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Best Prof: Mikolaj Jan Piskorski

Mikolaj is among the world's 40 best business school profs under the age of 40.

Mikolaj Jan Piskorski is among the world’s 40 best business school profs under the age of 40.

Mikolaj Jan Piskorski

Associate Professor of Business Administration

Age: 37

Institution: Harvard Business School

Home Country: Poland

Marital Status: Single

Education: Cambridge University, B.A and M.A. Economics and Politics at Christ’s College

Harvard University, A.M. in Sociology and Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior

Courses:  Competing With Social Networks

Building and Sustaining Competitive Advantage

Strategic Agility and Media Strategies

At Harvard Business School Since: 2004

Before Harvard: Taught at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business

Fun Fact: He’s a highly productive Tweeter with more than 1,700 followers who has written case studies on Twitter, LinkedIn, Yelp and Friendster, among others.

When Mikolaj Jan Piskorski first began looking into social networking at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in the early 2000s, colleagues were skeptical. When he showed them MySpace, they inevitably thought his academic research “cute” and “very nice.” “The typical reaction to my work was ‘you are crazy,’” he recalls. “’This is really funny. Teenage girls will really love it, but nobody else will take it seriously.’ At the time, it was a big bet.”

Nearly ten years later, that early research and his thoughtful and passionate teaching of the subject has made Piskorski a superstar professor in the strategy group at the Harvard Business School. As he quickly points out, there are now more than 500 million people on Facebook, a company with a valuation of $50 billion. As the resident Harvard expert, Piskorski has written many of the definitive cases on social media from eHarmony, Facebook and Friendster, to LinkedIn, Wikipedia and Zynga. Of the 20 case studies he requires students to read in his highly popular course, Competing with Social Networks, he had written all but one.

But it’s not merely that he teaches a subject considered hot; he brings lots of intellectual firepower to the topic and a dedication to teaching that makes his classes captivating to everyone in them. Piskorski says he first glimpsed the impact a teacher can have on his students when he went to high school in the United Kingdom. In Poland, where he was born, there were 45 students to every teacher. In the U.K., there was a ratio of six students to every teacher. “It was just an amazing, eye-opening experience,” he says. In fact, it ultimately convinced him that he wanted to spend the rest of his life teaching others.

“It’s the close student-faculty connection that really drew me to teaching,” he says. “It’s a good way to get deeply interested in people and help them develop. I love to explain things to people.”

His current research examines how firms can harness the power of social networks together with innovative organizational designs to build and implement sustainable strategies. He is also an expert on why and how people use on-line social networks, both in the US and abroad, and how firms can use them to increase viral product adoption. He has also applied many of these insights to large organizations as they seek to become more agile and use social networks to execute their strategies. Misiek’s previous research examined the role of social networks in the venture capital industry.

His wry and witty observations about online behavior make him something of a quote machine. He notes, for example, that 10% of the people on Twitter are responsible for 90% of the tweets. His conclusion: Twitter is less a social network than it is a one-way broadcasting device. Piskorski also discovered that two-thirds of all the pageviews on social networking sites are of women. When he once presented this statistic to a biology department, a professor raised his hand and said, “’In biology, we knew this 200 years ago. If you look at any species of animals, the males are usually bigger and more colorful and the females are small and gray. They don’t need to be bigger to get noticed.’”

His research has been published in Administrative Science Quarterly and Social Forces and cited in the New York Times, Business 2.0, and Investors Business Daily. He serves or has served on the editorial boards of several academic journals including Administrative Science Quarterly, American Journal of Sociology, Management Science and Organization Science.

Students Say:

“I love how Mikolaj Piskorski helps students with startups. I’m specifically thinking of the guidance he gave one of the second-year studnets on his company Triangulate. I also appreciate how he brings frameworks and rigor to a the relatively fuzzy and vague topics of social networks. His passion, knowledge and curiosity of how the offline world interacts with the online world is infectious.” — Katharine Nevins, Class of 2011, Harvard Business School

“I find that the way he encourages us (the students) to think about the underlying ‘derivative failures’ of the online world and what real-world problems the online solutions are attempting to solve is incredibly thought provoking. His commitment to bringing in the case protagonists and enabling us to have small audiences with them over breakfasts and lunches is quite extraordinary.” — Justine Lelchuk, Class of 2011, Harvard Business School

Mikolaj Jan Piskorski  is amongThe World’s 40 Best B-School Profs Under the Age of 40