2022 Best 40-Under-40 MBA Professors: Lior Zalmanson, Tel Aviv University, Coller School of Management

Lior Zalmanson

Tel Aviv University, Coller School of Management

“Lior is a poet and quant in the most literal sense. His decade-long research on trust and commitment to online platforms not only culminated in multiple awards-winning research papers but also in the publication of a poetry book (in Hebrew). He is the only business professor I know that receives invitations to international poetry festivals and is asked to teach master classes in comparative literature departments. Over the years, Lior has also been involved in filmmaking, playwriting, and digital art, and he has a unique way of bringing those qualities to the business classroom.” – Prof. Sharon Toker

Lior Zalmanson, 38, is Assistant Professor at Coller School of Management’s Technology and Information Management Program at Tel Aviv University.

His research interests include social media, user engagement, internet business models, human-AI interaction, and algorithmic management. He has won awards and grants from Fulbright Foundation, GIF (Germany-Israel Foundation), Grant for the Web, Dan David Prize, Google, Marketing Science Institute, Social Informatics SIG, among others. His works were published in top journals including MIS Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Management Information Systems, and MIT Sloan Review

He is the winner of the 2021 Association of Information Systems Researchers’ Early Career Award, acknowledging a combination of research, teaching, and service to the community. He also received multiple teaching awards for his experiential courses in user engagement and online communities. Formerly he was an assistant professor at the University of Haifa, a postdoctoral Fulbright fellow at NYU, and a research fellow at the Metropolitan Museum Media Lab.

Zalmanson is also the founder of the Print Screen Festival, Israel’s digital culture festival, which connects internet researchers, activists, and artists. His most recent VR work (about the bystander syndrome) debuted at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.

BACKGROUND

At current institution since what year? 2019

Education: Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University, Post-doctoral fellowship at New York University

List of MBA courses you currently teach: Interactive experiences and online communities management, User Engagement in Online Environments, and Information and Technology Management

TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR

I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was a bit of an academic geek from a very young age. I started university at the age of 17. However, I began ordering university catalogs in my freshman year in high school, already dreaming about courses and what would be my major. I believed that lifelong learning is a noble pursuit.  However, it was not until the first graduate class course I took at Tel Aviv University years later that I began to imagine myself as a researcher. The course was an elective on knowledge management. The MBA professor there, the late Israel Spiegler, encouraged us to explore academic journals and find research that changes our perspective on how people share their knowledge with others. I think the class found this task frustratingly unstructured, but I just loved it! It made me immerse myself in past academic studies and caused me to develop a taste for research. 

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My current work primarily focuses on AI-Human interaction and the future of work.  I’m studying cases where the AI has authority over the worker (for instance, drivers at Uber, food carriers at Grubhub, etc.) My research includes exploring the organizational and work-experience-related tensions in such situations. However, my most recent discovery, together with my Ph.D. student Yotam Liel, shows that there are cases in which people are very willing to delegate “thinking” to the algorithm and accept AI judgment even when it goes against their better judgment. I do worry that if we are not managing AI-human interaction correctly, we will end up in the “autopilot” mode, which might create accountability issues and jeopardize our human agency. 

If I weren’t a business school professor I’d be… A writer or a journalist. They share many qualities with researchers and professors, but most of all, they communicate ideas to wider audiences, and I highly relate to this aspect of their work

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I think it’s the fact that I work as a business professor while being active as an interdisciplinary artist. I try to incorporate aspects of my art practice into my teaching. For instance, I teach storytelling and user engagement using screenwriting and playwriting exercises and immersive experiences using insights and examples from museums, art installations, and VR experiences.

One word that describes my first time teaching: Stomach-ache, OK it’s really two words.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That it’s OK to not always know the answer.

Professor I most admire and why: I admire the late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak live close to his ninetieth birthday. He was ageless, fresh, and full of insights into contemporary affairs, from dating apps to the effects of social media on society and democracy. 

TEACHING MBA STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? They challenge you constantly! Mainly when you teach technology to a room full of students who work in high tech, you have to prove yourself continually and show them there’s value in the academic scholarship on technology above and beyond what they know from their practice

What is most challenging? As a professor, I find it challenging to assign long reads or anything that doesn’t easily fit their tight schedules. I don’t blame them though. They work full-time, take care of their families, and after the COVID-19 outbreak, going remote and back to in-person, they are just exhausted.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student: inquisitive 

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: irresponsible 

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

LIFE OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM

What are your hobbies? I love the theater, the film cinema, and the museum, and I’m trying to be up-to-date with all current shows and exhibitions. I also love robots and robotics, and I have a collection of more than one hundred vintage robots in my house.  

How will you spend your summer? Working on papers, but hopefully from a remote mountainous location.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: I love the lush and green Galilee and the vast and quiet Negev desert regions in Israel, they may be opposites in terms of geography but both are equally wonderful for relaxation. 

Favorite book(s): So many. Recently I read “When We Cease to Understand the World” by Benjamin Labatut, which I loved. It’s a historical fiction novel about five famous scientists that worked during the period of the two world wars and how their scientific pursuit drove them to madness and near destruction. It’s a bit of a cautionary tale for us academics

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? I’ve been pretty obsessed with shows that depict the rise and fall of entrepreneurs, anything from “The Dropout” to “WeCrashed.” I come from a country known worldwide as a “Start-Up Nation,” and I see this as a healthy lesson for our future entrepreneurs to remain ethical, modest, and humane. 

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I’m a ’90s kid that was raised in Britpop culture so my all-time favorites are bands like Blur and Radiohead.

THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS

If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Interdisciplinarity: The business school is already quite interdisciplinary compared to other university schools. Still, I believe there’s more room for research and programs that combine knowledge from different departments and concentrations, both from inside and outside the business school. 

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Research! And critical thinking! Those are two things inherent to academia and could be highly healthy for tech companies. 

I’m grateful for… The love of my family, partner, and friends. I try to never take it for granted.

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE 2022 ROSTER OF THE WORD’S BEST 40-UNDER-40 MBA PROFESSORS

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