In researching collaboratively with her colleagues, Francesca Gino has reached some conclusions about organizational and individual behavior.
For example, extroverts make the best leaders, except when introverts do. Cheap knockoffs can make a person act like a fake, and feel like one. Networking can make people feel dirty, but handshaking promotes cooperation.
Cheating can be contagious, yet cheating in general drops off when cheaters are seen as outlaws.
Gino, a professor of business administration at Harvard University, will present the concluding lecture for the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s 2014 Contemporary Issues Forum speaker series at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy. Her talk title, “Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed and How We Can Stick to the Plan,” is also the title of her new book.
Sidetracked applies behavioral science to personal and professional decision-making.
“While we try to accomplish our goals, the outcomes are often very different,” Gino said. “Sometimes the outcome is better and sometimes it is much worse. There are different forces that derail our decisions and ways we can intervene.”
Gino said simple and seemingly irrelevant factors can profoundly affect choices and behavior.
As an undergraduate majoring in business economics at the University of Trento in Italy, Gino said she was a firm believer in standard economic theory, including cost-benefit analysis.
“But then I looked at my behavior and at other people’s,” she said. “We were not thinking through decisions well enough.”
Gino pursued a Master of Science in economics and management at Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy. She earned her Ph.D. from Sant’Anna while at Harvard for two years as a visiting fellow. There, she took a course from Max Bazerman.
“I loved it,” Gino said. “How the mind works is fascinating. In a world where technology and information are increasing every day but our brains aren’t evolving as fast, how can we make decisions when we know our brains are limited?”
Gino taught in the business schools at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of North Carolina before returning to Harvard in 2010.
While her primary home at Harvard is the Negotiation, Organizations and Markets Unit of the Business School, her teaching and research responsibilities are university-wide.
Gino said she approaches her work from a cross-disciplinary perspective, combining economics, psychology and the behavioral sciences.
“I cross silos every day at work,” she said.
Three broad themes characterize Gino’s current research endeavors: judgment, decision-making and negotiation; morality, ethics and prosocial behavior; and motivation, productivity and creativity.
In her work, she explores what ways in which people’s judgments and evaluations are accurate, what weaknesses can actually be a point of strength in negotiation, and why unethical practices are so widespread in the workplace and in society. She also looks at how creativity can be fostered in the workplace.
“A lot of my work is inspired by patterns of behavior I see in myself and others, while reading newspapers, when walking to work, and during meetings,” Gino said. “I see something that doesn’t quite work, wonder why, and start developing theories.”
For example, she said, an organization was worried about its high turnover rate. Too many people were leaving after working for just a few months. She and two colleagues looked at how new employees were being welcomed when they came onboard.
They found that the organization was focusing on its own identity and on how its new staff should do their jobs.
“Psychologists know that people are not motivated that way,” Gino said. “They want to be authentic and express their individual identity. So we designed a new orientation focused on people’s strengths, which reduced the number of people leaving this organization by 20 percent. We had insight, given our knowledge about what makes people happy.”
The biggest challenge for Gino is people’s propensity for learning from direct experience — learning by doing.
“We all tend to have a bias for action,” she said. “We’re all busy. When we fall behind, as with meeting deadlines, we think we should be working harder. I’ve found that instead, we should think. We should be thinking about our goals and experiences, and looking back at what we’ve accomplished during the day and week. By reflecting, we learn better and perform better.”
Gino said it’s important for people to better understand themselves and the people around them a little better. They may assume, for instance, that other people are incompetent, when they are just being human beings.
At Chautauqua, Gino said, her goal is to be thought- provoking. She wants to get people thinking about their behavior, how their minds work, and if there’s anything they want to change in their own experiences.
“If people walk away and talk about their own experiences, that would make me happy,” she said.