Don Thompson is an economist and professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He has taught at Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics. He is author of nine books, including The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, which details his explorations in trying to understand the high end of the contemporary art market. Shark has been published in thirteen languages. His most recent book, Oracles: How Prediction Markets Turn Employees into Visionaries, was published by Harvard Business Review Press (June, 2012).
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Oracles a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?
Thompson: A dozen brilliant people I encountered in grad school (at Berkeley) and later, in universities, businesses and government. From each I learned new things, but more important, new ways of looking at problems, and how to think outside the box.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Thompson: My formal education included an MBA, which got me interested in problem solving, and a PhD, which furthered that interest but is also provided an essential entry point to an academic career. So the formal education part has been invaluable for my career path.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time?
Thompson: The importance of the soft skills involved in communication, motivation and managing.
Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles?
Thompson: Citizen Kane. The explanation is in the eyes and mind of the viewer.
Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business?
Thompson: I’ll suggest two: Michael Mauboussin’s More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places (Columbia Business School Press 2008), and Cass Sunstein’s Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide (Oxford University Press, 2008). The Mauboussin book is about business, but more centrally, about making rational decisions. The Sunstein book is about how wrongheadedness gets worse when people get together in groups. Both are brilliant thinkers, I recommend anything with those names attached.
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know.”
Thompson: Right. None of us is as smart as all of us (which is also a Japanese proverb).
Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”
Thompson: The prediction market equivalent is probably, “If you really are afraid of the answer, don’t ask the question.”
Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Thompson: It never occurred to me that there was another option. Probably too late now.
Morris:Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Thompson: That is a great quote. I once was presented with its equivalent, by a Columbia marketing professor named Al Oxenfeldt, with whom I had co-authored a couple of articles and was proposing a new topic, which I had collected a lot of data on. Al said, “If something is not worth doing, it is not worth doing well.” Quite right.
Morris:In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?
Thompson: That is exactly the philosophy of Jim Lavoie and Joe Marino, co-CEOs of my favorite prediction-market company, Rite-Solutions – which is the subject of the first chapter of Oracles.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Don cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
Don’s faculty page, please click here
Amazon’s Oracles page, please click here.
Amazon’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark page, please click here.