J. Keith Murnighan earned his Ph.D. from Purdue University and is currently the Harold H. Hines Jr. Distinguished Professor of Risk Management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He also teaches in Kellogg’s Executive MBA programs around the world, including Hong Kong, Germany, Toronto, and Miami. His courses address leadership, negotiation, team building, decision-making, trust, and conflict. He has received numerous awards for his teaching and his research. In 2006 he received the Distinguished Educator Award from the Academy of Management, a Career Achievement award. In 2010 he received an Honorary Doctor of Science in Economics for distinguished contributions to Management and Organization Studies from the London Business School. He is a widely published researcher, primarily in organizational behavior, psychology, and economics.
His books include Bargaining Games (William Morrow, 1992), The Art of High-Stakes Decision-Making (with John Mowen; John Wiley & Sons, 2002), and most recently, Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader (Portfolio/The Penguin Group, 2012). He teaches regularly in executive programs in the US, Canada, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. He is an active consultant and trainer and has worked with many major corporations, including the American Dental Association, Allscripts, Aon, Caterpillar, CDW, DHL, Ernst & Young, Kraft, Motorola, the National Wildlife Federation, Pfizer, ToysRUs, the United States Olympic Committee, and the Young Presidents Organization, among others.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
* * *
Morris: Before discussing Do Nothing!, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Murnighan: That’s an easy one – I was fortunate to be the child of two wonderful parents. My Dad was a lawyer who truly cared about people and justice; my mother was a Northwestern grad who made sure that my brothers and sister and I always used correct grammar! They were active, intellectually curious people who loved the world and the people in it. They encouraged us to work hard and follow our interests, and they were always there for moral and substantive support.
Morris: Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Murnighan: This is much tougher, as I’ve had the great pleasure to work with an amazing array of outstanding people. In fact, I hesitate to start naming people because I know that I will leave important people out of the list, and that would be inexcusable. Instead, I’ll give you a flavor of the experiences that they provided. Through high school I attended Catholic schools in the Chicago area: they had a strong focus on developing us both intellectually and as human beings. I went off to college wanting to be more extroverted and independent, and I was able to sample a wide array of different classes, throughout the sciences and the humanities. I continued sampling many different domains in graduate school: even though I was enrolled in social psychology, I took classes in economics and in the business school.
These diverse pursuits were always encouraged and supported and allowed me to take a broad view of the social sciences. My first academic job, at the University of Illinois, was absolutely phenomenal: great colleagues, a research-oriented environment that valued good teaching, and a tremendously supportive administration. Once again, I had the freedom to follow my own interests, and I was influenced by a great set of scholars who all were excited about what we could all learn about how and why human beings behave the way they do, both at work and in broader social contexts.
After 19 years there I moved to the University of British Columbia, which helped to expand my international focus. Then I was lucky enough to settle at the Kellogg School at Northwestern where I am surrounded by people who combine outstanding scholarship and outstanding teaching – a rare and wonderful combination. More than that, I have had the great good fortune to work with amazing graduate students, at Illinois, UBC, and Kellogg – who have brought new ideas and tremendous energy to our joint endeavors. Finally, Kellogg helped open many, many doors to motivated, insightful executives who willing shared their ideas and their stories. This helped round out the practical side of my ideas. In other words, I’ve been particularly blessed during my career.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Murnighan: It was absolutely necessary – I would not be in my current position without it.
Morris: What do you know now about business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Murnighan: I was a young assistant professor with very little experience in business when I first started teaching. As my very successful uncle once told me, “you don’t know anything about business.” Most of my classes were focused on general social science and what we know about people rather than about work situations, so I was able to do that job reasonably well. Over time, I have had many opportunities to speak with literally thousands of executives and have visited a multitude of companies. Thus, although I primarily work in academia, I have had extensive experience interviewing and working with a host of business professionals. This has been invaluable.
Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.
Murnighan: Two of my favorite books on leadership are not business books. The first, Sacred Hoops, by Phil Jackson, tells the story of the Chicago Bulls’ first three basketball championships. Jackson was their coach. This tremendously insightful book mixes stories on basketball, teamwork, Zen Buddhism, and Native American culture; every few pages there are great insights on leadership. My second favorite book, It’s Your Ship, by Michael Abrashoff, tells the story of his taking over as captain and leading the sailors of the USS Benfold. Like Sacred Hoops, it presents one great insight after another. These two books show how great leadership can transcend situations even as it embraces a task’s particular demands. In Jackson’s case, for instance, he had the difficult task of leading twelve enormously talented basketball players who often had sizable egos. In addition, the nature of the game is that only five players can play at any one time – seven must sit on the bench, and each of the seven wishes that he was on the floor playing. Thus, the structure of the game means that there is internal competition among a team’s members about who gets more or less playing time. If this is not bad enough, there is only one ball. Thus, the five people on the floor often compete to determine who has the ball – because doing wondrous things with the ball leads to great fortune and fame. Thus, even the five players who have the luxury of being on the floor sometimes compete with their own teammates to control the ball. Phil Jackson repeatedly solved these problems, in unnatural ways.
* * *
To read the complete interview, please click here.
Keith cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites: