2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Nour Kteily, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Nour Kteily

Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

Nour Kteily’s trophy case already rivals Tom Brady’s right now – and the Kellogg assistant professor of management and organizations is just 31! A social scientist by training, he is the school’s two-time (and reigning) Faculty Member of the Year in the Masters in Management Studies program. This year, he was the youngest recipient ever for the Sage Young Scholar Award from the Foundation for Personality and Social Psychology. Before that, he racked up accolades such as best paper awards by both the Academy of Management and the International Society for Political Psychology.

Outside the classroom, Kteily’s passion is power…and how its disparity can fuel intolerance, conflict, violence, and ultimately dehumanization – particularly in the Middle East. His research in such areas has been featured in the Journal of Experimental Psychology and Psychological Science and picked up by outlets like the New York Times. Currently, he teaches Negotiations and  Negotiations Fundamentals, where he has received near perfect evaluation scores from students.

“Taking Professor Kteily’s negotiations class alone was worth the MBA,” writes Robert Ryan (’18). “He has an unparalleled investment in students’ real world success. He spent a great deal of time outside of class helping me plan and navigate my full-time offer negotiations and continued to follow up once the course was complete. From the outcome of these negotiations, I can actually calculate the ROI of his class and mentorship and I could not be more grateful.”

Age: 31

At current institution since what year? 2014

Education: B.Sc. First-Class Honors in Psychology from McGill University, 2008; Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard University, 2013.

List of courses you currently teach: Negotiations (MORS-470), Negotiations Fundamentals (MORS-472-5)

Twitter handle: @NourKteily

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…I realized that I could make connections between basic research in psychology and fundamental problems students need to solve in their professional and personal lives…And do so in a way that’s socially conscious.”

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? Over the past five years, my colleagues and I have been studying the psychological mechanisms that help to maintain social hierarchy between groups. In recent years, I’ve been focusing especially on the role of dehumanization in that process. A lot of psychological research over the past decades suggests that overt prejudice is largely a thing of the past, and that most of our social biases today operate unconsciously, outside of our awareness. In contrast, our work shows that many groups (like Muslims, the Romani population in Europe, and the homeless) continue to face surprising levels of very explicit dehumanization in contemporary society. We further show that these groups’ experience of feeling dehumanized predicts their own reciprocal hostility, contributing in important ways to continuing cycles of conflict. Recently, we’ve been focused on developing interventions to mitigate these effects. For example, in recent work of mine with Emile Bruneau and Emily Falk, we show that part of the reason people dehumanize Muslims is because they tend to hold all Muslims responsible for acts carried out by individual Muslims (like the attack in San Bernardino), a psychological tendency called “collective blame”. But we don’t tend to hold our own groups collectively accountable when individual members behave terribly. In a series of experiments, we show that subtly nudging people to reflect on this hypocrisy reduces their dehumanization of Muslims.

 “If I weren’t a business school professor…I’d probably be an investigative journalist. Or an international human-rights lawyer.”

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I’d leave it for my students to say… But the big thing that keeps me excited and gives me energy is witnessing that a-ha moment when students really ‘get it’…and then tell me about how they’ve used what they’ve learned to improve their lives. I love working with students on their real-world negotiations, because there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing about how they were able to successfully translate what we discussed in class into tangible outcomes that matter to them.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Exhilara-usting.

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? Daft Punk- Harder Better Faster Stronger.

As a b-school professor, what motivates you? Knowing that our students (rightly) expect the highest standards and are going to be implementing what they’re learning right away. There’s no margin for delivering anything less than the best we have to offer, so you always have to be on your toes.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: How much dry cleaning is involved.

Professor you most admire and why: When I first took Donald Taylor’s social psychology class at McGill, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. When I first read the book Social Dominance Theory by Jim Sidanius (my Ph.D. supervisor) and Felicia Pratto, I knew I’d found the theoretical tradition that I’d use to think about and study the world.

STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? They want to be there, they want to learn, and they expect the best from themselves and others.

What is most challenging? The need to distill complex and contingent realities into a practical toolkit that works most of the time. As a researcher, the more you learn, the more you realize that the right answer is almost always, “it depends”. As a professor, you have to sort through all the contingencies to deliver to students the type of clear takeaways that are going to generally serve them well across contexts. That, and analyzing students’ negotiation outcomes on the fly. There’s no adrenaline rush like knowing you have to collect, analyze, and prepare to insightfully critique a whole class’ negotiation results during a 15-minute break…especially when the results don’t follow the patterns you were predicting and you have to improvise.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: Intellectually-curious.

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Grade-obsessed.

What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done? It’s hard to pick just one— I’ve been lucky to have some pretty incredible students at Kellogg. But, one that comes to mind was a skit a group of students put together for a class project analyzing a real-world negotiation. They broke down the negotiations between George Lucas and Disney for the sale of the rights to Star Wars decked out in light sabers and Darth Vader costumes, with the voice distortion and everything. And their analysis of the negotiations principles wasn’t half bad, either!

What is the least favorite thing one has done? My pet-peeve is students showing up to class late or unprepared. Luckily, it doesn’t happen too often.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Prepare, show up (on time!), and put in a serious effort to learn and improve. I have a soft spot for students who are self-reflective and willing to openly and critically consider where they went wrong in a negotiation.

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as…someone who puts a premium on detail.

But I would describe myself as…someone who agonizes for hours every time I have to turn my course grades in…it’s easy when people haven’t done the work and deserve a lower grade. But on the flip side, there are only so many A’s to go around, and many quarters, more people who deserve them than I can justify.

Fill in the blank: “If my students can identify creative value-creating solutions where they would’ve previously thrown their hands up, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Fun fact about yourself: This was equal parts fun and reckless, but my fourth-ever scuba dive was diving 130 feet in the Great Blue Hole in Belize. It was really awesome, but I was definitely in over my head.

What are your hobbies? Playing soccer, bedroom DJ-ing, watching documentaries, standup comedy, a slow Sunday reading the New Yorker.

How will you spend your summer? Fulfilling a life-long dream of attending the World Cup, which is being held in Russia this year.

Favorite place to vacation: Berlin.

Favorite book: Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is one of those books that was so good I was sad when I finished it.

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? As someone who studies socio-political conflict, I really enjoyed The Wind that Shakes the Barley and Wag the Dog. And as a psychologist, I find 12 Angry Men captivating.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: I listen to all sorts of stuff, from minimal electro and tech house to jazz to rap. There’s too many artists to list, but one of my favorites is Nicolas Jaar…and I was blown away when I saw A Tribe Called Quest at the Pitchfork Music Festival last summer.

Bucket list item #1: I’d love to spend a few months traveling through South Africa.

THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION

What professional achievement are you most proud of? It’s not yet truly sunk in, but the phone call I got a few weeks ago telling me I got tenure will stick with me for a long time.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? Being asked by my students to deliver the faculty remarks at their convocation was pretty special.

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…I think social inequality is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and I’d love to see professors and students thinking even more about how business can be part of the solution in creating prosperous and equitable societies that don’t leave certain segments of the population behind. I see the rise of automation as posing both exciting opportunities and serious challenges in this regard, and I think business schools are uniquely well-positioned to shape what develops.

And much less of this…Business schools do a great job of connecting students to opportunities in established career pathways that are stable, financially rewarding, and fulfilling to many. But I sometimes worry that the normativeness of these more traditional career options makes it harder to take the plunge for those students who come to business school wanting to branch out in a different direction. Over the years, I’ve met some inspiring students who’ve been passionate about using their business school education to serve disadvantaged communities or address important social issues, even when that meant forgoing safer or more lucrative options. My hope is that, with time, these students will come to feel less like the exception to the rule.

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? These days, it’s not enough for many companies to simply make money in a vacuum. As recent events at companies like Uber, Google, and Facebook show, organizations today are increasingly both affected by and affect important societal conversations. As we face challenging issues like how to handle privacy in the age of big data and how to build diverse and equitable organizations, I hope to see more companies taking a proactive rather than reactive approach in thinking about their ethical— as well as fiscal—responsibilities.

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

Being a professor has a way of taking you in exciting directions you didn’t necessarily anticipate. For example, I didn’t know I’d be working on dehumanization 5 years ago, and so it’s hard to know exactly what questions will capture my attention 10 years for now. But if I’m still working on topics that keep me up at night, and which people both inside and outside academia care about, I’ll consider that a success. And hopefully, my students will still want to hear what I have to say!

Students say…

“Professor Kteily went beyond teaching extraordinary class contents that are extremely applicable to everyday life. He was so eager to be a part of helping students using the lessons learned in the real situation. His negotiation advice and his active help throughout the three-month process of offers negotiation landed an incredible result which has never been offered before. I definitely feel super lucky to be a part of his class!”

Nantharat Sriwattanangkoon
Former Kellogg student

“The main takeaway from Nour’s class is that successful negotiation comes with rigorous preparation, and he follows the same principle in the classroom. Few professors demonstrate the same level of commitment to preparing for lectures and it shows in the quality of the hands-on learning experiences Nour is able to create. He’s also very accessible and passionate about engaging with students outside the classroom; when you take a class with Nour, he is your professor for life and truly enjoys coaching former students as they progress through their careers.”

David Songer
Kellogg MMM – Class of 2018

“Nour Kteily was a meaningful advocate for me both in and out of the classroom. His class by far was one of the more influential courses I took at Kellogg. He was diligent in helping me achieve my goals I vocalized at the beginning of the negotiations class, checking in before and after class with tailored advice to make sure I was ready for each negotiation simulation. Additionally, without his support and numerous individual meetings, I wouldn’t have ever tried to negotiate my offer with the firm I am joining after Kellogg. It felt like I had my own personal executive coach in my corner with Professor Kteily.”

Ladini Jayarante
Kellogg 2Y MBA – Class of 2018

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