2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Andrew Hafenbrack, Católica-Lisbon School

Andrew Hafenbrack

Assistant Professor

Católica-Lisbon School of Business & Economics

Before college, Andrew Hafenbrack had never been traveled outside the United States. Then, he headed to Rome and Moscow as a student at Carnegie Mellon. From there, he was hooked! Eventually, he found his way to INSEAD’s Singapore campus, where he earned his Ph.D. in management and organizational behavior. Two years later, he finds himself in Portugal, where he is emerging as one of the most promising scholars in his field – all at just 31 years old.

Most notably, he has taken his love of meditation into the academic mainstream. In just four years, his piece, “Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias.” has already been cited by over 140 scholars. Even more, his research has made the jump into the national media, appearing in outlets like Bloomberg Businessweek, Forbes, New York Times, and Psychology Today.

Hafenbrack has also left a mark on his business students in just two years at the Católica-Lisbon School of Business & Economics. Thus far, students have given him near perfect evaluations on his courses (Including a perfect 7.0 for his Managerial Decision Making Course in 2016). His secret, he says, is making his classes informative and entertaining.

“I use storytelling, videos, games, and exercises to try to make my classes fun,” he explains. “My goal is that students would enjoy many parts of my courses even if they were not learning anything. I think doing this actually makes students learn more because they are intrinsically motivated to engage with the concepts and material.”

Age: 31

At current institution since what year? 2015

Education: B.S. in Decision Science, Carnegie Mellon University 2009; Ph.D. in Management, Organizational Behavior specialization, INSEAD 2015

List of courses you currently teach: Behavioral Decision Making, Managerial Decision Making, International Negotiation, various Executive Education modules

Twitter handle: @andyhafenbrack

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…I audited Don Moore’s negotiation course while I was an undergraduate. I loved how engaged the students seemed, and how he was able to charismatically lead an immersive group journey.”

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?

I am researching mindfulness meditation as something people can do for ~10 minutes in specific situations in the workplace, and well as cross-cultural psychology. On mindfulness, we found that brief meditation helps people make better decisions by cutting their losses sooner. But brief mindfulness can also impair task motivation (yet doesn’t seem to do anything to task performance). On cultural psychology, we found that having a close friendship or romance with a foreigner can make people more creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial. We also found that engaging with a foreign country while you are studying abroad there predicts more subsequent job offers.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…I would be an opera singer, which would probably mean restaurant waiter, or consultant.”

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor?

I use storytelling, videos, games, and exercises to try to make my classes fun. My goal is that students would enjoy many parts of my courses even if they were not learning anything. I think doing this actually makes students learn more because they are intrinsically motivated to engage with the concepts and material.

One word that describes my first time teaching:

Difficult (I was shadowing another professor’s 3 hour class and taking copious notes, then repeated the same class I had just seen for the following 3 hours. Thankfully, there were only six class meetings.)

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be?

2Cellos cover of “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC

As a b-school professor, what motivates you?

Doing research that can improve the world and creating a journey for my students to help them make better decisions and achieve their goals.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor:

“You can choose to do research and teaching that you think is meaningful, and doing so will help you have the motivation to perform at a high level and overcome inevitable setbacks”

Professor you most admire and why:

There are so many to choose from! Research-wise, Baruch Fischhoff because he engages with big problems, comes up with ideas that can improve people’s lives, and translates scientific insights to many different scholarly and lay audiences. I have also had the great fortune of working with Sigal Barsade and Adam Galinsky, who are both extremely creative, rigorous, and thoughtful about every step of the research process. Teaching-wise, Horacio Falcão and Neil Bearden because they both see the big picture and are master storytellers who create exciting learning atmospheres.

STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

How they care about creating value and have a focus on practical applications.

What is most challenging?

I have trouble stopping individual students who go too far off topic for too long in classroom discussions.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student:

Curious

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student:

Absent

What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done?

A group of students wrote a case about one of their summer jobs in a warehouse that poignantly captured their trajectory of excitement, disillusionment, and burnout in a way that made the reader feel like they were really there and kept them on the edge of their seat. We will probably try to publish it because there are not many business cases on employee well-being, which I did not realize until I read their case.

What is the least favorite thing one has done?

Plagiarism

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class?

Showing up to class and remembering the material is usually enough, however having creative presentations and written assignments also help.

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…

Hopefully clear, fair, and generous.

But I would describe myself as…

I probably spend too much time grading because I dread the idea that students might read each other’s assignments to compare grades and not think the grades make sense.

Fill in the blank: “If my students can make decisions that are satisfying to themselves in the long term, be mindful of and work together with other people, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Fun fact about yourself: I spent essentially my entire life until age 22 in the US and have spent 80% of my life since then abroad.

What are your hobbies? Playing music, traveling, cooking, reading

How will you spend your summer?

In Korea with my wife’s side of the family and at conferences

Favorite place to vacation:

Italy

Favorite book:

Sirens of Titan

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

My favorite TV show is Crazy Ex-Girlfriend because it is a musical, the whole premise is funny, it portrays serious psychological concepts like how we delude and sabotage ourselves in a compassionate way, and the cast and writing are brilliant.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

Queen, Lady Gaga, and Fall Out Boy; musicals and opera

Bucket list item #1:

Ride Trans-Siberian Railway

THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

Two of my scientific articles have Altimetric scores above 400, which means they have each been mentioned in more than 50 or so news articles throughout the world. I am proud of this because it shows that many people outside of academia may have heard of the findings and could benefit from them.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor?

The first time we reached the student presentation day at the end of my decision-making course. I was pleasantly surprised by how creative and funny the presentations were, and how students were able to translate the course topics into skits about interesting real-life situations. It felt like a party, but we were also learning from each other.

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…

Teaching concepts that are useful to students in their personal and professional lives in ways that optimize student learning and satisfaction.

And much less of this…

Comparing one’s own school to other schools.

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? Please explain.

Sharing the benefits of their success with people lower in the hierarchy, having a preference for promoting internally for leadership positions, creating incentives for long term stewardship (e.g. bonuses based more on longer term or future department/firm performance), and designing the workplace in a way that is productive and healthy. If meditating or taking a half hour nap after lunch will make people feel and work better, organizations could do a better job of encouraging and supporting those behaviors. Also, for companies that value creativity, it would be good to facilitate the conditions for employees to work abroad for extended periods of time (e.g. help with visas and bureaucracy, making sure expats’ careers advance similarly to non-expats’).

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what would “success” be like for you?

I would like to conduct more research on new ways that people can feel and perform better at work. I would like to write more popular press articles for news or practitioner outlets, maybe also a book if I have enough to say that it would make sense. I would like to develop new classroom exercises and materials, including some that allow students to become more self-aware and comfortable in challenging interpersonal situations, as well as help them become more active designers of their lives.

Students say…

“Professor Andrew Hafenbrack has an outstanding capability at teaching. Through his dedication and passion he is capable of making students rethink the ideas and preconceptions they have, not only in the field of business and organizations, but also in their lives. The methods he applies and the passion he puts into his work assure a deep understanding, he makes the process attractive in a way that awakens students’ curiosity and willingness to learn. This, in addition to the concern he shows for each of his students, makes me consider Professor Andrew Hafenbrack as the best teacher I had during my scholar years.”
Micaela Oyarzún, Undergraduate Student

“The course was extremely exciting and gave a new practical vision to many things. Knowledge gained during the course can be applied not only in management or in future professional life but also, which is even more important, in everyday life. The professor is definitely one of the best I have ever had during my study. Brilliant knowledge, experience, innovative way of teaching, approach to the students, listening to them, making dialogues, recaps, exercises, making us really think – these are only a few of the many and many of Andrew Hafenbrack’s great practices and advantages. Thanks to him for such experience and thanks to Católica for this bright and innovative course.”
Andriy Kyryyenko, M.Sc. Student

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