Olav Sorenson is currently the Frederick Frank ’54 and Mary C. Tanner Professor of Management, Director of the Core Curriculum, Co-Director of the Initiative on Leadership and Organization, and Professor of Sociology (by courtesy), at Yale University. His primary stream of research pertains to economic geography, focusing on how entrepreneurship influences the growth and competitiveness of regions, and on why some regions have more successful entrepreneurs than others.
Olav’s secondary streams of research have been on science and innovation and on how organizations can better learn from their interactions with customers and from their manufacturing experience. In total, he has delivered more than 300 research presentations and has had more than 70 papers published on these subjects, in journals such as the American Journal of Sociology, the American Sociological Review, the Review of Economics and Statistics, Administrative Science Quarterly, Management Science, the Strategic Management Journal, and Research Policy.
Prior to joining Yale, Olav held the Jeffrey S. Skoll Chair in Technical Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Toronto (2006-2009), where he taught courses on venture capital and the commercialization of technology. He has also held a professorship in Strategic and International Management at London Business School (2005-2007), associate and assistant professorships of Policy at UCLA (1999-2005), and an assistant professorship in Strategy at the University of Chicago (1997-1999). He grew up in South Dakota and received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard, his doctoral degree from Stanford, and an honorary doctorate from Aalborg University.
What do you do best?
Synthesize information. Both in research and teaching, the challenge is in absorbing a very large number of facts, determining how those facts could fit together into a consistent story about how the world works, testing the story, and then relating it and why it matters in a clear manner.
What makes you the best?
In most pursuits, success seems to depend on some combination of native ability, dedication (practice), and certain personality characteristics. In my case, I would guess that my success to date has stemmed from some aptitude for consuming large quantities of information, combined with a nearly endless curiosity for understanding things better, a passion for the processes of research and writing, and a willingness to take intellectual risks by entertaining ideas that might end up being wrong.
How will you stay the best?
Never rest on one’s laurels. I try to push myself to improve continually on at least three dimensions. First, I try to expand my base of knowledge. Rather than being content to become the foremost expert on some narrow topic, I try every few years to tackle some new issue or question. Second, I am also learning new skills. Statisticians, mathematicians and computer scientists are constantly developing new techniques for analyzing data. With nearly every project, I experiment with one novel technique so that I can understand better its strengths and weaknesses. Third, I try to reach new audiences. Academics generally focus on communicating with a small set of scholars engaged in research on related topics, but I am always looking to attend conferences and publish in journals that force me to communicate with a group with which I have had little prior contact, both as a means of gathering new ideas and inspiration and to expose my own ideas to a broader audience.
What are your aspirations?
Personal: To be a good father and husband; to enjoy life.
Business: To change the way people see the world around them.
What fascinates you?
A lot of things… I have gone through phases where I have focused on science fiction, astronomy and physics, philosophy, mathematics, Japanese culture and history, the history of science and technology, complex systems, all things Norweigan, health and fitness, and evolutionary biology. I love traveling, particularly to places that I have never been before.
Fear is the mind-killer. (Litany Against Fear, Dune)
Stephan Edberg, Roger Federer, Gabriela Sabatini, Richard Feynman, James G. March
California, Budapest, Cascais, Melbourne, Saddlebrook Resort, South Africa
Apple computers, Bose headphones, Jura coffeemakers, and Arc’teryx outerwear