Leslie K. John: Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School

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Bio:

Leslie John is an assistant professor of business administration in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets unit. She teaches the Negotiations course in the MBA elective curriculum, as well as in various Executive Education courses. In the past, she has taught the core Marketing course in the MBA required curriculum. Professor John's research centers on how consumers' behavior and lives are influenced by their interaction with firms and with public policy. Her work has been published in academic journals including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Social Psychological and Personality Science, and The Journal of the American Medical Association. It has also received media attention from outlets such as The New York Times, Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Time magazine.

Professor John holds a Ph.D. in behavioral decision research from Carnegie Mellon University, where she also earned an M.Sc. in psychology and behavioral decision research. She completed her bachelor's degree in psychology at the University of Waterloo.

What do you do best?

That is a hard question to answer. I suppose one of the things I'm good at is translating interesting and quirky things I see people (not to mention myself!) do into research questions that give us an understanding of why people do the seemingly irrational things we do.

For example, my co-authors (Kate Barasz, a doctoral student at HBS, and Mike Norton, a professor at HBS) and I recently published a paper (http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/PNAS-2016-John-1516868113_b2e77705-a8f0-4512-b316-b19ebafe629d.pdf ) showing that people are suspicious of those who don't divulge information about themselves... we dislike "withholders" so much in fact that we are more drawn to people who divulge even extremely unsavory information about themselves. For example, our research participants tell us that they'd rather hire someone who admitted to having done drugs on a job application relative to the person who opts out of answering a question about drug use.

What motivated me to study this was that I kept encountering quotes in the media suggesting that we should be suspicious of those who don't divulge information. For example, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings, one commentator noted that well before the tragedy, the perpetrator was "already appearing odd and at odds with society." What was the "evidence?" He had opted out of answering two questions on a college application: gender? How do you describe yourself? Now, I'm not exonerating Lanza... merely pointing out how it struck me that this seemingly innocuous activity (opting out of answering two questions) was taken as a sign of incipient criminality. And this observation is what motivated me to then study how people respond to those who don't divulge personal information.

What makes you the best?

I don't believe I'm the best. I think I have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else.

What are your aspirations?

One aspiration is to contribute more to our understanding of how people make decisions... in particular, decisions that pertain to sharing their personal data, and decisions that pertain to their health and well-being. I try to understand how people make these decisions, the ways in which they err, with the big-picture goal of devising methods to help people make better decisions.

Biggest Success?

Landing this job. Dream Job. Feel super grateful and lucky. Keep pinching myself that I have it.

Most Challenging Moment?

Where to begin?! I had a particularly challenging moment a few years ago when I was presenting the results of a research project which aimed to document the prevalence of questionable research practices... in the study, my collaborators and I (George Loewenstein and Drazen Prelec) had asked thousands of researchers to simply tell us whether they'd engaged in shady research practices (we had a hunch that some of these practices are pretty common... *sigh*) ... "massaging" the data to "find" what you want to find. During the presentation - with hundreds of people in attendance - a very senior, and frankly, up to that point, a "research hero" of mine, rudely and abrasively interrupted me, tried to discredit my findings, etc. Fortunately his claims were not substantive so it was fairly easy for me to rebut them. But I couldn't help but have this "meta-moment" as he publically derided me... thinking "wow, this is completely ironic... this person's work inspired me to get into this field in the first place, how ironic and sad that he is doing this."

Favorite Motto?

Lately this one rings particularly true to me: "If you're going through hell, keep going." From Winston Churchill.

Favorite People?

My favorite people are those who can put their egos aside when they make important decisions that involve others' well-being. This includes many of my dear colleagues at HBS!

Favorite Places?

So many! Cozy cabins in the forest, slope-side chalets, my office (I know - I'm a mega-nerd), exotic places.