First Look

March 15, 2016

When potential donors talk themselves out of giving

In an online experiment, Christine L. Exley and Ragan Petrie test how organizations may be able to overcome donor reluctance. Among the results listed in "Finding Excuses to Decline the Ask,” donor activity drops 22 percent when an upcoming ask is expected. “Additional results document heterogeneity in such excuse-driven behavior and ways to counter it with information on why to give,” write the authors.

An online grocery model that works

The new case "Ocado" studies a UK-based online home-delivery service that is the largest pure play virtual grocer and gaining share. How does it succeed when so many similar models have not? Authors Jose Alvarez, David E. Bell, and Damien McLoughlin point to such innovations as an automated warehouse operation, customer friendly interface, and similar pricing to in-store groceries.

Building the Abraham Path

The case "Negotiating the Path of Abraham, 2015 Progress and Challenges" takes the point of view of the Abraham Path board as it considers next steps in developing a cultural tourist destination that follows Abraham's path 4,000 years ago. Challenges remaining include “regional war and turmoil, sustainable funding, and tensions over the Path's activities in Israel.” The case was written by James Sebenius.

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

  • forthcoming
  • Boston: Harvard Business Review Press

The Three Box Solution: A Strategy for Leading Innovation

By: Govindarajan, Vijay

Abstract—How to Innovate and Execute. Leaders already know that innovation calls for a different set of activities, skills, methods, metrics, mind-sets, and leadership approaches. And it is well understood that creating a new business and optimizing an already existing one are two fundamentally different management challenges. The real problem for leaders is doing both, simultaneously. How do you meet the performance requirements of the existing business—one that is still thriving—while dramatically reinventing it? How do you envision a change in your current business model before a crisis forces you to abandon it? Innovation guru Vijay Govindarajan expands the leader's innovation tool kit with a simple and proven method for allocating the organization's energy, time, and resources—in balanced measure—across what he calls "the three boxes": Box 1: The present—Manage the core business at peak profitability; Box 2: The past—Abandon ideas, practices, and attitudes that could inhibit innovation; Box 3: The future—Convert breakthrough ideas into new products and businesses. The three-box framework makes leading innovation easier because it gives leaders a simple vocabulary and set of tools for managing and measuring these different sets of behaviors and activities across all levels of the organization. Supported with rich company examples—GE, Mahindra & Mahindra, Hasbro, IBM, United Rentals, and Tata Consultancy Services—and testimonies of leaders who have successfully used this framework, this book solves once and for all the practical dilemma of how to align an organization on the critical but competing demands of innovation.

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Voter Registration Costs and Disenfranchisement: Experimental Evidence from France

By: Braconnier, Celine, Jean-Yves Dormagen, and Vincent Pons

Abstract—A large-scale randomized experiment conducted during the 2012 French presidential and parliamentary elections shows that voter registration requirements have significant effects on turnout, disproportionately discouraging marginalized citizens. We assigned 20,500 apartments to one control or six treatment groups that received canvassing visits providing either information about registration or help to register at home. While both types of visits increased registration, the home registration visits had a higher impact than the information-only visits, indicating that both information costs and administrative barriers impede registration. Home registration did not reduce turnout among those who would have registered anyway. On the contrary, citizens registered due to the visits became more interested in the elections, and 93% voted at least once in 2012. Overall, these results suggest that easing registration requirements could substantially enhance political participation, improve representation of marginalized groups, and increase the average level of competence and informedness of the population.

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Do CEO Activists Make a Difference? Evidence from a Field Experiment

By: Chatterji, Aaron K., and Michael W. Toffel

Abstract—Several CEOs are receiving significant media attention for taking public positions on controversial social and environmental issues largely unrelated to their core business, ranging from gay marriage to climate change to gender equality. We provide the first evidence that such “CEO activism” can influence public opinion and consumer attitudes. Our field experiment examines the impact of Apple CEO Tim Cook’s public statements opposing a pending religious freedom law that critics warned would allow discrimination against same-sex couples. Our results confirm the influence of issue framing on public opinion and suggest that CEOs can sway public opinion, potentially to the same extent as prominent politicians. Moreover, Cook’s CEO activism increased consumer intentions to purchase Apple products, especially among proponents of same-sex marriage.

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Finding Excuses to Decline the Ask

By: Exley, Christine L., and Ragan Petrie

Abstract—A growing body of empirical evidence documents a reluctance to give. Individuals avoid donation asks, and when asked, give less by viewing factors—such as ambiguity or risk— in a self-serving manner. This paper considers an environment where the ask is not avoided, and factors that may be viewed self-servingly are neither introduced nor highlighted. Instead, this paper explores whether less prosocial behavior may result from the mere expectation of the ask, or opportunity for individuals to find their own excuses. Our field experiment supports this extension of self-serving or excuse-driven choices: prosocial behavior reduces by 22% when an upcoming ask is expected. Additional results document heterogeneity in such excuse-driven behavior and ways to counter it with information on why to give.

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Abstract—Transparency advocates argue that disclosure of oil and gas company payments to host governments for natural resources is a public good, helping to reduce corruption and increase accountability in resource rich countries. Yet we find a very low frequency of voluntary disclosures of payments to host governments by oil and gas firms, and negative stock price reactions for affected firms at the announcement of regulations mandating disclosure. This suggests that sample firm managers and their investors perceive that there are private costs of such voluntary disclosures, contributing to continued low transparency and weak governance in resource rich countries. However, we document that industry self-regulation has generated information to substitute for the gap in voluntary company disclosure. We also find some evidence that these disclosures are accompanied by lower country corruption ratings, suggesting that collective action may be an effective way for the industry to manage the private costs of disclosure and respond to public pressure to improve governance in resource rich countries.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 516-059


In 2015, U.K.–based Ocado was the world's largest pure player in the online home-delivery grocery business and was gaining a growing share of the highly competitive U.K. grocery market. Ocado had made heavy investments in technology, including a highly automated warehouse operation, intelligent software for efficient order delivery, and a customer friendly online interface. Ocado's customer base had expanded beyond the wealthy to include middle-income consumers; even with a delivery charge, grocery shopping through Ocado was, in many cases, as affordable as shopping in a retail store. In 2015 the company was developing a strategy for its Smart Platform, a model in which Ocado would lease its software, hardware, and integration services to brick-and-mortar grocery retailers seeking to build online businesses. Ocado's management believed the Smart Platform, which they planned to market internationally, had the potential to disrupt the global grocery retail market.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 516-057


In 2015, COFCO, China's state-owned agribusiness giant, was working to protect China's food security (a key national security priority) by extending its control of the global food system through overseas acquisitions. At the same time, COFCO sought to grow its market share in China's fiercely competitive branded-foods market. To help achieve these goals, COFCO Chairman Frank Ning was driving internal reforms to make COFCO's management more competitive, innovative, and globally experienced. This case allows for a discussion of the Chinese marketplace and the evolving approach to business structures taken by the Chinese government. COFCO is the leading food company in China, and we can see through the case the hurdles faced in transitioning a company from pursuing mostly social objectives to mostly profit making. Finally, the case is a useful vehicle for discussing the question of whether and how China can feed itself. Efficient and reliable sourcing of food from abroad is evidently an increasing, and urgent, priority.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 916-043

T-Mobile in 2013: The Un-Carrier

By 2013, the U.S. wireless industry was in the midst of a costly transition. As consumers began to embrace more sophisticated mobile devices, the industry's four main players spent heavily to improve their infrastructures for providing reliable high-speed data services. T-Mobile, the smallest of the four major carriers, lacked the scale of its competitors and risked falling further behind in the contest for market share. Faced with this daunting business environment, T-Mobile's new CEO declared war on the rest of the industry, decrying competitor pricing practices and upending the traditional contract-based business model. This case provides background information on the state of the wireless industry in 2013 and follows T-Mobile's early steps to transform its market position.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 116-019

Handelsbanken: May 2002

No abstract available.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 515-089

Instacart and the New Wave of Grocery Startups

Instacart is testing an Uber-style solution to the challenge of building a home-delivered grocery business. It is backed by $220 million of venture funding. Will this model succeed where businesses like Webvan failed? What are the questions that this exploratory venture needs to answer?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 216-029

Public Capital Markets

No abstract available.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 316-013

HNA Group: Global Excellence with Chinese Characteristics

By 2015, the HNA Group had grown from its roots as Hainan Airlines, a small airline founded in 1993, into a global conglomerate that ranked #464 in the Global 500. Much of this success had been achieved by cross-industry expansion within China, but since 2008, it had increasingly looked to expand globally. The HNA Group in general and Hainan Airlines in particular were recognized for their quality of service within China. However, this high reputation had yet to be translated across borders. Would HNA Group be able to bring its unique characteristics that made it successful within China to bear on the global marketplace?

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  • Harvard Business School Case 916-038

Advertising Experiments

No abstract available.

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The Abraham Path board reviews the last five years and seeks to frame and act on its major strategic, negotiating, and operational challenges going forward. The Abraham Path Initiative seeks to revitalize a route of Middle East cultural tourism following Abraham's path 4,000 years ago. It begins in the ancient ruins of Harran, in modern-day Turkey, where Abraham first heard the call to "go forth." It passes through some of the world's most revered cultural, historical, and holy sites, ending in the city of Hebron/Al-Khalil at the tomb of Abraham. With Abraham as a venerated patriarchal figure for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity—monotheistic religions whose adherents have so often clashed—the potential unifying power of this conception has attracted a remarkable range of supporters from around the world as well as considerable media interest. Having lengthened the walkable part of the Path from 300 km five years ago to over 2,000 km today, with thousands of people having walked parts of the Path and having been awarded a major World Bank grant, several challenges nonetheless remain including regional war and turmoil, sustainable funding, tensions over the Path's activities in Israel, and possible next steps for the initiative.

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  • Harvard Business School Case 716-012

Blue Origin, NASA, and New Space (A)

Jeff Bezos, six years after starting a revolution in retailing with, turned his life-long passion for space into a start-up, Blue Origin. Blue (as it was called) was a part of the New Space industry, a collection of startup aerospace engineering companies that were intent on disrupting the American space sector with new technologies, management approaches, and competitive pressure. NASA hoped to leverage New Space to outsource its near-Earth activities and refocus its own efforts on deep space exploration. One of the agency’s main mechanisms for this shift of activities was its Commercial Crew Development program (CCDev), a multi-phase initiative launched in 2009. Blue participated in the first two rounds of CCDev, and by all accounts these had been win-win experiences for it and for NASA. The decision point of the case is whether Blue should participate in the third, much larger and more complex, stage of CCDev. The tradeoff facing Blue’s leadership was between the legitimacy, expertise, and funding provided by working with NASA and the autonomy, efficiency, and independence threatened by working with NASA. How would Blue, with its clear respect for NASA but its desire (and financial ability) to set its own priorities, make this tradeoff?

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