2017 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Linus Dahlander, ESMT Berlin

Linus Dahlander

Associate Professor of Strategy

ESMT Berlin

It’s one thing for your research to substantially build on an existing body of knowledge. What about helping to establish a new field of inquiry? That’s a true accomplishment — and one made by Dahlander in the area of distributed innovation, according to Tamer Boyaci, Chair of Management Science at ESMT Berlin. That interest in creation should come as no surprise for a professor who teaches courses in innovation and entrepreneurship at the school. The driving force behind the school’s acclaimed MBA Startup Challenge, Dahlander has mastered the roles of both research and teacher. Academically, best of his scholarly work has been published in the Academy of Management, Administrative Science Quarterly, Organizational Science, and Strategic Management Journal. Dahlander’s 2010 “How Open is Innovation?” paper also ranks among the most cited in the field, and he holds the distinction of being the youngest associate editor of the Academy of Management Journal. Dahlander also earns the highest marks as an instructor, with Dean of Faculty Catalina Stefanescu-Cuntze rattling off student comments like “Time flies with Linus” and “It’s a super interactive course – he made learning fun and effective” as samples of student sentiment.

Age: 37

At current institution since: 2011

Education: PhD in management from Chalmers University of Technology in 2006, post doc from Stanford in 2010

List of courses you currently teach: Organizing for Innovation and The Startup Challenge which is a hands-on entrepreneurship class.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? I always work on a few projects, but I spend most time on a project with Henning Piezunka from INSEAD. We have been working hard to integrate large-scale analysis of networks and content to understand how new ideas emerge and take root using unique data from crowdsourcing.

Professor you most admire: The ones who work with me. That must take some patience. Otherwise I really admire Jim March who I think is a creative genius. I am also very grateful to Woody Powell and Dan McFarland who advised my post doc, as well as Ammon Salter who has been a consigliere whispering insightful advice in my ears.

“I knew I wanted to be a B-school professor when…I realized I must get a job after doing a PhD. The alternatives looked much worse. And the professors at business schools seemed to enjoy doing research and teaching students.”

“If I weren’t a B-school professor…I would probably be an entrepreneur, strategy consultant, a doctor (the real one), a writer of fictional books or a comedian. Interestingly enough, I think some of the skills that are necessary in those professions make a good professor.”

One word that describes my first time teaching an MBA class: It must have been scary, because I don’t remember it.

Most memorable moment in the classroom, or in general, as a professor: Those are quite a few. I am a pretty happy guy, and I remember the moments where I have been laughing so hard that I’ve been crying in the classroom. It doesn’t happen very often, but I cherish those moments.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I am most proud over the fact that I walk around not being so proud about myself. I take pride in not taking myself too seriously.

What do you enjoy most about being a business school professor? I think business schools are the perfect place to integrate research and something that bears relevance for managers. In the beginning, I just wrote academic papers that had a readership of three (myself, mom and dad), but I have been making a concerted effort to make it more accessible in teaching. I learn a lot from interactions with managers, so this loop between theory and practice is important to me.

What do you enjoy least about being a business school professor? Our MBA program is short, and I often wish I would be better in staying in touch with former students.

What is your favorite business-themed movie and what is the biggest lesson that MBA students could gain from it? Can I say a TV-series? I’ll do it anyway. I think Netflix’s Chef’s Table is oftentimes very insightful about talking about the tension between tradition and innovation. I have played with the idea of integrating this in my teaching, as I think these amazing chefs have deep insights about what it means to do something innovative in a world that often places a premium on the status quo.

What is your favorite company and why? I generally don’t play favorites with companies. That being said, I like the ones that have interesting questions and would be willing to give me heaps of data for research projects a bit more! Those are usually interesting companies as they realize they have a problem, and are open for creative ways of thinking for solutions.

Fun fact about yourself: I once broke my arm when I was arm-wrestling with one of my childhood friends.

Bucket list item #1: For some reason, I always wanted to see Machu Picchu.

Favorite book: Since we had kids, I have been reading a lot fewer novels than I used to. It feels like I should say something more serious here, but I kind of like Dr Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”

Favorite movie: I have to mention a movie taking place in Berlin: The Lives of Others from 2006, who won an Oscar for best foreign movie. It takes place before the fall of the wall in the early 80s and documents the dark history of Stasi surveillance. The ending is amazing (and takes place around the corner from where I now live).

Favorite type of music: I am really a music omnivore and listen almost the entire time. Almost all my papers have been written while listening to music. For instance, I am considering adding the German music artist Jan Blomqvist in the acknowledgment as he contributed with lots of inspiration for a new paper.

Favorite television show: Big Bang Theory – some students say I look a bit like Sheldon. I take that as a compliment.

Favorite vacation spot: Småland (which is not the IKEA playground, but the area in Sweden where I grew up).

What are your hobbies? Running, body weight workouts, listening to music, traveling, and playing with my kids.

Twitter handle: @linusdahlander

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have…a clever way of running more experiments inside companies to figure out smart answers. I think we have to be pretty humble about the fact that there are tons of things we don’t know, but we usually know how to figure out good answers.” 

Students say:

“Linus is a outlier professor who, throughout the entire time of the class, has shown his professionalism, dedication and commitment. He is the example of flawless execution in teaching at a senior executive level. He is always challenging the status quo and incentivizing the innovation and encouraging the alumni to go beyond. His way of teaching is unique because he likes to engage the class in productive discussions in which he smartly feeds with fresh concepts and insights.”

“He is an inspiring professor presenting rigorously researched themes in an easy-to-grasp and practical format. Although our batch is a relatively small one, and every student has the opportunity to get the most of our professors, what distinguishes Linus from the others is his authentic approach towards every student. He managed to find time during session breaks or lunch to speak personally to everyone as to have an understanding about students’ individual needs. He inspired me to always seek the unknown by being open and empathetic. He taught me that successful innovation is possible by adopting a well structured approach – a critical knowledge for every future global leader.”

“Linus was a fantastic professor and his course was the perfect conclusion of the full-time MBA program. Thanks to Linus attitude, I was always enthusiastic to join his classes. Moreover, the course structure was excellent: great lectures with Linus, interesting guest speakers and independent study sessions to work on the project. In conclusion, I enjoyed to study with Linus because of his personality, his ability to stimulate my curiosity, his excellent lectures and because I had a lot of fun!!”

“His classes “organizing for Innovation” and “Business plan for entrepreneurship” beared learnings I implement every day. It is actually because of the lectures he delivered that I chose my current Job.

Linus is really close to his students and is a real free thinker inside and outside the Auditorium, which is refreshing. Attending his classes really means connecting with him as he conveys his personal messages taking the form of high value academic courses. His precious academic advice blended in perfectly with his personal sarcastic sense of humour, which makes his classes vivid still now.”

“I can’t speak for the rest of the class, but I feel he made a great impact on me personally. I found the class particularly relevant, since I was planning on starting a company myself. Since having started a business at the beginning of January, I’ve applied several the lessons and strategies he taught us. He has also been happy to provide feedback along the way, which was really great. On a personal level, he’s a really nice guy and always willing to speak to students about anything.”


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