon Valley, but historically its origins lay in the East Coast. Notably, immediate post-WWII efforts to establish the American Research and Development Corporation created a precedent for “long-tail” high-tech investing. This approach became institutionalized in America over subsequent decades in a way that has been difficult to replicate in other countries. The role of history helps to explain why.

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  • December 8, 2016
  • Harvard Business Review

A Simple Way to Measure Health Care Outcomes

By: Schupbach, John, Amitabh Chandra, and Robert S. Huckman

Abstract—No abstract available.

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Patent Trolls and Small Business Employment

By: Appel, Ian, Joan Farre-Mensa, and Elena Simintzi

Abstract—We analyze how frivolous patent-infringement claims made by “patent trolls” affect small firms’ ability to create jobs, raise capital, and survive. Our identification strategy exploits the staggered passage of anti-patent-troll laws at the state level. We find that the passage of this legislation leads to a 2% increase in employment at small firms in high-tech industries, which are a frequent target of patent trolls. By contrast, the laws have no significant impact on employment at larger or non-high-tech firms. Anti-troll legislation is also associated with fewer business bankruptcies. Financing appears to be a key channel driving our findings: in states with an already established VC presence, the passage of anti-troll laws leads to a 19% increase in the number of firms receiving VC funding. Our findings suggest that measures aimed at curbing the litigation threat posed by patent trolls may play an important role in reducing both the real and financing frictions faced by small businesses.

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Abstract—We estimate a structural model that takes into account the entry decisions of retail stores and their corollary effects on total shopping mall sales. By understanding the endogenous behavior of individual store entry, we provide guidance on location choice for mall developers. We find negative competition effects to dominate within store categories—especially among discount and midscale stores—but positive agglomeration effects to exist across store categories. Although varying by store brand, our results suggest that upscale stores are likely to enter malls in more populated, affluent areas, whereas midscale stores enter less populated, lower-income areas. We find positive causal brand effects for specific upscale and midscale stores, above and beyond market effects, but find negative causal brand effects for all discount stores on mall sales. This paper also introduces three main methodological innovations to the marketing literature. First, we correct for endogeneity with regard to both store entry and mall sales to identify the causal effect of store entry on mall sales. Second, we address multiple equilibria by estimating equilibrium selection from the observed data. Finally, we overcome the computational burden of solving games of complete information with multiple equilibria by utilizing the GPGPU technology, using multiple processing cores in a graphics processing unit to noticeably increase computational speed.

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Abstract—Organizations often introduce temporary incentive programs with a view of establishing long lasting behaviors. Monetary payoffs are awarded upon achievement of team goals, which measure the success of the initiative. In this study I explore whether and how organizational behavior modifications introduced via temporary incentive programs persist beyond the incentive period. In many cases, achieving team goals requires the cooperation of members of the organization external to the team and not eligible to receive the monetary award. In this study I compare the persistence of behavior modifications between subjects rewarded with a monetary award with subjects that are exposed uniquely to peer pressure. Using hand hygiene performance data from a California hospital, I find that monetary incentives are associated with higher likelihood and greater magnitude of performance improvements during the incentive period but are relatively short lived, while implicit incentives facilitate a longer persistence of the organizational behavior modification.

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Innovation Policies

By: Nanda, Ramana, and Matthew Rhodes-Kropf

Abstract—Past work has shown that failure tolerance by principals has the potential to stimulate innovation, but it has not examined how this affects which projects principals will start. We demonstrate that failure tolerance has an equilibrium price?in terms of an investor's required share of equity?that increases in the level of experimentation. Financiers with investment strategies that tolerate early failure will endogenously choose to fund less radical innovations, while the most experimental projects (for whom the price of failure tolerance is too high) can only be started by investors who are not failure tolerant. Since policies to stimulate innovation must often be set before specific investments in innovative projects are made, this creates a tradeoff between a policy that encourages experimentation ex-post and one that funds experimental projects ex-ante. In equilibrium it is possible that all competing financiers choose to offer failure tolerant contracts to attract entrepreneurs, leaving no capital to fund the most radical, experimental projects in the economy. The impact of different innovation policies can help to explain who finances radical innovations and when and where radical innovation occurs.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 817-012

DataXu: Selling Ad Tech

DataXu served marketers by buying digital advertising for brands using its demand-side platform. It sought a way to build a more predictable revenue stream in the very transactional media marketplace and hoped that two new marketing analytics products would give it a more predictable revenue stream. But sales were behind forecast. DataXu’s large brand and advertising agency clients found the new products interesting, but evidence suggested that their buying processes might be incompatible with the recurring sales model DataXu wanted to implement. Will DataXu need to change its sales organization, pricing approach, or hiring criteria to sell the new products?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 817-016


The founders of Mark43, an early-stage startup that provides software for law enforcement agencies, must decide whether to bid on a request for proposals (RFP) from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). On the one hand, LAPD would be a second large and influential customer for a startup that has just successfully deployed software for its first customer, the Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department. On the other hand, pursuing the LAPD RFP could consume most of Mark43’s engineering resources for the coming year, pushing other business development opportunities off their roadmap, in particular, plans to target small and medium-sized police departments.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 517-059

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

In June 2016, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is planning for the upcoming launch of an endeavor that is a first for a Hollywood actor with superstar status—a digital channel. The channel (named “Seven Bucks Digital Studios”) will be a new part of film and television production company Seven Bucks Productions, which Johnson co-owns with his business partner and former wife, Dany Garcia. Under Garcia’s guidance, Johnson has made a successful transition from being a top wrestler with World Wrestling Entertainment to climbing the ranks in Hollywood, becoming one of its most bankable and highest-paid actors. The two stand out for pursuing an ambitious slate of projects as producers as well, making Seven Bucks Productions a force to be reckoned with in the world of entertainment. Are Johnson and Garcia right to bet on a new digital channel, which is scheduled to make its debut on YouTube in the next month, and do they have the best approach to making that channel a success?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 417-042

Lenovo to Buy IBM PC: Integration Challenges

In December 2004, Chinese computer manufacturer Lenovo announced its purchase of IBM’s PC division. At the time, few industry observers were optimistic about the merger of these entities with seemingly opposite company cultures. How should the two entities plan to integrate?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 817-066

Anthology: Pivoting the Business Model

In July 2014, after 18 months and eight unsuccessful product launches, the CEO of Yabbly has agreed to sell his company to a larger, well-funded startup, providing a return of capital for his investors and a home for his team. Two weeks prior to the scheduled closing, the team launches a final experiment based on the results of a customer interview. After creating a quick landing page and announcing the product launch through social media channels, the company finds significant customer interest. With only two weeks of promising data, the CEO must decide whether or not to abandon the planned sale to pursue the new product and, if so, what terms he should offer new and existing investors to finance the next phase of product development.

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In 2013, Sam Frons founded Addicaid—a mobile application (app) that allowed people in addiction recovery to track their progress, check in with counselors, and connect with others in recovery programs. The app was grounded in cognitive behavioral therapy and used the rich set of data it collected from users to suggest tailored coping mechanisms for avoiding relapse. In September 2016, six months after quitting her full-time job to focus solely on Addicaid, Frons struggled to transition what was once a passion project into a full-fledged business. Two weeks earlier, Frons had approached a private, for-profit chain of addiction treatment centers about offering the app to its clients as a support tool for the recovery process once they completed treatment. The chain’s management team was interested but wanted more information about how Addicaid could help it reach its target bed occupancy rate. A recovering addict herself, Frons founded Addicaid in 2013 to help people with substance abuse problems and process disorders (such as food, gambling, Internet, pornography, and sex addictions) reach their goals—which presumably included staying out of treatment centers. But now Addicaid needed to establish a business model that also created value for treatment centers. How should Frons address this inherent tension? What path should she pursue to scale her company into a sustainable, revenue-generating business?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 517-018

reMarkable: e-Writing the Future

Magnus Wanberg is the creator of reMarkable, a breakthrough e-writer device set apart from similar products on the market by having solved the frustrating “slow ink” problem typically experienced on pen-based electronic devices, thus providing a “pen-and-paper-like” experience. Moreover, the device allowed for the convenient and non-eye-straining reading of typical documents. Though enthusiastically received by several investors, there was still a long way to go before the prototype could reach a final commercial product. Wanberg and his team narrowed down the relevant market to three main segments: creative professionals, working professionals, and students. However, these segments were seemingly at odds with each other in terms of which product attributes would most appeal to each. The young company, therefore, had to choose which group to target as this would dictate future product development efforts. With the planned launch date quickly approaching, the target market selected also impacted communication, channels, and pricing decisions. reMarkable had to resolve these matters while juggling limited time, effort, and funds.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 517-060

ASICS: Chasing a 2020 Vision

In early 2016, Motoi Oyama, president and CEO of ASICS, a major sports apparel and footwear manufacturer based in Japan, laid out his company’s growth plan for the upcoming five years. The new plan set ambitious goals in terms of revenue and profit increases. At the heart of the strategy to achieve these goals is a desire to embrace a more direct-to-consumer mindset, expand into new customer segments, and communicate a more consistent and emotional brand worldwide. With its primary core customer currently the “serious” runner, and its innovation strategy geared towards high-end performance, pursuing these objectives in light of the fiercely competitive landscape posed a multitude of challenges. Moreover, the company had recently launched several lifestyle brands (using brand names it had revived), which posed brand architecture issues. Lastly, the company had just acquired a digital fitness app, RunKeeper, and was wondering how best to leverage this asset and how it fit with the main pillars of the growth plan strategy. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games would coincide with the conclusion of the five-year plan, and ASICS had paid over $100 million to be a Gold Sponsor of the games—Oyama wondered whether his company was on the right track to achieving the goals he had conveyed to shareholders.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 517-037

JCPenney: Back in Business

In 2016, JCPenney was in the midst of a multi-year turnaround after coming dangerously close to bankruptcy. Under CEO Marvin Ellison, the company had identified three strategic objectives—a focus on omnichannel, private-label goods, and increasing revenue per customer—to guide all company initiatives. The company was running pilot tests on a new line of appliances, rebranded hair salons, and new private label merchandise, and management now needed to decide how best to roll out and market these initiatives across the chain. Ellison also considered how to build upon the company’s new ad campaign, Get Your Penney’s Worth, and how to strike the right balance between serving its “core” and “emerging” customer segments. He wondered if these objectives and initiatives were enough to restore JCPenney’s position in the evolving retail landscape.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 717-433

Cross-sector Collaborations for Shared Prosperity

In cities and towns across America, leaders in local governments, businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions, faith-based organizations, labor unions, and other organizations are coming together in new ways to help their communities prosper. Why are such cross-sector collaborations arising now? What purpose do they serve? What key decisions must their leaders make? What principles might guide those decisions? This note suggests a way to think about such questions.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 217-023

SOHO China: Transformation in Progress

In 2016, against the backdrop of a challenging Chinese macroeconomic environment, SOHO China, the largest owner and developer of Class-A real estate in Beijing and Shanghai, was struggling to convince analysts of the merits of its new “build-to-hold” strategy. Founded as a merchant builder, the company went public in 2007, raising a record US$1.9 billion, but the firm, led by Zhang Xin, refocused in 2012 on a “build-to-hold” strategy in an effort to capture the long-term value of its properties. Zhang also saw an opportunity to capitalize on the rapidly growing shared-office trend, developing the company’s own 3Q coworking product and placing these centers in its newly held buildings. Despite 3Q’s initial success and with the “build-to-hold” strategy beginning to bear fruit, SOHO’s stock price was still near record lows. How could Zhang Xin educate the stock market to reward SOHO’s share price and acknowledge the successful transition? Would these strategic decisions be sufficient to steer SOHO China through new economic hurdles? Is 3Q enough to buoy SOHO’s performance and bring it into the next phase of growth?

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