Now You Know
WSB research that answers important questions
Q: Why is it easier to decide for others than for yourself?
Most people have that friend who seems to think they know what’s best for you. While you drag your feet on a decision, they clearly state their opinion about what you should do.
According to research from Evan Polman, assistant professor of marketing, it might be a good idea to listen to that friend. Polman’s research, featured in the Harvard Business Review, shows why people have an easier time making decisions for other people than they do for themselves.
Through eight studies with more than 1,000 participants, Polman found that what people choose for others differs, and so does the way they choose.
When people decide for others, they are more adventurous and consider many options. When they decide for themselves, they instead rein in fewer options and dive deeply into them. Indecision isn’t necessarily a factor; rather, it’s the person on the receiving end of the decision.
Polman’s findings offer an approach on how to tackle a big decision: act as though you’re deciding for a friend. Be adventurous. Look at many options. Keep self-doubt at bay by thinking of the “other” person, who happens to be you. Making yourself a fly on the wall to your own situation might be the best decision of all.
Q: Can online retailers become even faster and more efficient?
In the era of next-day delivery, every minute counts. At warehouses where workers fulfill online orders, retailers promote speed and efficiency along with their products.
Bob Batt, assistant professor of operations and information management, studied productivity in an order fulfillment center that operates similar to retailers such as Amazon or Walmart. He and his co-author found that with a few tweaks in the system, quick work could be even quicker.
Many warehouses work on what’s called a “chaotic storage” system—inventory is stored wherever space is available. Warehouse employees, called pick-workers, search for the correct bin and rifle through it for the item. Jeans might be stored with sweaters to maximize space utilization.
Yet in his study, Batt found the time spent searching within the bin mattered more than the distance between them. Also, experienced pick-workers could sort through bins of dissimilar items much quicker than their less experienced colleagues.
Data showed retailers could save money by creating a system in which workers walk farther but search through fewer items. Additionally, because experience matters, retaining efficient warehouse employees is good for the retailer’s bottom line.
E-commerce continues to grow, and retailers are always looking for the edge. With a few extra steps— literally and figuratively—companies might find an advantage.
Q: How do parents manage ‘outsourcing’ their tasks?
Everybody needs help caring for their children—that just comes with the territory of modern-day parenting. Increasingly that help comes from the marketplace in services such as birthday party planning or a kiddie cab that takes children to their activities.
Amber Epp, Wilbur Dickson-Bascom Professor in Business and an associate professor of marketing, researches how parents make sense of outsourcing options. Convenience can come with a cost that’s more than financial. It can create tensions for parents about what might be gained or lost when tasks are outsourced.
Epp’s research with Sunaina Velagaleti (MBA ’10, PhD ’17) identified three tensions parents face when they outsource. First, they worry about control—that tasks left to someone else are done as parents wish. Second, they worry about intimacy; parents don’t want to lose an emotional connection to their child despite their absence. Third, parents worry about substitutability—in their minds, some things a parent should do, such as teach a child to ride a bike. Different kinds of support can alleviate tensions or increase them.
It’s a challenge for parents to find the right mix of care. By understanding the effects of choices, parents—and support systems geared toward them—can create solutions that work for everyone.
Q: In what ways do noncompete clauses affect employees?
Noncompete clauses have been around since the Middle Ages, and have made news in recent years because of their use in fast food restaurants that led to lawsuits against McDonald’s and Jimmy John’s.
Martin Ganco, associate professor of management and human resources, explores their challenges and advantages in his research.
Noncompete clauses can impact an employee’s ability to move across industries as well as within an industry. For example, an aerospace engineer has skills that could be taken to another firm within the same industry, but the skills don’t easily transfer to another industry. That gives the engineer far less job flexibility than, say, a web designer. Workers may be stuck, but that might mean more opportunities for professional development. With noncompetes in place, employers may be more apt to invest in training because they know the employees likely won’t leave.
The clauses also impact the labor pool. Companies can’t hire away experienced workers from competitors and instead must recruit workers right out of school or training. That might challenge employers but provide opportunity for less experienced workers.
The effect of noncompete clauses varies by occupation and industry, Ganco finds, and it’s important to get a full picture of them. Unless laws are created to end them, noncompete clauses—like many employees they impact—are not going away any time soon.
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